fatwood piece
Fatwood is the free firestarter that can be found almost anywhere there is a pine tree. One common question, though is how to find fatwood? You can order it by the box from L.L Bean, 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.

fatwood stump

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. 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 I’ve found is 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 is hard as a rock. For stumps, look for one similar to the example pictured above 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.

fatwood chunk

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. When you pick it up, smell it. It should be hard to the touch, is sometimes sticky, but will smell overpoweringly like pine tree. If it just smells like wood, then move on to a different sample.

fatwood shavings

If you can find a solid piece at least the size of your pointer finger, you’re in good shape. The best next step is to take a sharp knife and run it down the long edge of the fatwood, until you have a pile of shavings. About one or two good handfuls should be plenty. If this isn’t an option, then use the heel of your boot to stomp yourself a good handful of chips and pieces. You will be amazed at how much heat this little pile will put out, when placed under your twigs, sticks and larger wood.

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