Making Fire: How to String a Bowdrill

(As featured in the November 2010 issue of Practically Seeking)

Knot-free bowdrill string

It may seem fundamental, but I am frequently surprised at how much difficulty some folks go through in trying to attach a cord to their bow drill bow. There are many ways to do it, and any method that produces the desired result is fine!

But for those of you who struggle to keep your cord attached, or are tired of tying and untying so many knots, here is a simple technique that works well with both modern nylon cordage as well as stone tools and most natural cordage options.

Best of all it requires no knowledge of knots (which, for some, is considered a blessing : ) 


Step-by-step Instructions on How to String a Bowdrill:

  1. Find yourself a stick that is about finger to thumb size in diameter and about the length of your arm from arm pit to finger tips.
  2. Choose a bow the length of your arm

  3. Carefully split one end of your stick to a depth of about one inch. (On most folks that is about the length of the middle bone of the index finger — between the two knuckles.)
  4. Length of split Carefully split end

  5. Cut or make a length of cordage that is about one and a half times the length of your bow.
  6. Cut string one and a half times the length of bow

  7. Decide which will be the "inside" of your bow, which is the side your spindle will be on. Work one end of your piece of cordage into the split, leaving about an inch of cordage facing the outside-side of the bow. (If the cord is too tight to fit, expand the opening by either lengthening the split another half-inch or so, or by carving the split out into a narrow "V" shape.)
  8. Work cordage into split Leave 1-inch tail Lengthen split

  9. Now, (and this is the important part) with the split end of your stick facing up, wrap your cord around the split, passing your wrap BELOW the cordage that is inside the split so that it can not slide down any further. Be sure to go around the bow at LEAST one and one-half times (two and a half is better) so that the long end of your cord finishes on the same side of your bow as the short tail. Keep this wrap tight, or the split will lengthen and your cord will get loose.
  10. Wrap cord around split Wrap below cordage in split Both cord ends on same side

  11. Pass the cordage back through the split. Once you've done this the long length of cordage will be on the opposite side of the bow from the short end of the string. Tighten it down so it will not move.
  12. Pass cordage back through split Cordage ends on opposite sides Tighten down

  13. Leaving a small amount of slack in your string, secure the other end of your bow using this same "split-and-wrap" technique, once again paying particular attention to wrap below the cordage within the split, and wrapping at least one and a half times around the bow before passing your cordage back through the split.
  14. Secure opposite end Wrap under short end Back through the split Tighten down to secure

  15. Any excess cordage can now be simply wrapped around the end of the split to keep it out of your way and held in place with your hand, or you can pass it back through the split once more to make sure it stays secured.
  16. Strung bowdrill

  17. Tension on the string can easily be adjusted by simply loosening the cordage on the "holding" end of your bow and pulling the cord tighter or looser until it is the perfect size for your spindle and no slippage occurs.
  18. Adjust cord to spindle

See? A perfectly secured, easily adjustable Bowdrill string with No Knots!
Until next time, work on that bow drill form, and Have Fun!

Want to learn more about Bowdrill fire-making, and fire in general?
Come on out to our upcoming Fire Making workshop on November 12.
We guarantee you'll be successful with making a Bowdrill coal before the end of the day!