Carving a Notch

Bow Drill: Carving a Perfect Notch

(As featured in the February 2009 issue of Practically Seeking)

To be successful with Bow Drill you simply have to do more things right than you do wrong.

To make it fast, easy and effortless, you must do ALL things in the manner of a quest for perfection.

I have watched literally thousands of people struggle unnecessarily with this fire-making technique.
Almost every time the problem was one of three things:
– Poor Form
– Imperfectly Constructed Components
– or a Bad Notch.

Perfect Form will be addressed in our next YouTube Project, and your kit's components should always be carved as perfectly straight and vibration-free as possible.

Right now, we are going to focus on Carving a Perfect Notch.

Curious as to just
how fast,
easy and effortless Bow Drill and other friction fire methods can really be?
Come to our next
Making Fire
workshop and
learn for yourself!.

Tips & Tricks for Carving a Perfect Notch:

Step-by-step Instructions for Carving a Perfect Notch:

  1. A perfect notch is just about the size of a 1⁄8 pie slice. There are 360 degrees in a circle, so 1⁄8 is an angle of 45 degrees, and this is pretty much the perfect-sized angle for your notch. It must also have smooth sides, be cleanly carved, and needs to run almost (but not quite) to the center of your burned-in socket.
  2. A perfect notch

  3. Once you have burned-in your socket to the full diameter of your spindle, take anything that has a square corner and is pliable enough to bend easily (such as a dollar bill) and fold it on the diagonal. Voila! Your template for a perfect 45 degree angle!
    Place the point of your template at JUST the center of the burned-in socket on your fireboard.
  4. Burned-in Socket Place your template

  5. Make an outline of the perimeter by pressing down with the edge of your knife alongside your template on the top of your fireboard.
  6. Score along the edges of your template A Perfect V

  7. Now use your knife again to mark straight down the front of your fireboard, where the scored "V" from your template meets that edge.
  8. Score the front Front lines meet top "V"

  9. Begin removing wood from within the notch by simply pressing inward with your knife on the CORNER of your fireboard, not on the flat front or top. Keep your blade angled inward so it matches the outline made with your template. The resultant cut will be at an angle sloping toward the center of the notch itself.
  10. Cut on the top corner Angle cut toward point of template

  11. Carefully repeat Step 5 on the opposite template line, also following the inward angle. This second cut will allow you to "flip out" the center portion of wood between the two cuts, easily removing a large chunk.
    ALWAYS keep the hand that is holding the fireboard well away from where you are cutting!!!

  12. Repeat cut on opposite side Watch your angle Flip out center

  13. Turn your fireboard over and repeat Steps 5 and 6 on the underside corners of your fireboard. 
  14. Repeat on bottom corners

  15. Having removed a chunk of wood from both the top and bottom corners of your fireboard, repeat these same steps coming in from the flat front, on the much smaller and more easily manageable amount of remaining wood.
  16. Remove center portion After the first pass

  17. Return again to the top corner, pushing your knife in on one side first, then the opposite side, and again remove the resulting loosened chunk. Then do the same again from the bottom corner, and then again from the middle. Repeat these steps as necessary, always working the corners first, until you reach the point you made with your template.
  18. Repeat steps as necessary Always work the corners Point of template

  19. Remove any excess material along the sides of the notch so that they go straight down, and are perpendicular to the flat top of your fireboard. Make the sides of your notch as smooth as possible, cleaning up any remaining rough areas or unevenness where the dust may be able to catch. Be sure to check the size by re-fitting your template into the notch, and remove any remaining material as needed.
  20. Clean up sides Smooth and perpendicular Re-check against template

    A Perfect Notch is one of the Main Keys to
    Fast and Effortless Bow Drill Success.

    So Have Fun, Carve Safely, and Continue to Practice your Bow Drill!