Fire Plow

I don’t know why I can’t seem to get this one posted. Well, here goes. It is not the easiest way to make fire, but it is not the most difficult, either, especially if you have the right materials. Ain’t it mostly always so?

The fire plow as it has come to be called in some circles, may be the oldest method of friction fire starting. Some of those experts who are supposed to know such things supposedly think it is. It makes sense.

Enter prehistoric Joe-Ughawamma, who is using a fire-hardened stick edge to saw off a piece of another dry piece of wood of similar composition. He smells smoke and on impulse touches one or other of the rubbed pieces. He draws back in a start though his suspicion is confirmed. The rubbed surface was hot enough to burn Joe-U’s calloused skin. Joe-U is prehistoric, but he is no dummy.

Joe-Ugh scratches his head as understanding begins to dawn. He tests his half-formed hypotheses by really bearing down as never before, elbow grease full-tilt, rubbing the charred stick on a natural groove in the other piece. He scrapes the edged point back and forth as it seats into the groove. In less than a grizzly-bear yowl, Joe-Ugh has smoke. He  goes faster and harder. In a grunt and a snort and a snort and a grunt he sees growing dust debris within the recess at the bottom of his directed down-strokes. His heart beats fast–only partly from exertion. He has a pile of smoldering black–wafting smoke. In the center of the gathering char Joe-U sees the unmistakable glow of a live ember that he knows will kindle to full flames.

I bet he laughed out loud. I sure did the first time I got an ember that way. I can’t speak for Joe-Ugh, but I felt like beating my chest and howling at the moon. Nothing like that feeling.

Thanks to a granddaughter who assisted by snapping these with an IPhone camera. I think they look pretty artsy in addition to conveying the basic motions behind fire plow fire making. Rocket science it is not. Primal basic and effective it is.

This Joe-Ugh scenario is likely enough that it probably happened plus or minus a grunt or two to one degree or another over and over numerous times wherever there were early people. It is likely that it is what was improved upon leading to the more efficient hand spinning drill method and eventually evolved into the bow drill method and a half dozen other more sophisticated methods. Pretty smart, these human beings, huh?

Well, I bet folks were tougher, stronger, and more accustomed to doing aerobics then–  running away from critters eating them, chasing and wrestling wild pigs for dinner, and what-not. It would not have been too farfetched for those guys and gals to rub a stick back and forth real hard and quickly for a minute or two straight.

These days I start feeling the burn in my arms way before I see it on he wood, but when I can keep it up for almost a minute–using good dry low-ignition wood with a properly fitted groove, I can get an ember. I did it just the other day while watching TV in my easy chair with a compact set up on my lap that I had fashioned from good dry Cottonwood. I made the groove along a natural grain pocket and flattened one end of the rubbing stick to fit the groove. I left if slightly rough to increase friction.I started rubbing just to make the fit good with plans to video the fire making part later.

The quick results caught me by surprise. It alarmed my wife when she smelled smoke in our den. I nearly set my lap on fire and did burn a hole in my shorts. Way too easy, that one.

I had not done it in a very long time and really anticipated that it would take much longer to get an ember. I did not get it on video, but I set it aside not very far to do just that and I will. When I do, I will upload the video (after I upload half a dozen other videos in the waiting for previous posts), along with several still shots illustrating how to cut the groove and how I make it work. My set-up is a lot more compact than others schemes I have seen or read about (which is not many).

But the recommendations from old military survival manuals shows a huge hearth pegged in place and a matching huge rubbing stick (plow) driven by bent over full-body brawn. It looks a lot like someone hard at plowing a field. I don’t think I could manage such. It seems like expending way more energy than necessary. Certainly more than I could muster.

I perfected my technique using this method a long time ago–way before I had a fancy fire-plow name to call it. Being younger, strong, and energetic, I powered it with some form of determined energy. Whatever it was, I apparently am still sufficiently full of it to get fire using this method. And it was not nearly as hard as I recall from times past. I know I am not getting stronger, so dare I think I am getting wiser? Nahhh. Just wait ’til I get set up for the video. Murphy will come calling as usual, no doubt, but I will get it eventually to back up this post. Promise.

(Actually, I am guessing that my piece of partially punked Cottonwood that I had laying around the garage since January, was good and dry and just accidentally perfect for this process.)

 Having a good fit is essential. That’s what the initial burn-in is for. Once the fit is good,  I scrape the surfaces lightly to freshen the grit up and create more friction.

My videos have resulted in some interesting funnies from time to time. Gray-Gray, our sweet little stray cat who came and crawled up in my lap one day while I was sitting on the ground next to our pond, to claim me and our place as her own, always wanted to be right in the middle of things. I set her tail on fire once while making flint and steel fire. She was indignant that I was pulling her tail when I put it out before she had time to become really indignant. Bless her little heart, she had one too many rendezvous with the old Siamese feral and she didn’t survive the last batch of kittens. It has been a very hard year on pets. Biggin, our twenty-year old Shi Tzu went on beyond as well. Yes, they got in the way and were an aggravation at times. But I sure do miss ’em.


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