Bushcraft an international language

Like most bushcrafters, I occasionally like to search YouTube to find videos to watch when I’m looking to improve or learn new skills. Recently one of the things I’ve been researching is how to do the fire plough. I found a few channels but one channel in particular, with and Indonesian man stood out. He seemed to be a ‘master’ in making fire in many different ways with ease, he made the fire plough look very easy. Appreciating his skill, I started to leave likes and comments and follow him on all the social media platforms. Fast forward to last month while I was on holiday in Indonesia, I posted a photo from my holiday and to my surprise this youtuber commented and said he lived very close to where I was. He mentioned that he would love to meet me, and we could share bushcraft knowledge. Always keen to learn and share knowledge, I jumped at the opportunity.

Most people’s holidays don’t include popping round a stranger’s house to light fires in weird and wonderful ways, but there I was the next day in his garden thinking about how strange a coincidence this was. I couldn’t speak a word of Indonesian and he couldn’t speak English, (he invited a friend round to translate.) but we both spoke and understood the universal language of bushcraft and fire lighting.

Hand drill practice

After a short chat and introduction over a cup of Indonesian coffee he demonstrated the fire plough to me. Shortly after he guided me through my first fire plough ember, tweaking my position and technique. I then repeated the process to make sure it wasn’t a fluke.

Fire Plough

 It was interesting to see how the local native woods quickly made embers with this technique, which was traditionally used and developed in tropical jungle areas like Indonesia. Compared to using UK species which favors the mechanical advantage of techniques like the bow drill.

I had a go at hand drill with one of his sets of locally sourced woods. Again, I was surprised how easily it created an ember with very little effort even in the extremely humid environment of the jungle, compared to using UK species.

Keyhole bow drill ember

He then went on to teach me many other fire lighting techniques, some I had tried, others I had heard of or seen mentioned in survival manuals and some were completely new to me. He showed me and I had ago at many techniques including:

  • The bamboo fire saw,
  • Other wood fire saw,
  • Fire thong with rattan on bamboo,
  • Fire piston from a handmade set,
  • Keyhole bow drill with no notch,
  • Striking rocks against bamboo to make sparks
  • Banging rocks on rocks to make sparks similar to flint and steel but without the steel.
Fire Piston

He showed me his own recipe for a ‘magic tinder’ which he created from scraping palm fibers. This made these techniques possible as the ‘magic tinder’ could catch and ignite from even the smallest sparks, created from hitting rocks together. These are a lot cooler and smaller than sparks from flint and steel, it also made things like the bamboo striker possible.

Bamboo strike fire

Later we went for a walk through the jungle where he pointed out to me the different types of wood that he used and finds easy for friction fire lighting. I felt like a child on the first day of school trying to take it all in. In the UK I have a good knowledge of plants and trees and can easily tell the difference between different species but here in this unfamiliar jungle every tree he pointed out looked the same as the next with large oval shaped leaves and a smooth silver bark, no obvious distinguishing features between one and the next.

This wood is good for hand drill

We spoke about wood selection and the things he looks for when picking wood for a fire plough. Having a good working knowledge of bow drill and hand drill it was clear that even though the actual techniques vary all the principles remain the same, the wood selection, the important of the correct body position and technique, starting slowly to build up heat, creating the right kind of dust, increasing the effort to turn the dust into an ember. Are all the same no matter what friction fire techniques you are doing, so once you have learned the bow drill there are lots of skills you can transfer over to other techniques, whether that be the fire plough or the bamboo fire saw.

Bamboo fire thong

As we walked, he also foraged for a range of wild fruits for me to try as we went, including snake fruit, jack fruit and cacao, along with banana and coconuts, you certainly wouldn’t go hungry in the jungle if you knew where to look.

Walking through the jungle foraging for resources

Meeting him and learning and sharing bushcraft and fire lighting skills was certainly an interesting and enjoyable experience and I took away so much knowledge. He also gifted me one of his fire pistons, a hand drill set, some bamboo for the bamboo striker and a pot of his ‘magic’ tinder which will all form a valued part of my fire lighting kit. That is what I love about bushcraft and the bushcraft community sharing knowledge and learning from each other, even with complete strangers from the other side of the world, we can become a friend when you share a common interest of the international language of bushcraft skills.

Ben in the jungle with his guide


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