fatwood kindling

Fatwood Fire Starter

Fatwood kindling split into sticks
Cross cut section of a small Fatwood stump. Note the golden color of the sap when the piece is held up to the light.

Growing up, my Dad was an avid woodsman. He loved all things hunting, fishing and things the land could provide. He is a large source of what I know and certainly was who spurred me to further my survival studies as an adult. One of the things he taught me about was fatwood. Fatwood is dried pine wood that is full of resin, or sap.  It is sometimes referred to as Fatwood Kindling, Lighter or Lighter Knots. Or if you’re from where we’re from, “lighterd” with a d at the end. It’s highly flammable and has a wonderfully fragrant aroma, like smelling a bottle of Pine-sol, but without the chemical overtone.

We would use it to start a fire and Daddy was adamant that it be used sparingly, as it was almost as valuable as gold. As a child, I didn’t understand this, but simply obeyed the rule. As an adult, I totally get it. When you need it, it really is as valuable as gold, and depending on where you are, just as hard to come by. Luckily, we live with an abundance of pine trees, so it is everywhere. I still cringe though when my husband or son unceremoniously uses a piece larger than was necessary. Grandpa Hooper would not have approved of such willy-nilly use. Haha!

So exactly how does fatwood come to be? When a pine tree dies, the resin in the tree settles into the remaining stump and tap root.  The stump and root become saturated with resin and as it rots away, the resin-soaked wood at the core hardens creating a saturated vein of highly flammable wood.  This resin-soaked core will remain for hundreds of years, never rotting away like the rest of the wood.  The settling resin that is caught in the knots of the root, is known as a “pine knot”. It is highly flammable also and unlike the easily splitable core, knots are nearly impossible to split into smaller pieces.

If you’ve ever been around old houses and heard the term “heart pine floors”, they are wood of the pine tree that is heavy in resin.

The resin, or sap, from pine trees contains terpene, the main component of turpentine and is where the flammability comes from.

Fatwood can be used as tinder to light fires in the form of kindling sticks, shavings, or pine knots and is a valuable addition to the homestead, your survival pack, or just your camping gear. Use it in sticks, as the whole knot, or use a knife to create shavings. If you don’t have paper, dry sticks or other fluffy pieces to start a fire with, fatwood shavings can take that place.

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