Estimated reading time: 8 minutes
Everyone has a niche or skill that they are particularly good at and enjoy talking about. For me, it’s all things having to do with making an outdoor fire, though I should say I am by no means what you would call an expert at it. But I’m not too bad.
If you are reading this article, you’ve probably come across other articles or videos discussing how to make a fire outdoors. Usually, the focus is on the method for producing an ember, spark, or flame, which is pretty darn important.
Eons ago when I first started practicing outdoor skills, I too was focused on those methods. But it didn’t take me long to figure out that there is another very important aspect to making fire. In fact, it is the very foundation on which a fire is built.
I am talking about tinder. Without a good source of tinder to hold that ember, spark, or flame, starting a fire can be extremely difficult. I have tried many different types of tinder, over the years but there is one that has been my favorite for a long time. Fatwood.
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What is Fatwood?
You may have heard fatwood called by other names such as lighter wood, fat lighter, pine knot, pitch pine, or heart pine, but since it was introduced to me as fatwood, that is what I call it.
Fatwood is derived from pine and other softwood trees. The resin in the trees contains terpene, which is a main component of turpentine. You may or may not know that terpene is quite flammable which is why some softwoods like pine, can burn quicker and hotter than other types of wood.
When a pine tree dies or falls over, the resin begins to settle in certain areas of the tree. These areas of wood develop a high concentration of resin and take on a rich amber appearance. Due to the high concentration of resin, the wood becomes much more flammable, and this is what we call fatwood.
Why You Need It
I should probably start by saying that fatwood is not your typical tinder, at least not in the way we usually think of it. We usually think of tinder as a very dry, fine material with a lot of surface area, such as grass, cotton, and cattail fluff.
For the most part, I consider fatwood to be source of tinder or a fire-starting aid. However, it could be considered tinder, a fire-starting aid, and kindling. Fatwood is not like the above examples of tinder because it is a solid piece of wood.
However, like the examples above, it does take a spark exceedingly well when it is processed into shavings or wood dust. As a fire-starting aid, it ignites easily with a spark or flame and burns long enough to help get a fire going. And since it can come in larger pieces, it may also be considered kindling.
I have used fatwood for many years now and I wanted to share with you some of the reasons I think everyone should have some in their pack or fire kit.
Fatwood can be bought in bulk packages at reasonable prices, which makes it a very affordable tinder/fire aid. What’s that, you don’t want to pay for it? Well, you are in luck because you can also get it for free. All it takes is a chopping tool and a trip to the woods.
Fatwood will work when it is damp and even when it is wet. I have been caught in the rain with it and on more than one occasion I have dropped it into a few puddles. After shaking the excess water from the surface, it will ignite almost as well as if it were dry. Water-resistant fire tinder is a great thing to have!
I have found that once a piece of fatwood is ignited, it is somewhat wind resistant. This doesn’t mean that the flame can’t be blown out because it certainly can, especially if it has only been lit for a short time. However, once a piece gets burning, it tends to resist breezes quite well.
Lightweight and Compact
This pretty much speaks for itself, so I don’t feel the need to go into a lot of detail about it other than to say a few pieces of fatwood fit in the palm of my hand, and they weigh next to nothing.
I usually put at least two average size pieces of fatwood into my fire kit. Now, this doesn’t mean I can only start two fires from those pieces, I can actually start multiple fires. This is because fatwood works so well as a fire aid that larger pieces can be processed down into smaller pieces and they will still be very effective. If I had to venture a guess, I would say that I could get at least ten fires going with two average-sized pieces.
Easy to Ignite
This probably should have been the first reason listed, but hey—we all make mistakes. One of the main reasons I love fatwood so much is that it is extremely easy to ignite a piece of it with a lighter, match, and even a ferrocerium rod. Saving resources with your ignition tool is a huge benefit, especially if you are in a survival type of situation.
Most sources of tinder that people use such as cattail fluff, grasses, and cotton balls, for example, are not reusable. Once they are ignited, they are left to completely burn. However, there is a way to reuse a piece of fatwood several times after it has been ignited, and I will explain that in the following section.
More Reasons Why You Need Fatwood and How to Use it
Everyone has their way of doing things that work best for them, and I wouldn’t be surprised if there were ways of using fatwood that I am unaware of. Having said that, here are three ways of using it that I have found to be very effective.
Split it and Light It
If you want or need to use a whole piece of fatwood to get a fire going, then do what you need to do, but I mentioned earlier that I can get several fires out of a single piece of fatwood. The way that I do this is simple.
First, I take the fatwood and stand it upright. Then I use a cutting or chopping tool to split it into several pieces, usually quarters but that depends on the dimensions of the original piece. I then use one of those pieces by lighting the end and placing it flame down into a tinder bundle surrounded by kindling. If I have done my prep work and conditions aren’t terrible then I can almost always get a fire going with one piece.
Make Wood Dust
Remember earlier when I said that you could ignite fatwood with a ferrocerium rod? Well, to do that you are going to need to make some wood dust. Don’t fret because this is easy to do.
Hold the fatwood in one hand and place it firmly against a hard surface, like a rock or log. Take out your knife and use the spine of the blade to scrape against the wood. This will start to produce small shavings that will collect at the bottom.
Do this until you have at least enough shavings that would cover the surface of a quarter and are roughly a quarter of an inch high. Place the ferrocerium rod next to the shavings and scrape some sparks into the pile!
Use It Like a Match
The last way to use fatwood that I wanted to share with you is to use it like you would a match. This method is also how I reuse a piece of fatwood more than once, which I referenced earlier. Making a long match can also be very helpful to light things that are in hard-to-reach places.
To create a fatwood match, use a knife to trim a piece down so that the diameter is about the same diameter as a wood match. This doesn’t have to be perfect as I have used pieces that were as large in diameter as a pencil. If it suits your needs, the length of the match doesn’t matter all that much.
Once you have your match, simply light the end of the wood with whatever ignition tool you have and use it like you would any other match. When you are done, blow the flame out and let the wood cool off before putting it back in your fire kit.
Fatwood Pros and Cons
- It’s found in nature so you can get it for free
- Very affordable when purchased
- Easily ignites from a spark or flame
- Wind resistant
- Water resistant
- Can be used like a match (reusable)
- Can start several fires from a single piece
- Easy to use
- I know that this may come as a surprise because most things have at least one characteristic that isn’t so great, but I honestly cannot think of one negative thing to say about fatwood
As you can see, I like fatwood quite a bit and if you have never used it, I hope I made a good case for you to try it out. It’s good stuff. Let us know your experience with fatwood or if you have any questions about it by leaving a comment below.
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