The most common cliché about scouting is a toss-up between helping old ladies across the street and rubbing two sticks together to make a fire. Making fire with a bow drill is an obtainable skill for those who are willing to devote themselves to a little study, finding the proper materials and patient practice.
Here’s great advice and direction on making a bow drill fire featured on the Wildwood Survival website. The site features illustrated articles on a variety of survival techniques – a fine resource.
Start with the three detailed articles by Peter Moc covering the construction and use of the bow-drill:
When you are first learning bow-drill fire-making, you must make conditions and your bow drill set such that the chance of getting a coal is the greatest. If you do not know the feeling of a coal beginning to be born then you will never be able to master the more difficult scenarios. For this it is best to choose the “easiest woods” and practice using the set in a sheltered location such as a garage or basement, etc. Remember to unplug your smoke alarms!
It is very important that the fundamentals are learned before attempting the more advanced techniques. If you don’t learn how to read what the wood is telling you, your coal-producing reliability will be unpredictable in the more difficult scenarios. You should be able to get a coal nearly every time you try when using a proven set before you move onto made-from-scratch bow-drills. Keeping a notebook of your experiences and experiments will greatly aid in advancing your ability.