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HomeSurvivalFireFire Saw

Fire Saw

How it works...

One piece of bamboo is sliced in half lengthwise. It is then rubbed quickly back and forth in a slot cut across another similar piece of bamboo. Underneath the slot is a small tinder bundle. The hot dust from the sawing action falls into the tinder and may then be transferred to a larger tinder bundle to be blown into flame.


The following picture and movies were taken at the Wildwood Trackers June 2002 meeting. Photos and movies by Walter Muma

A closeup view of the fire saw set.

The small tinder bundle is placed under slot cut across the base piece of split bamboo (the larger/longer piece). 

The smaller piece, which is another split piece of bamboo, is sawed quickly back and forth along the slot.




Here is a series of four movies showing the fire saw in operation.
Click on the small photos to watch the movies.

1. Just getting started

Windows Media format (WMV)
320x240, 466 KB

2. Lots of smoke

Windows Media format (WMV)
320x240, 601 KB


3. Carefully lifting the fireboard to expose the coal
Windows Media format (WMV)
320x240, 434 KB

4. Extracting the coal and placing it in a larger tinder bundle, ready to blow into flame

Windows Media format (WMV)
320x240, 473 KB

One-Person Fire Saw
From the above it appears that this fire-making technique would be impossible with only one person attempting it. However, it is possible, as outlined below.

Start by splitting a piece of bamboo. It should be long enough to wedge between your stomach and the ground while kneeling. You'll need to pad the stomach end, unless you leave that end blunt by cutting it at a node. There should be a long, straight, sharp edge facing away from your body. This piece needs to be fairly beefy since you'll be leaning into it.

For the moving piece you need another short section of split bamboo. You grip this with two hands and saw up and down, with the curved side of the hand piece against the sharp edge of the belly piece. 

Once you've worn a good groove in the hand piece you need to prepare the tinder. Scrapings from the inside of the bamboo work great for this. You put the tinder inside the hand piece, then put a little bamboo shim over the tinder. To use, grab the hand piece with both hands, while lightly holding the shim with both thumbs. A coal will (hopefully) form in the tinder after you burn a hole through the hand piece.

To get the sharpest edge on bamboo, don't cut it - peel little splits off the edge.  Peel from the outside of the bamboo toward the center so that the hard outer layer forms the edge.



"Fire Hole" variation:
There's another Barry Keegan variation that made the rounds on the internet called the "fire hole" technique - basically a non-bamboo version of the above.  Make the stomach piece out of any bowdrill wood, making sure to create a sharp knife-like edge.  The hand piece is a partially split branch, held open about 1/4" with a small wood/stone wedge.  Fill the split with tinder, then poke a thimble sized hole in it where the hot dust will build up.
(It's good to know that the firesaw isn't strictly a tropical climate firemaking method!)

Addendum from Barry (Mar 9/04):
I used a hickory wood knife which I jammed about 2 in. into the ground.  It worked fantastic until it wore down to less than 2 in. wide.  It was a split-off section of a bow in progress.  The hand piece is the exact same hearth as in fire thong and I used a basswood branch of a ping-pong ball diameter.  I've had similar success with fire thong (split rattan cord, bark side down) with hearths of basswood, white cedar, and white pine, so the fire hole should work just as well with those.