What is the Best Wood for Bow Drill?

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 A bow drill is a simple tool that is mainly used to start a fire on a small pile of dried sticks or firewood. It’s a very crucial tool for bushcraft as it allows survivalists to start a fire easily.

This tool comprises four main parts, including the drill, handle, drill, and fireboard.

Each part of a bow drill is usually made from a specific material, but substitute suitable woods can be used if the specific one isn’t accessible.

Knowing the best wood for constructing your bow drill can mean the difference between great success and total failure.

Even if everything else is perfect in your kit, using the wrong wood for your bow drill will lead to complete failure.

Hence, it’s essential to learn about the suitable wood you can use when constructing a bow drill. But it’s not always easy to know what wood is the right one as some softwoods like pine will not work well.

To go around this issue, there are some basic principles that survivalists need to know about what makes a good bow drill material.

In this text, you will discover the best wood for bow drill and learn how to choose the right wood for this simple tool.

What is the Best Wood for Bow Drill?

The best wood for bow drill should be dry and of the right type. To choose the best wood for making a bow drill, here are some things about dryness and wood type you should keep in mind:

  • Should Be Dry

When choosing the best wood for your bow drill, you should only go for dry ones. A tree that is still alive means that it still has some moisture, and moisture will not work well with fire.

Generally, any green wood is ideally alive, so you need to look around and search for dead or dry wood.

Dead wood is usually brown and crispy. But it shouldn’t be rotten or has begun to turn into punk wood.

If you are not sure of whether the wood is dry or not, you can cut it to see if the inner part has moisture or not. The wood is unsuitable for a bow drill if there is any moisture or green in it.

However, some woods like Hazel and Ivy tend to remain slightly green even after drying. So, you need to check with extra caution if you are working with such woods.

Another way to find out if the wood is dry is by placing it against your lips to feel any moisture or use your fingertips if they aren’t sensitive.

This method is a better and sure way to know if the wood is actually dead, especially if you don’t know the age or the condition of the tree you are working with.

  • Should Be of the Right Type

While camping or hunting in the wild, you will find many types of woods, including Pine, Birch, Sycamore, Poplar, Cypress, and many more.

However, not all these trees are suitable for a bow drill. Some varieties work better than others.

Soft and lightweight woods work better than hard and dense varieties. But you will need to ensure that the softwood is firm and not rotten.

Survival experts also prefer using woods from fast-growing trees, especially for the spindles. Tree varieties that grow extremely faster work best for bow drills.

Finally, you need to search for straight and smooth trees that are free of cracks and knots.

Why Some Woods for Bow Drill Are Better Than Others?

Softwoods are better than hardwoods when it comes to constructing a bow drill. This is because it’s easy to create friction with softwood.

If you are out there and have access to both dry softwood and hardwood, it’s advisable to go for the softwood.

Some of the best softwoods for bow drill include the California Redwood, Basswood, Cedar, Cypress, Yucca, Cottonwood, Willow, and more.

Best Wood for Bow Drill: Specific Trees Species

  1. Basswood

Also known as American Linden, basswood is a softwood that is perfect for making a bow drill. It mainly grows in most parts of the Northern hemisphere except in areas with extreme climates.

This tree has thick inner-bark fibers that can be used to make natural cordage. You can also obtain instant cordage from Basswood trees in the springs and summer months.

When constructing a bow drill in the bush, you can use dry basswood of any type or age if you are lucky to find it.

If you don’t find a dry basswood tree in the bush, you can also use the dry low-hanging branches to make your bow drill.

  1. Eastern Cottonwood (Populus deltoides)

The Eastern Cottonwood is another excellent wood for making a bow drill. Like Basswood, the Eastern Cottonwood usually grows in areas around the water.

Some survivalists who have used the Eastern Cottonwood argue that it’s one of the best woods for bow drill construction.

This fast-growing softwood has soft and weak branches, which when dry are excellent for making a spindle and hearth board. You can look for large dead broken branches at the base of the tree.

  1. Eastern Red Cedar (Juniperus virginiana)

The Eastern Red Cedar grows in various parts of the world, including the Northern parts of the United States and Canada.

This softwood tree gives great wood for making the spindle and hearth board.

If you find a dry Eastern Red Cedar in the bush, use the dead lower branches instead of the upper one for more efficiency. Fallen Red Cedar bark also makes the best tinder bundles.

  1. Sycamore (Platanus occidentalis)

The Sycamore tree is another great wood for a bow drill. It has a very exceptional bark that peels off as the tree grows.

When the bark peels off and falls on the ground, it forms thin brown curls with a pure white base layer exposed on top.

This helps survivalists to identify a Sycamore tree effortlessly since there is no other tree in the forest that behaves this way.

Like the Eastern Cottonwood tree, Sycamore has many branches that dry over time. The dead branches come in handy in making serviceable spindle and hearth boards.

Other noteworthy woods you will find in the wild for bow drill include:

  • Aspen
  • Tulip Poplar
  • Red Alder
  • Woody stalked plants like Yucca and Sotol


When it comes to bushcraft, friction fire is one of the most crucial skills every survivalist should have.

In this case, a bow drill is one of the best tools to use. It produces fire by creating pressure and friction.

Knowing the best wood for a bow drill will help you make an effective tool that can save the day while in the wild.

The woods discussed in this text are some of the best as recommended by experienced outdoor folks and survival experts. Once you get the right wood, it will be easy for you to carve the kit correctly.



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