Starting a fire in the wilderness can be a challenge, especially if the weather is damp or resources are scarce. Fatwood can be a lifesaver in such conditions; it can light when wet and burns for a long time, meaning you need less of it to keep a fire going.
In this article, you’ll delve into the various features and benefits of fatwood, and you’ll learn how to find it and use it as a fire starter during bushcrafting.
What Is Fatwood Used For?
Fatwood—also known as “fat stick” and “fat lighter”—is resin-saturated wood taken from the heartwood (central wood) of a pine tree. Fatwood is known for its ability to light easily and burn hot and long, making it a popular type of fire starter to create a fire in bushcrafting. You can use it on its own or in combination with other fire starters like kindling and paper.
Why Is Fatwood Used As a Fire Starter?
There are various benefits to using fatwood as a fire starter—including its ability to light when wet and burn for a long time. Let’s now go into detail on the benefits of using fatwood as a firestarter.
Flammability in Wet Conditions
Fatwood is found in the stumps, roots, and bases of pine trees that have fallen naturally or been chopped down. These parts of pine trees are rich in resin, a naturally occurring flammable substance that can ignite easily—even when wet. This makes fatwood ideal for starting fires in damp or wet conditions, where other materials may be difficult to ignite.
Low Smoke Output
Another advantage of fatwood is that it produces very little smoke. It burns cleanly, without producing the thick, acrid smoke that other materials like green wood or wet paper produce. This makes fatwood particularly great for starting fires when smoke can be a problem, such as in a camping stove or during a wilderness survival situation.
Durability and Portability
The resin in fatwood is highly durable, which means it can be stored for long periods of time without losing its effectiveness as a fire starter. Fatwood is so durable, in fact, that you can still ignite it after many months—or even years—of storage!
So, if you store some fatwood stocked up at your base, you will certainly be able to use it a couple of days later. That’s not the case with many other types of fire starter.
Top tip: Fatwood is also highly portable. You can cut it into smaller pieces and carry it in your pack to your next camp.
With fatwood, you’re using a substance found naturally in the earth. It’s taken from the stumps and roots of pine trees and it is renewable, since more trees with fatwood will grow in their place. This makes fatwood a far more renewable and sustainable resource than chemical fire starters and similar fuels.
With fatwood, you’re also making use of wood that would otherwise go to waste. Fatwood is accessed when a tree has died naturally or has been cut down. Using a natural by-product of tree death and tree harvesting is also pretty sustainable.
How to Make Fatwood
So, now you know more about the uses and benefits of firewood, let’s take a look at how you can make it and use it to light a fire.
- To make fatwood, you must first gather the necessary materials: a hatchet or saw and gloves. You must also find a source of pine tree stumps or roots in the wild. (Head to the next section of this article for tips on finding the best trees for fatwood).
- Next, you should cut the pine tree stumps or roots into small pieces, approximately 6 to 8 inches long, to expose the resin-rich center of the wood.
- After cutting, clean any dirt or bark from the pieces of fatwood—you can use a knife or sandpaper to do this.
- The cleaned pieces of fatwood should then be stored in a dry place, which will allow the resin to harden and become even more flammable.
- Finally, when it is time to start a fire, simply strike a ferro rod or use a lighter to ignite the end of a piece of fatwood. The resin will burn hot and long, providing a sustained flame that can be used to light kindling and start a fire. Tip: Always follow local fire regulations and guidelines when starting a fire in the wilderness.
Best Trees for Fatwood
The best trees for fatwood are pine trees, particularly species of pine that have high resin content such as the Longleaf Pine, Slash Pine, Loblolly Pine, Eastern White Pine, Shortleaf Pine, and Ponderosa Pine. These species are especially known for their resin-saturated heartwood. Remember: The resin in heartwood is what makes the fatwood so flammable and useful as a fire starter.
To identify those pine trees that have a high resin content, you can look for stumps or roots that are sticky and have a strong scent of pine.
Tip: Make sure to harvest your fatwood sustainably without doing harm to the surrounding environment or ecosystem.
Can You Cook with Fatwood?
Fatwood can be used as a fuel source for cooking, but it should be used with caution. Fatwood is made from pine tree resin and stumps and is known for its high flammability and intense heat. While this makes it an excellent fire starter, it can also be dangerous when used for cooking. The intense heat generated by fatwood can cause food to burn.
Another reason why you might want to avoid cooking with fatwood is that its resin can give food an unpleasant flavor. This is because it releases volatile organic compounds (VOCs) when burned—including benzene, formaldehyde, toluene, and xylene. These not only taste unpleasant but can even be harmful to humans and animals. To minimize the release of VOCs, avoid cooking over an open flame.
Tip: The safest way to avoid the problems of burning and VOCs is to use fatwood only as a secondary heat source during cooking, rather than as your primary heat source.
Is Fatwood Safe?
When it comes to starting a fire, fatwood is generally safe to burn, as it is a natural by-product of pine tree harvesting and contains no chemicals or harmful substances. However, as with any fire-starting material, it is important to use caution when using fatwood and to follow proper fire safety guidelines. This includes making sure your fire is contained in a designated fire pit or area and making sure you never leave the fire unattended.
In addition, you should always make sure to follow local fire regulations and guidelines when starting a fire in the wilderness; there may be restrictions on the type of fuel or fire starter that can be used. If you have any concerns about using fatwood, it is always best to ask local authorities or fire safety experts before starting a fire.
Fatwood is a natural, sustainable, and highly effective fire starter favored by those who are environmentally conscious and love the great outdoors. Taken from the highly flammable heartwood of pine trees, fatwood is easy to ignite, burns hot and long, produces minimal smoke, and can be stored for long periods without losing its effectiveness.
With its various benefits, fatwood makes for an excellent fire starter during bushcrafting. Why not try it yourself, using the sections of this guide “How to Make Fatwood” and “Best Trees For Fatwood” to help you!
I am Bruno. I write and lecture about bushcraft, survival, hiking, and nature experiences in general. I also produce short films on these topics as a director.
My wife Lilith and I try to travel as much as we can to discover the world! We wish to live in harmony with nature and preserve its ecosystems: Eden paradise is here now.
I want to open a door to reconnect with nature through this blog.