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...

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