In his first book – Bushcraft – Morsk Kochanski talks about the bark of black poplar as being one of the best, frictionless bow drill bearing block material. I guess he meant the best you can easily find in boreal forest. The best ready-to-use natural material for bow drill I’ve ever used are hollow stones.
The thing is, you can’t always find them when you need them. But that also goes for black poplar bark. We do have the species in European forests but, at least in my area, it isn’t a common species. It’s even more difficult to find one with the bark thick enough to be used as a bow drill socket.
Since Mors Kochanski always emphasises that he specialises in wilderness living in a very specific environment, I decided to bend his idea and adapt it to my conditions. We may not have a lot of black poplar in my area but we sure have plenty of pine trees. Some of which sport very thick bark. So I thought I’d give it a go.
It worked very well. I have never used black poplar bark and cannot compare these two but I think pine is a good substitute in areas where this species is abundant. One thing to point out when using a piece of bark as a bearing block is that in this case both ends of your spindle have to be rounded and none of the can be pointy or it will drill through and through too quickly. That can be used to you advantage as having both ends rounded, you can use both for drilling interchangeably. Unless of course you decide to use some sort of lubrication, which in this case isn’t really necessary.
I’m also pretty sure these are not the only tree species that produce bark suitable for bow drill hand hold. At least sever other trees I know seem to a good candidate. I haven’t tried them yet but it’s not unlikely that I will in the nearest future.