I try to make fire without matches - Day 2

back to day one

The next day was Sunday.  I went back to the park to get more kindling and some straight sticks for building the reciprocating drill. The nearby park is also the home of Sutter's Fort and the California State Indian Museum.

In an amazing stroke of luck, Ranger Joanne happened to be standing outside of the museum, saw me examining sticks, and asked me what I was up to.  

"Did you ever see that movie Castaway with Tom Hanks?" I asked.

She had.  She told me that they teach kids about lighting a fire the way the Indians did, by twirling a stick down into a little hole.

She told me that the kids try and try to light a fire, even to the point of getting blisters on their hands, but they usually lack the muscle required to get a fire started.  She also showed me that with two people, twirling down the stick at the same time, how a constant point of attack could be maintained at the base of the stick. she showed me how a small notch should be cut next to the hole, to allow the hot sawdust to fall to a delicate clump.

Unfortunately, I was stuck on my island alone.  I didn't even have a photographer to help me. 

She ushered me into the museum and showed me a photo of Ishi starting a fire between his two hands.  She also showed me a plank that had been used in the fire-starting process.  She took me into the "backyard" of the museum and showed me a stack of drying cedar bark and some willow branches.   She handed me a straight, 12 foot branch of willow and some cedar bark.  She suggested I try lint as kindling also.

This was really awesome.  This was my first time "backstage" at a museum.  I was getting pretty confident about the fire making attempt to come.

Here she is with the fallen cedar.  She also instructed me to visit a hardware store and buy a cedar shingle to use as a base-plate. 

Can you spot her firearm?

As we were leaving the museum, we passed by the tiny museum store.  Inside the case was a little reciprocating drill, with the same features that Mike had drawn the night before.  I made mental notes of it's attributes.



With my new cache of building materials, My first approach was to start building my drill. I was afraid that the string would just unwind and not re-wind back up the pipe, and as it turned out, that was exactly the problem I ran into.

I also tried twirling the stick between my two hands, but they quickly became chafed and I could tell that the time it took to reposition my hands was allowing the heat to dissipate.

This wasn't going to work.

It felt as though I was concentrating my efforts on a smaller area, a tiny dot the size of a screw-head was being subjected to a lot of pressure and effort, but I couldn't even make a little smoke.  This technique was also a lot more controlled down where the contact was being made, so I could more carefully position the tinder. The cedar tinder was so dry and desiccated, it seemed absolutely poised to burst into flames.
After my hands were tired, I decided to test the twirling stick approach by chucking-up the twirling stick into my Makita cordless drill.  I wanted to gauge just how fast and powerful my little hands would have to work to start a fire. Unfortunately, both of my 9.6 volt batteries were dead, and seemed to not want to take a charge, so this idea didn't really get anywhere. 

I also began to question if the willow branch I had gotten was really dry enough.  It was a little too flexible too.

Maybe I was just running out of patience.

Before I quit for the day, I tried a few more times to use the Tom Hanks patented chiseling method.  Hot ridges and smoke were pretty easy to obtain using this method, but everything was moving around again, and it was impossible to keep the kindling from vibrating all over the place. 
My chisel-stick started to break, so I called it a night.  I was really hot and tired and discouraged.

One of the problems with trying to start a fire without matches is that everyone has an idea of how to do it.  Everyone has either seen a diagram, or an educational film, or watched a Powerpoint presentation, or seen an animatronic Indian do it, but hardly anyone has actually sat down and done it. 

I was starting to get advice from everyone about what I should try and what I might be doing wrong. I don't usually get myself into situations where everyone is giving me advice, and I didn't like it much.  Of course, they were just trying to help. So now, writing this, I would like to apologize for being such a punk about it.  I am sorry.

That night I decided to go where I could find out more on the American Indian and his lifestyle:  The Cache Creek Indian Gaming casino.

Just kidding.  I went online and started poking around. One of the best sites was David Little's Aussie Fire Bow. His informative site was so funny that I almost didn't bother writing one myself.

The majority of websites recommended a bow and spindle arrangement, and this seemed like a worthwhile approach to me, so I decided to try this method after work on Monday. I was pretty sure I would succeed tomorrow.

Please read the next day.

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