I’ve written about kindling before, but this time I solely focus on Finding, Harvesting, and Using fatwood. Natures true and own homegrown fire starter. You might know it is made from pine wood. Then you know more than some people perfect. Hopefully, here you will read more on where to find fatwood and how to expose it.
What is “Fatwood”?
Fatwood is a resin holding piece of dried wood. Some wood parts can contain so much resin that hardens that sometimes the wood pieces look more like a rock or ‘fossil’ than wood.
You can find fatwood in the stumps of dead pine trees. When a pine tree breaks off or gets cut off, all the resin from the roots wants to heal the tree’s exposed areas. Therefore, a lot of resin builds up in the core area – often right on top of the tree’s taproot – trying to save what is possible. This resin-soaked wood hardens and will stay ‘healthy’ while the other pieces of the tree rot away.
The main component of fatwood that makes it so suitable for a fire starter is the conifer resin it contains. Resin exists mainly out of terpene, which, as the word entails, is also used for turpentine. So imagine a piece of dry wood soaked with turpentine. This is why just a few shavings can be used to start a blazing fire. It only needs a spark, and it doesn’t matter if it is damp or a little bit windy because it burns much hotter than other kindling and fire starters.
Where Can I Find Fatwood?
As a consumer, I would say go to the hardware store or one of the bigger online retailers, and you might find it there from big boxes to smaller packaging. Another thing that you can buy is emergency firestarter kits. Most of those kits contain fatwood firestarters, Ferro rod, and some char cloth. With one of those kits, all you have to do is scrape off some wood from the fatwood and start your fire!
On the other hand, if you like to make a fire from scratch and want to know, you really did everything yourself—a true survival enthusiast who enjoys the adventure of harvesting his own fatwood, then continue to read on.
Although it might sound impossible to find fatwood, it’s not. You need to know where to look, so first:
- Look for actual pine trees like conifer trees.
- Look for broken ones or trees being snapped off. Logging areas will give you the low hanging fruit.
- Look for old, dry, nearly rotten stumps.
- Or look for trees with dead branches still attached to it.
The older and more rotten the tree, the bigger the chances you’ll find a hard resin indulged core. Fresher stumps tend to have little fatwood.
Some trees rot so much that you can peel off the rotten wood with your hands. Continue removing the rotten wood, and eventually, you will reach a hard part; it might look petrified and feel as hard as a rock. You have reached your fatwood!
Right on top of the taproot is where most fatwood will concentrate. The taproot is the main root going down into the ground. Sometimes you need to dig a little deeper to get to the harder parts. Once you hit something hard, you know that has got to be the fatwood. Compared to the rotten wood, it will feel like a rock.
How to expose the fatwood from a tree
Above, we mentioned it quickly. Sometimes you need to dig into the stump. However, if you can get the whole stump out, you have an easier time looking for the resin-impregnated pieces of wood. The fatwood concentrates at the top of the roots. The largest concentration is often found in the spot where the taproot flows into the stump. Follow your nose on this. The resin in the wood leaves a pungent smell. The typical pine scent, so you cannot miss this.
Materials you need for taking out fatwood
There are several ways to go at this. But I believe the more advanced the tool, the better, in this case. You can use an ax, but they are often too big for this job. Instead, use a hatchet or a small ax, or a big knife like a machete.
Use the hatchet or machete to remove all the dead and rotten pieces of wood till you get that scented, rock hard piece of wood.
Now use the machete or hatchet for batoning the fatwood into smaller pieces. Batoning is when you put your blade onto the fatwood and use another sturdy stick to slam the hatchet or machete through the wood. This technique helps to get reasonably even pieces of wood. For the fatwood, aim for 1 / 2” or 1 cm thick ‘planks.’ Once you have several planks, it is wise to make little sticks. Use 1 / 2”x1 / 2” or 1×1 cm as a guideline for the square sticks. It might work better to use a smaller knife batoning through the planks making the sticks.
If you want to make matches out of them, you might want to cut them even smaller with pointed tips to increase the chances of getting lit.
Since the resin is very sticky, it might be wise to grease your blade first before batoning. You can use any lubricant or something like WD-40, so it slides through easier. To clean the blade afterward, use some degreaser spray or gum and wax remover.
Now that you have some sticks, you can easily save them for one of your trips and take one or two with you. One stick usually gives you enough scrapings or tinder to light a few fires.
I recently came across this video. This guy finds fatwood with ease, looking for dead branches still attached to the trees. So if you find all the above way too much of a hassle, check out this video!
How to use fatwood?
Fatwood is mainly used as a firestarter, also known as tinder. Tinder is what you use for the first step of your fire. It catches fire quickly by using a fire rod or a lighter. When the tinder smolders and catches fire, you can place a finger or pencil-thick sticks on top of that. Once those catch fire, you can expand to bigger branches.
So instead of using the sticks you made in the previous section, you want to scrape down the twigs so you’ll get fatwood shavings. Bundle them so it will look like a ball. Another way to go at this is to make a feather stick. With a feather stick, you scrape down the wood but leave it attached. Once you have done this a couple of times, you can cut off the feathered part as a whole, so you don’t end up with loose shavings.
Try to make the shavings as thin as possible to catch fire easily; this is important, especially when using something different from lighters or matches. Firesteels, Ferro rods, or Magnesium rods are the most used survival items when looking as replacements for a lighter or matches.
The nice thing about fatwood is that they burn very hot. So once you got them going, building your fire should not be a problem at all. The kindling on top will catch fire quickly, and you are good to go!
Another great feature of fatwood is that it is perfect for any type of emergency. Even when you are in the rain and need a fire going, fatwood can help you with that. Thanks to the amount of resin it contains, the shavings will light up even when damp. Also, a gust of wind won’t blow out your fatwood tinder that easily. Nevertheless, be carefull when using loose tinder shavings and wind.
When the weather is terrible, you can always use some fatwood sticks and shavings to get the wet kindling starting. The resin-infused wooden sticks will dry en ignite the other kindling quickly.
Only benefits of fatwood
Fatwood only has benefits: It lasts forever, doesn’t need any specific handling procedures, and one good big chunk of it will keep you satisfied till eternity. My advice is to go out there and find yourself one dead pine tree and cut out that hard piece of resin-infused fatwood. You see many pine trees all over the northern hemisphere, so there is no reason to deprive yourself of the fun of finding, harvesting, and using fatwood!
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