Finding and Using Fatwood as Tinder
To learn how to quickly locate, identify and utilize fatwood as a fire starter.
It is possible to order fatwood online, however it can be found for free in most areas that have plenty of pine trees. Harvesting is much easier with a hatchet or axe for large quantities or a good, sharp knife when just a handful is needed.
Fatwood is the free firestarter that can be found almost anywhere there are pines. One common question, though is how to find fatwood? You can order it by the box from Amazon and other retailers, but that doesn’t necessary do you any good when you’re unexpectedly lost in the woods. It doesn’t matter if you call it fatwood, lightwood, heartwood or some other regional variation. The magic behind this old woodsman’s trick lies in the lifecycle of the trees.
Without getting bogged down in too much terminology, everyone who survived high school learned that plants make their own food via photosynthesis and that this food is a sugar. In brief, when the tree dies, this sugar can sometimes end up concentrated in part of the wood, commonly the tree stump. This part of the tree will harden while the rest of the wood rots and gets eaten away. The trick is in being able to find where the fatwood is hiding. The two best places are in rotten logs and stumps. If you can locate an old, rotten log that is eaten away to the point of being hollow or spongy, check the base end for a spot that feels rock hard. For stumps, look for one that seems to have flying buttresses, like a medieval church. However, do be careful when poking at old stumps and logs as they can be home to biting and stinging critters. Just go slow and look around carefully before sticking you hands anywhere.
When you think you’ve found a winner, use the sole of your boot or the edge of your knife to either break or shave off a small piece. It should be hard to the touch, often looks amber in color, is sometimes sticky, but will smell overpoweringly like pine. If it just smells like wood, then move on to a different sample. Not every dead tree turns into fatwood, so it is not uncommon to have to check a few.
If you can find a solid piece at least the size of a finger, you’re in good shape. Take a sharp knife and run it down the long edge of the fatwood, making a pile of shavings. About one or two good handfuls should be plenty. If this isn’t an option, then use a boot heal to stomp a good handful or two of chips and pieces. When placed under twigs, sticks and larger wood, these will light and burn as well as any store bought fire starter.
Go fatwood hunting this week. With a knife in your pocket and a little practice, you will be able to find and identify this amazing fire starter. Consider collecting a few pieces to keep around for emergencies and adding this as a “tool” in your fire starting kit.