Important Survival Plants : Adam's Needle or How To Build A Fire By Rubbing Two Sticks together

Practice survival techniques for confidence

This fire building technique may be 1000's of years old.
This fire building technique may be thousands of years old.

Build A Fire By Rubbing Two Sticks Together

Yes I know, you thought this was just an old movie cliché only used in comedy scenes of outdoor survival or camping mishaps! But you were wrong! It is indeed possible to create a fire using only two sticks. Obviously, whoever coined the oft used phrase had observed someone using the technique I am going to describe in this article.

I am a keen student of ancient survival techniques and also enjoy studying how Native Americans used the different natural resources of southeastern Georgia to not only survive, but to thrive in this area. What we survivalists learn from lore and study, the ancient ones acquired and used in everyday life. Their skills were often more complex than one might think.

Although the materials I use for this fire starting technique may not be indigenous to your area, a substitute may be found which works just as well. I can’t make it too easy for you or you won’t appreciate the job of finding such a substitute! You may not always be in familiar surroundings in a survival situation. Find a substitute yourself!

Coastal Plains Swamps

The bays have many useful plants.  Saw palmettos were always close by
The bays have many useful plants. Saw palmettos were always close by
Bay trees gave their name to the low swamps and sinks called "bays"
Bay trees gave their name to the low swamps and sinks called "bays"
Closeup of the fibers which give the plant its  Latin name.
Closeup of the fibers which give the plant its Latin name.

Ancient Survivalists?

The Coastal Plains area of Georgia is a very interesting place for both plants and animals. This ancient sea floor consists of rolling land, once ancient dunes and shorelines, and low flat areas sprinkled with both small and vast swamplands.

Some of these “bays” cover areas of many square miles with names like Cecil Bay and No Man’s Friend! The famous Okefenokee swamp is the remains of an inland sea, left behind when the ocean retreated millions of years ago.

These swamps and forests were perfect for the early Americans to hunt and live. Despite having to travel quite a distance for good flint for both tools and weapons, they hunted and fished this area's primordial wilderness using what nature provided. No matter where they were, they felt completely at home!

These ancient people didn’t know the Latin names for the trees and plants in the region, but they knew what their fellow tribesmen called them and also if the plants had a useful purpose,such as for food, medicine, or for building certain tools.

. A child would learn these things as a matter of course during their early years, and as a matter of life or death to them is some cases. But we will focus on just one plant for now as one is all we need for this fire starting technique.

"Adam's Needle" (yucca filamentosa)

Adams Needle with stalk preparing to flower
Adams Needle with stalk preparing to flower
Beautiful flowers eventually form on the stalk
Beautiful flowers eventually form on the stalk
The seed pods form and the cycle is complete
The seed pods form and the cycle is complete

Adams Needle or Beargrass?

For this method of fire starting I will use the dried stems from a very useful plant native to the southeast. Folks around here refer to it as “bear grass” but it is better known in botanical circles as “Adams needle.”

A member of the agave family, this plant, Yucca filamentosa, is one of the many species of yucca plant found around the world. It has several uses and contains fiber used in making string and coarse rope, but I use it to start my fires, just as the old ones did!

The dried flower stalk from the Yucca filamentosa is perfect for the part it is intended in this article. A straight tough woody material with a softer inside makes it form a flammable powder when twirled between the hands with the point grinding into another slightly larger stem of the same species.

Yes, you may use it as a drill twirled by the usual bow used in many fire starting techniques, but it isn’t necessary as merely using one’s hands to spin the drill usually suffices.

I usually collect my “Adam’s Needle” stalks during the latter part of the summer after they have already flowered out and the stalk has dried enough to be sturdy. For the straightest possible stalks they may be cut before they have completely dried and hung by the tip to allow gravity to finish drying them as straight as possible.

Remove the small nodes and leaflets which are arrayed along the length of the stem to make it as smooth as you can. These rough surface features tend to irritate the hands when spinning the drill!

Using "Adam's Needle" to start a fire

Make a shallow depression in the big end of the drill socket.
Make a shallow depression in the big end of the drill socket.
The drill must be spun rapidly with a downward pressure on the socket.
The drill must be spun rapidly with a downward pressure on the socket.
Hold socket stick steady with your foot
Hold socket stick steady with your foot

Shaping The Drill

Shape the tip of the drill into a blunt point which will fit into a shallow depression near the end of the other, larger, yucca stalk. You may use a knife to do all of the shaping and drilling but I prefer to use a sharp piece of flint, especially if I am giving a demonstration using this fire starting technique. This special touch seems to impress those watching the process, plus it shows how flint may be used in lieu of having a knife.

Also using the flint or knife, make the shallow depression near the end of the larger stalk. Holding the larger stalk steady by placing your foot atop it, place the end of the drill into the depression and begin to slowly twirl it between the hands until a matching socket is formed and the drill fits snugly into it.

At this point you will need to carve a thin groove into the outside of the socket from the top to near the bottom. This is to allow enough air to reach the heated powder formed by the abrading drill and socket. Placing your hands at the very top of the drill, begin pressing down and twirling the drill as fast as you can. Traditionalists spit on their hands before beginning the process. You make the call on this!

Practice Makes Perfect!

