You can only watch so many bad survival TV shows before you get the notion that you can start fire by friction. So, after a couple of years, I finally decided to give it a shot. Fortunately for me, I have the perfect place to go to in the wilderness, where I can pretend I’m Dave Canterbury or Les Stroud, a place deep in the Maine woods, a place that I will refer to as Punty’s Palace, a cabin located about 30 miles north of nowhere.
In early July, I was there and had some time to seek out likely materials for my endeavor, so, in 90 degree heat, battling black flies, mosquitoes, and 150% humidity, I began my journey.
Right off the bat I found a dead standing fir tree, but it was a little large for what I needed, and for my hand saw, but I took a photo anyway, because of all the cool woodpecker holes.
To be honest, I hadn’t even gotten out of my driveway yet, I just wanted an excuse to take the picture. But, not too far up the driveway was a dead fir tree of a more suitable size, cut down last year, I think, so I harvested that, set it aside, and set out down the road in search of more likely candidates.
Along the way, I discovered many patches of these tasty treats, which slowed my progress, but was worth every moment.
If you’ve never tasted wild strawberries, you’re missing somethign special. They are tiny, but their taste is intensely strawberry, very strong, without any of the bitterness associated with store bought strawberries when they are picked before peak ripeness to reach the shelves before spoiling.
I also spied plenty of clover,
and Oh My Gawd!, a lifetime supply of tinder! Eat your hearts out, bushcrafters around the world! What’s your preference, gold, or paper?
Shortly, I saw an old, rotting stump with what looked like a potential candidate, either for a friction fire kit, or possibly even fatwood!
Turns out, it was a fairly dry rotted ant motel….but I took it anyway and set it by the side of the road to pick up on my return trip, and give the ants a chance to clear out.
A little further down, I did find a dead sapling which I figured to be poplar, and right there on the ground….litter! But…useful litter. Atlas gloves, to be exact, which someone had obviously left there accidentally after doing some work, probably driven off screaming obscured by a cloud of black flies. Just guessing there, but if you’ve been to the Maine woods in black fly season, you know how plausible a theory it is. But hey…score for me! Free gloves!
So, I grabbed the gloves, stuck them in my cargo pockets, and headed back to my cabin. Total score for the trip, a fir, a poplar, an ant tower, 2 pairs of gloves, and a cold beer, which I harvested from the fridge at the end of the trip.
So, I went to work on my firebow kit. I quickly discarded the ant hotel, too soft and decayed, and settled on the fir. The nice, straight fir would make a great hearthboard and spindle, except that underneath that pristine bark, the wood was twisted like a corkscrew, which made batoning a real chore, so out came the ol’ Husqvarna carpenter’s axe.
…which made quick work of the job.
I soon had my basic hearthboard, which remained a bit twisted so that I would not lose too much thickness, and my spindle, but it was day’s end, and time to go home in the morning, so I left the pieces in my camp to dry until my return in 3 weeks.
While home, I was sent a multitool to evaluate at my job. I decided my firebow project would be a great opportunity to put it to the test. The multitool is the True Utility Seven, which MSRP’s for $14.99, but for some reason is $17.95 on Amazon at the time of this writing. What’s it really worth? I don’t know, I’ll just show what it can and cannot do and let the reader decide.
End of July arrives and I am back at Punty’s Palace, no more black flies, and I have everything I need ready to go.
What’s the clothes hanger for? To make a bail wire for my Stanley canteen. Alas, the little Seven multitool wasn’t up to the task, just too small to cut through the clothes hanger, all it did was leave a couple of scratches.
Still, that was a tough test for a pocket multitool, and probably even a Leatherman squirt would have failed as well. The cutters would be limited to small gauge copper and aluminum wire.
So, thus ended the bail wire project, on to the firebow! Fortunately, I had to do some clearing of the edges of the driveway, and one of the poplars looked like a perfect bow for my set, so I cut it to length, and used the Seven saw to notch one end, which it did a perfectly fine job.
Then, I used the knife to notch the other end of the bow.
The saw and knife aren’t exactly locking, there is a heavy spring tension lock, so they snap into and out of position, and hold it well enough, but it’s not locked, it just takes some significant force to close it from the open position.
For my cordage, I went with #36 bank line, which the blade cut through easily.
