Monday, October 29, 2012

Weapons For The Zombie Apocalypse

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Finding Fatwood Pt. 2

The search continues...

Hello everyone. In follow up to Finding Fatwood Part 1, here is my second effort after I regrouped and did some extra research.

So during my first attempt, I focused on finding a Pine stump hoping that I might get lucky and find some concentrated fatwood. I was plagued by two issues:
1) Almost every stump whether young or old was completely rotted out.
2) When I did find the rare stump that had a solid inner core, it appeared as a false positive in the woods because the dampness of the ground made the wood take on a darker hue. By the time the wood sat to dry at home for a bit, it was obvious that I had not found fatwood.

Both of these issues are really the result of one cause; the ground (at least where I am searching) is too damp. The wood dies from rotting before any significant amount of turpene can be produced by the roots to settle in the stump.

Now it is possible that my location has a lot to do with it. Living farther north than the southern states that are infamous for having fatwood stumps every other step (like Florida), we have a different climate. My theory is that the ground is too damp here between all the rain and snow we get throughout the year that the tree doesn't have a chance (at least from natural death) to concentrate to the point to be considered fatwood. As there are no logging plots in my immediate area I have yet to test logged Pine stumps. All the stumps I have checked were either knocked over by other falling trees/wind, struck by lightning, or just actually died from a natural cause.

So after the first trip's failure and reflecting on the above conclusions, I regrouped and did some more research. I learned that the closest few inches of a dead pine branch can sometimes hold fatwood. From what I gather the tree "seals off" the dead branch from the living part of the tree. Same principle anytime a pine is injured externally, it will produce resin to seal the inner parts (this can also be collected and used for multiple purposes). So this time, my goal is going to be to cut off some dead branches and see what I can find...

One other theory that seems to make sense, is that the larger and older the tree is the more resin the tree should be able to pump. Saw this interesting Table Mountain Pine (Pinus pungens) on the way in and actually made a great find.

Table Mountain Pine

Dead Immature Cone

Mid Trunk that must of have severe damage done to it. It was covered in pure hardened resin.

It also had a dead branch protruding from it... Bingo!

Not only did I successfully find a good piece of fatwood before I even got to the area I was going, but I also harvested some pure hardened chunks of resin!

Just when I thought I had harvested everything this great tree had to offer...

Got a bag of hardened resin, and this one of pliable stuff.

Continuing on, I finally reached the woodline of the area I know pines are dispersed. I walked a little deeper in this time since I knew stumps were not a priority this time.

Look how quickly the woods change from deciduous to coniferous in the next three pictures. Use the tree in the far right of the first picture as an anchor point for comparison in all three:

And then I was in it. Large area of all pines, with plenty of dead branches to harvest. The reason for this area of pine is because this land had mining about 40-60 years ago or so, and the geography looks like they basically cut the top off of this hill to mine, and when they were done, they planted these pines. Their height seems to coincide with that timeline.

Every tree had multiple usable branches. It got to a point where I was no longer looking for fatwood, I was looking for pines with the best dead branches haha.

Here is the end product of the haul:

The hardened resin. Will make some pitch sticks or maybe pitch glue out of this.

The unprocessed lot of it.

The most concentrated piece. Check out that color!

Each of the pieces has a good 2-4 inches of concentrated fatwood. I kept another 2-3 inches of wood on each stick. Not the same as a stump, but this is was a great haul for me and a real learning experience. Hopefully this will help others who live farther north and have been having trouble finding good stumps.

Monday, October 8, 2012

Finding Fatwood Pt. 1

"Fatwood" is nickname for wood that has a high resin content and as such is very flammable and has a lot of uses for bushcraft and camping. It as actually terpene, which is what turpentine is derived from. While I have known about fatwood for sometime (by the way its also known as "fat lighter", "light wood", "pitch wood", and probably other names as well depending on where you live), I have never actually been successful at collecting my own.

Essentially it forms when a pine tree is either cut down or breaks. The roots continue to pump resin into what ever remains of the tree and stump, which causes concentrated pieces.

Occasionally on trips out to the woods I would make a half-assed attempt to check a stump or two, but was never thorough enough, and as a result, never successful. In the past, I always rushed and figured "I should be able to pull a stump out of the ground and light it right away" as I had seen some others do. But after some thought, I realized, a lot of these folks I have seen do this have lived much farther south, like in Florida for example, where the soil is usually much dryer than here in PA and most of the NE US. So my first realization was that based on how damp the soil can be, I will have to let the stumps dry out a bit before they will take a flame.

Another realization, is that because the pine tree areas around me are not logged, my best bet is going to be to find stumps that only recently separated from the rest of the tree. Again due to the how damp most of the ground is, a lot of the stumps I find rot out very quickly, because the tree usually died from natural causes (not being cut down)so most of the stumps also died around the same time. Finding pines that were cut down would be optimal because the stump would be alive and well, but I've got to work with what I've got. So what I learned today is to check the stumps that look like they are recent. The stumps that have the rest of the tree already fallen for some time and rotted out were all rotted out as well so this seemed to confirm my idea somewhat.

Here are some pieces I collected today, and what I learned from them:

The first one looked semi promising from the outside, but upon further inspection proved to be extremely rotted, helped along by its inhabitants.

The next stump I cam across was smaller and also was rotted on the outside, but with some help from my wetterlings, revealed a rock solid core. It looks like I found a winner here.

Some more cleaning revealed a nice red hue, and this looked and smelled like I finally found a good piece.

Tried a few more stumps with mixed results, some with success, most with completely rotted stumps.

One stump seemed *at the time* to reveal the best piece yet. More to come about this piece.

After about an hour of pulling stumps, I found a decent collection of promising pieces, some more so than others, but I was happy with my results for such a minimal time input. Some of the pieces appeared as though they were more concentrated than others.

On the way out I kept my eye open for pines with injuries to try to collect some hardened resin on the outside and found a jack pot.
This tree was recently injured and the sap was not hardened yet and was very easy to collect. Filled up a whole sandwich bag of very clean sap.

Got home and set the pieces out to dry a bit. One thing I realized is that the dampness of the ground can make the stumps look more "red" than they really are.

EDIT: After allowing the pieces to dry for a day, unfortunately I realized these were not concentrated enough to be considered fatwood. While they did have the smell, and some very small veins, they were not the real deal.

See part 2 for more success...