When your hands get too near the bottom of the drill, quickly start back at the top again. After a few trips down the drill you will begin seeing smoke wafting from the socket.

Continue until a small ember can be seen inside of the socket. Assuming you have your tender ready, merely tip the ember into the tender and blow gently until the flames appear.

Do not be discouraged if you have trouble with this technique at first. You will soon get the hang of how hard and how fast to twirl the drill. Like most expert survival techniques, it takes practice to perfect using these skills correctly.

This expert survival technique is great for impressing your pals while camping or hunting and may just come in handy someday! Using a bow to spin the drill even faster and with less effort will work even better.

Adam’s Needle is a very useful plant for survival purposes. Its fiber and stems may be used for a variety of purposes and will be discussed in a future article. Learning which plants may assist you in the wilderness is not only essential but fascinating to study too.

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Comments 16 comments

ralwus 5 years ago

Kewl. But I can do it with my cordless drill and kitchen match a lot faster. ;)


Christopher Price profile image

Christopher Price 5 years ago from Vermont, USA

Good hub. I don't know if "Adam's Needle" grows as far North. I will have to research that. But as you say there are substitutes.

Does the powder you mention form naturally from the bottom stem as you spin the drill stem, or do you have to supply it from scraping the stalk while making tinder? You never covered the making of tinder, or its necessity.

Also, how common is "fat-wood" in that area? Carrying a couple of sticks in a survival kit is certainly worth the space it takes up.

BTW, You might be risking your credibility with your choice of recommended equipment...the reviews of the Bear Grylls/Gerber knife on Amazon pretty much say the "Beta Version" was a piece of junk. The more recent version may be better, but NO knife that isn't full tang should be considered as a "survival knife". I'd sooner rely on a Victorinox Swiss Army folder!

CP


Randy Godwin profile image

Randy Godwin 5 years ago from Southern Georgia Author

@Ralwus- I figured you for a Zippo man, Charlie! Thanks for reading!

Randy


Randy Godwin profile image

Randy Godwin 5 years ago from Southern Georgia Author

@Christopher Price-Because of the unique quality of the stem, the powder forms naturally and will create and ember with the friction of the drill in the socket.

Fat wood is everywhere here and is used for starting fires as a matter of course by most. No need to carry any around here.

Thanks for the heads-up on the Bear Grylls knife! I was half asleep when choosing products and will certainly change that one. Not a big fan of Grylls anyway. I prefer "Survivorman" and his experiences.

I plan to edit this hub with more photos and info anyway.

Thanks a lot for the input and comments, Chris.

Randy


GusTheRedneck profile image

GusTheRedneck 5 years ago from USA

Randy - Interesting article. Way back when, we learned how to start fires using flint and steel, bows on wood blocks, and glass lenses on sunny days. That bear grass deal looks interesting enough to look around to see what is available here in coastal Texas.

Gus :-)))


Randy Godwin profile image

Randy Godwin 5 years ago from Southern Georgia Author

Yes, those are all good methods for starting fires, Gus. But I thought it would be neat to show that one can really start a fire by "rubbing two sticks together."

Thanks for checking out this hub and as always, for your insightful comments.

Oh, and I have used stems from what we refer to around here as dog fennel for the same purpose.

Randy


Hello, hello, profile image

Hello, hello, 5 years ago from London, UK

Rhank you for such a wonderful read. I wish the white man had the sense in those days to learn from the Native Americans. They had far more sense in every way.


ralwus 5 years ago

LOL Rabdy, I am a Zippo man. But the drill is more fun. I would get blisters doing it cave man style. It is cool though and I shall remember it. I saw the Survivor Man, Les, do this too.


Randy Godwin profile image

Randy Godwin 5 years ago from Southern Georgia Author

@Hello, hello-We did learn from the Native Americans but not enough, apparently. Thanks for checking out my hub as usual.

Randy


Randy Godwin profile image

Randy Godwin 5 years ago from Southern Georgia Author

@Ralwus-LOL, me too, Charlie! This is impressive to many folks and handy for survivalists.

Thanks again!

Randy


pennyofheaven profile image

pennyofheaven 5 years ago from New Zealand

That is really cool. We never know when we are going to need these skills. Especially with Mother nature not being in a good mood lately. Will need to search out what we used in the days for fire starting. Excellent hub Randy!


Randy Godwin profile image

Randy Godwin 5 years ago from Southern Georgia Author

Thanks for reading this hub, Pennyofheaven. It pays to take no chances where survival is concerned. You never know what skills may be required to survive an emergency or disaster.

Thanks for the comments, too

Randy


NateSean profile image

NateSean 5 years ago from Salem, MA

Very nice. If you ever get your own show let us know, will you. ;)


Randy Godwin profile image

Randy Godwin 5 years ago from Southern Georgia Author

Thanks Sean! I've already had my fill of show business as I was a professional musician for many years, but I have given some thought to making a few videos about survival techniques and other related survival tips.

Thanks for your time and comments!

Randy


JasonPLittleton profile image

JasonPLittleton 5 years ago

Excellent hub! I enjoyed reading.


Randy Godwin profile image

Randy Godwin 5 years ago from Southern Georgia Author

Thanks for reading, Jason. I enjoy writing about this type of stuff. I appreciate your time and input.

Randy

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