Fire plow wood types from the warm beaches of Hawaii to the misty coastal forests of Oregon. And you ask; which ones work best with the fire plow method of starting a fire?
Fire plow wood types
The fire plow is a Polynesian fire making technique. The wood traditionally used is not readily found on the US mainland. However, there are still many local woods that have similar qualities that can be used in its place.
Hau, (Hibiscus tiliaceus) sometimes known as coastal Cottonwood. Is the native Hawiian species used for the fire plow. And if you have ever had the opportunity to work with Hau. You will understand why for some it's called Coastal Cottonwood.
Hau is lighter in weight similar to Balsa wood when compared too Cottonwood of equal size.
Cottonwood or (Populus species), have enough in common with Hau to make Cottonwood an excellent replacement for Hau. So, you can find Cottonwood or Poplar about anywhere in the US and Canada. Mexico too.
Fire Plow easy to find woods list
What is the fire plow method?
The fire plow in my personal experience is the simplest and most basic way to make a fire by friction. It's an exciting way to make fire because of its true simplicity.
The fire plow is the primitive Polynesian technique of fire making. And though peoples of Oceana, specifically a Samoan King I know, make it look easy. Believe me when I say, it is not. Unless you grew up getting strong the Maori Way.
Here is useful information on the Maori fire plow and wood used.
How the fire plow works
The plows simplicity comes from the fact that you only need two pieces for your fire kit. Unlike the bow drill, which is a bit more complicated, yet a highly effective system has more parts and pieces.
The two pieces of wood required for your kit is the plow itself. And the fireboard. The fireboard used is made of softwood to be successful. In the traditional Hawaiian method, the plough itself is made from a harder wood than Hau. It's called Olema.
The harder plow wood, (Olema) is pushed (In short strokes), beginning at about the boards middle and pushed towards the end of the fireboard away from you. A V groove of sorts is created by this process in the fireboard by the shape of the plow head.
Push the plow one direction
You don't push the plough in both directions. Only one direction. And that is away from you, on the fireboard. Friction through pressure creates heat by using upper body strength rapidly pushing the plow.
This friction will create a powder or tinder dust. The tinder dust is pushed into a pile with each forward push of the plow at the end of the groove on the fireboard.
This motion is repeated in faster-faster and shorter strokes until the tinder dust begins smoking and has formed a coal. Once you have a smoking ember tap the fire board a couple of times to consolidate the dust around the ember. Then tip your hot ember into your tinder bundle and blow it into a flame.
Alternative fire plow wood types
As I mentioned before Cottonwood or any Populous species will work as an alternative fire plow wood. The similar structural qualities of Hau and Cottonwood make Cottonwood an excellent choice.
Before I made fire with Hau I learned using our Oregon Red Cedar for both the plow and the hearth board. So, you might ask; can you do that? Absolutely. At the time all I had to work with was what was in my bow drill stash at home. I did some research and discovered that Cedar would work in place of Hau.
In my article The Best Bow Drill Woods I laid out the best softwoods to use. Many of our local woods can be used successfully for the fire plow method too. You're only limited by the width, depth, and length of the wood. To be successful be sure it's a recommended softwood species and both the hearth board and plow are completely dry.