“People say that nothing is impossible, but I do nothing every day” (Winnie the Pooh)

Last month a young climber died in Vietnam after falling and getting lost.  He was high up a mountain and had gashed his arm and hurt his leg, however he had his mobile phone with him and called for help.  Tragically by the time they found him he was dead.  There haven’t been any details of the cause of death although at that altitude it could have been hypothermia.

If you become lost in the lowland jungles of Malaysia, hypothermia is not a major issue, however an inability to light a fire very much is.   Not only does a fire make it easier for a search and rescue team to find you, it also allows you to purify water, cook food, make a brew, keep insects and animals at bay and, perhaps most importantly, it will keep your spirits up.

This got me thinking about how feasible it is to light a fire one-handed: with a lighter and rubber inner tube it is no more difficult than if you have both hands working; with a firesteel only marginally more difficult; but what about friction fire methods?

So I spent a day experimenting on how to set up the bow drill and make it work with one hand.  It was quickly apparent that everything becomes much more difficult –  carving the spindle, which normally takes less than five minutes, took much longer.   With almost every task you need to replace the missing hand with some sort of mechanism to hold things in place – a bit like using a vice in a workshop – so, for example, carving the spindle is much easier if you lash one end to a small sapling and work on the protruding end and then swap it round to finish off the other end.

Then there was the problem of how to press down on the bearing block without the use of one hand.  Here the trick is to create a stable structure as you are trying to do so much – one knee presses down on the parang that pins the hearth board, the other knee is used to push down on the bearing block, while you are using a lot of force to work the bow – all of which can easily send you off balance and the spindle spinning off into the bush.

In the video below you will see how I set it all up and the one thing I forgot to mention, although you can see me doing it in the video, is that I am leaning against the sapling to give myself stability.  It is also for this reason that I place the spindle quite near to the sapling that I am leaning on – if you put it further along the bearing-cross-beam it all becomes less stable.

Getting a fire from a bow drill one-handed is far from impossible, but it is not easy either and is most definitely time consuming.

However, if nothing else, I hope this video will persuade you to throw another spare lighter into your pack for that unforeseen scenario where you get lost in the jungle and need to start a fire.