Earth Connection is a school of primitive skills and wilderness survival located in Northern Virginia and North Carolina (Raleigh/Durham area) that has been in existence for over a decade. Our hands-on classes are reasonably priced because we don't believe in big price tags for primitive skills. That's just not natural!

Monday, January 28, 2008

Friction Fire with Conifers?

Last weekend I (Wes from Earth Connection – North Carolina) and my daughter (age 11) headed into the mountains of NC where I have a cabin for some cold weather friction fire training. My original idea was to try out three types of conifers, found almost everywhere here, as friction fire components; boards, spindles, and hand-holds.

“Conifers?” you say… Well, I know they are not the normal choice for friction fire kits because of the resins in the wood, but what if it is all you got? The three trees species I was planning to work with on this trip were the Carolina Hemlock, Eastern Hemlock and the White Pine that are indigenous to the higher elevations in the north western part of NC.

As I got closer to the mountains the temperature dropped to a frigid 13 and there was a slight wind that brought frigid down to bone chilling. Six inches of snow still covered the ground from precipitation earlier that week. I took a two-mile hike into the mountain woods and along the way I gathered my materials.

I decided early on to go without gloves to simulate a potential survival scenario and test myself. It’s so much harder to grab and hold on to things when your hands are affected by the cold. I remember Tim’s MacWelch’s class on hypothermia and performed the hypotheria check--tapping a one handed tune between fingers and thumb… yup, no problem. I remember as a kid coming in after playing hard for hours in the snow that I couldn’t unzip my own jacket. Tim says, “that the first sign of encroaching hypothermia is loss of dexterity in your hands along with shivering.” I wasn't shivering, but still I was cold.

As I gathered my friction fire kit materials I also gathered my tinder and kindling giving me lots of stuff to hold that kept my hands out of my warm pockets. My daughter was very helpful in finding and gathering and preparing the tinder bundle that ended up working perfectly. After about one and half hours of collecting we returned to the cabin to begin the friction fire experiments with the three types of conifers. My hands and fingers were mostly numb by then making this exercise most difficult. The only tool I used to make the kit was a small Swiss army knife that I carry on me at all times.

I spent about half an hour making a few boards and spindles with cold numb hands before beginning to spin with my ready-made bow. I was surprised with the results. I was successful at making a coal and blowing into flame using both types of Hemlock as either board or spindle. However, the White Pine was not much of a success. My observation is that the Hemlocks have far less pitch than the White Pine affecting coal creation.

My daughter also gave the bow drill kit a go, but all she was able to get was smoke... no coal formed. I think she had only hot chocolate on her mind, and to be honest, I did too; my hands were freezing by this point. Time for cocoa.

Learning note for the friction fire crew: You should try all different types of wood as various parts of your friction kit and have your own database on available wood material that work in your area. Or, as I like to call them, my “Go-To” wood. In addition, try your skills in adverse conditions because if you are ever in a survival situation it will probably not be 75 degrees and sunny. Oh, and have the hot chocolate already brewing on the stove before you get started. ;-)

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