I grabbed some bark from a nearby fallen birch, fluffed up some twine, and made a very nice tinder bundle.
Doesn’t that tinder bundle look like it’s just waiting to burst into flame on command? I was very happy with it.
At this point, the easy work was done. It was time to start actually trying to make fire. The burn in was quick and easy, and smoke poured from the board with just a few strokes of the bow, an auspicious beginning.
After the burn in, I notched the hearthboard, and the Seven worked like a charm on the dry softwood. I ended up notching it a little deeper, but you get the idea.
So what happened after that? Punty spent two hours or so, ultimately burning two holes in the fireboard with a lot of smoke, brownish black dust, but no ember. I was having two problems that cost me my fire. The first was that from time to time my bow string would drift up the spindle and bind at the top where my handhold was. This was a problem caused by my bad form, I think. My spindle was too long, and my form was poor because I was wearing my bathing suit which was damp, and I was trying to keep anything from dripping on the board. My bad.
The second, biggest problem, was my spindle would from time to time launch itself out of my bow and fly 3 or 4 feet away, and it took my a minute to wrench it back into the bow. This was caused by my bowstring being too tight, and my bow having too much curve, I think.
So, thus ended my first attempt at friction fire, and my beautiful tinder bundle was left flameless and lonely, and symbolically left out in the thunderstorm and torrential rain that came through that night.
But, that was not the end of it for the Seven multitool. I still had some pine resin that I had gathered earlier in the year, and I had charcoal, and some old twine that I found on the ground…so hey…why not make a batch of cutler’s glue?
So, I ground up some charcoal, cut up some of the twine, and got my resin ready to make my first pine resin cutler’s glue.
The Seven came in real handy using the pliers to manipulate the tin that I melted the resin in, and mix the ingredients. To make a long story short, I did not cut the fibers fine enough, and instead of cutler’s glue, I ended up with making “abominable glue”, a sort of bastard child of asphalt, super glue, and a cat’s hairball. That stuff stuck to everything and wouldn’t let go, including my fingers, which I practically rubbed my skin off trying to remove.
Yeah, so….it would work great of your canoe as hit by a shotgun and you needed to plug the hole, but anything that didn’t need a single big clump of black Hell glue, this wasn’t the ticket.
So, that ended the day for me…ultimately a series of failures, but fun nonetheless, and I learned a few things about what not to do on my next attempts.
Some final thoughts on the True Utility Seven multitool. The pliers work fine. The top and bottom of the pliers are well mated, and the tip of the needlenose was perfectly aligned. Well done. The cutters would be fine for small tasks. The knife is very utilitarian, and the saw actually works pretty well on green wood and dried soft wood. The scales on it are aluminum, not plastic, so that’s a win.
Where the seven comes up a bit short is on the back end. There is a flat philips head screwdriver on the butt end, which is not well crafted, the edges are rounded like you find on so many low end multitools, and would probably be best for stripping screw heads rather than screwing or unscrewing. Also on the back end is a bottle opener, which works OK, but has some flaws. It too lacks the fine edges that give a good bottle opener it’s bite, and the scales actually protrude into the belly of the bottle opener, which is just a poor design. It works OK, but from time to time it will slip off without actually opening your bottle.
So, my final evaluation on the Seven? For fifteen bucks or less, you’ll get a decent blade, a functional saw, a small wire cutter, and a small but very functional needlenose plier. The pliers, saw, and knife are the primary things you use in a typical multitool, so you’ll get a poor man’s version of, say, the Leatherman squirt, but with a bigger knife and saw. It is larger than a Leatherman Squirt, but has much fewer tools, and is really not very lightweight for it’s size, so it’s no better in the size and weight department, but your getting it for 1/3 the price or less. If all you need is a simple knife, a small saw for notching, and a small plier for grabbing hot pots and bottles, the Seven will do just fine for the price of a pizza.
Punty gives the True Utility 3 out of 5 stars, scoring high in value. The basic tools, knife, saw, and pliers, are superior to any other multitool I have seen in the same size and price range. In short, the $15 True Utility Seven is better than a $15 Chinese multitool, but not nearly as good as a $35 to $45 Leatherman, and if you can find it for $12 or so, it may be worth picking up if all you need are basic cutting tools and a small set of pliers.