I have written this post with the express purpose of passing on my hand drill skills to you.
Myself and a friend set ourselves the challenge to collect some fresh materials and make a working hand drill set with them. We went out for a walk in the local woods to see what we could find in the way of materials. For the hand drill I found some straight, dead Elder (Sambucus nigra) and stripped off the bark from which I made 2 drills 12 – 14mm in diameter.
For the hearth I found some 3 – 4cm thick Clematis (Clematis vitalba) that had been cut sometime ago, which I peeled and split.
The damp and cold weather meant all our materials went into a warm dry cupboard over night. The next day there was still some dampness in the material (Future tip to self – try drying on top of radiator) but I had a go anyway. First I took the large unsplit piece of clematis and split it twice to make a flat board. I was careful to avoid rotten wood and only drill into sound parts of the board.
I started to make a depression in the hearth about the same diameter as the tip of the drill by making two parallel cuts with a knife and gouging out the wood between.
To get the drill and socket to “bed” together initially I pressed hard with a little twisting action.
I tried to burn it in with speed and pressure to get a charred socket and drill tip. One of the biggest issues is how to transfer your upper body weight through the drill. The most successful attempts were when I didn’t try to push down at all, just using a spinning action with moist/sticky hands while leaning ones weight on the drill for support. Leaning can confer 6 – 12 kgs of force as shown on bathroom scales. The hands will travel down as your upper body falls forwards. The other key factor is to divide the drilling into 3 phases; 1) cold to smoking (even dead wood contains 10 percent moisture and this needs to be removed by friction), 2) a gentle stage over a few minutes with just with just enough effort to keep it smoking a bit to char the material, 3) an all out effort of about 5 passes down the drill to produce as much char as possible in the smallest possible time.
However you will note a lack of smoke and a close-up shows the hearth board is simply wearing away.
This happens when your hearth board is too soft. In this case it was because of the retained dampness. Trying again with some of the material that had been split the day before proved to be much better. The next stage was to cut a notch into the hearth board and begin drilling. Another technical problem in that with the drier split wood we only had enough thickness to drill into with the curving side of the wood underneath. This can allow the collecting charred dust to scatter rather than be concentrated, so I put a small wedge underneath to prevent this.
At this stage the char looked a little pale and also course. Such punk is unlikely to form a coal. If the drill tip were wider then it would grind hotter, finer powder so I changed drill to the other one that was larger. This time I got lots of better quality char.
But the $60,000 question is did we get the coal we were after? Well, I must point out that the materials were still a bit damp, parts of the wood were rotten and I had sore, blistered hands from the previous days drilling activities…..Of course I did!! And here it is, just as some older accounts will tell you “Roll the spindle with your hands into the depression. When the spindle tip starts to glow red, gently blow to ignite the tinder.”
Oh yes, that was a bit of a surprise! Quite a rare occurrence in fact. Reasons for the coal not forming in the notch in the usual way might be the underlying dampness problem and that the notch was a little small so we were wasting a lot of hot char over the edges.