Overland skills: Fire without matches

I’ve always been fascinated by bushcrafting - those guys who can build a shelter, gather and trap food, and make a fire with nothing but a knife. The firemaking part always seemed the most magical, so finally I decided to try it, using the bow drill method. 

The material of choice here in southern Arizona is sotol, a plant in the agave family that grows at elevations over 3,800 feet or so. Specifically you want the dried flower stalk, which forms a tough, fibrous pole. I hiked up the hill to the south of us and brought back a few, then prepared, first, a hearth by splitting a length to get a flat piece, then a spindle by smoothing out a narrower piece near the tip. 

The next step is the key. You start a depression for the spindle in the hearth with the tip of your knife, then twist the spindle into it to smooth it. Then you must cut a notch in the side that just intersects the depression, and which widens at the bottom. The ember which is the aim of the procedure gathers in this notch, and you then transfer the ember to your tinder bundle. 

I cheated by using a synthetic rope for the bow, rather than stripping agave leaves with my teeth to braid one (next time). The bow was a length of mesquite. 

It took four tries to get a good ember in the notch, but it died when I transfered it to my dried grass tinder bundle and blew on it. Finally, on the eighth try, the tinder bundle burst into flame. It was so cool I whooped out loud. 

Next I want to try the hand drill method, which obviates the need for the bow and string. Report to follow. New class at the Overland Expo?