Bushcraft 2.0: 101 Tips, Tricks, and Secrets About Traditional Wilderness Survival Skills to Survive, Thrive, and Master the Art of Bushcraft from A to Z!

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Producing a pile of black dust with a bow drill or hand drill isn’t necessarily a sign that you have created an ember that you will be able to use to light your fire. Even if there is loads of smoke being produced it doesn’t mean your quite there.

When you stop drilling that little pile of black dust needs to keep smoking, there is no rush to get it immediately into a tinder bundle. You would be better of giving it a few seconds, maybe even a minute or a little more to allow it to start glowing and get well established.

To make sure you get this well-established ember the first key is to not stop drilling as soon as you see smoke, drill until the smoke is really billowing, with practice you might see the colour of the smoke change slightly and become a browner colour, but once it’s billowing keep drilling for another few strokes. Once you’ve done that make sure that you don’t suddenly drop all the components of your fire kit as it might scatter the ember, gently take the drill away and keep you new ember in one piece. 

As long as the little ember is still smoking you are still in business, you can fan it gently with your hand to provide it with a little more oxygen, you can blow it but make sure you are not too vigorous or it will scatter the ember.

Once it has had time to establish and you can see the glow in the centre of the ember you can think about transferring it to some tinder and going for a flame. If you placed an ember catcher under the hearth as you drilled you will be able to easily move the ember and tip it into your tinder.

This tinder should have been prepared well in advance and be of very fine, dry material. Shredded dry grass or ferns is perfect but there must be plenty of it, at least two fists full, and it must be tightly packed together otherwise the ember will drop through the holes in it and quickly go out. Pack the tinder tightly together and if you have some thistle down or cat tail down add this to the centre of the bundle and carefully tip your ember directly into this most flammable material. You won’t get a flame from the seed down but it will grow your ember and make it easier to get a flame from the rest of the tinder.

Once your ember is in your tinder you can start to blow on it, gently at first but the more it smokes the harder you can blow. Eventually as long as there is plenty of dry material and you don’t allow the ember to be starved of fuel or oxygen it will burst into flame. On a windy day you can let Mother Nature do the work for you and just hold your tinder up into the wind and it should blow your ember into flame.

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