Fatwood: a never-fail fire starter

The wood in old pine stumps, especially above the taproot, is fat with pitch and extremely flammable. I've been buying it under the product name Fatwood for years, but evidently, if you live in an area with lots of felled pine trees, it is quite easy to find and harvest this yourself.

It is not actually cold here in Northern California. It's down as low as 45ºF outside. So the other night, for no reason other than solidarity with my East Coast friends, I decided to start a fire in my fireplace. I am always amazed at how quickly a stick of fatwood lights up. Typically one match or just a few seconds with a lighter and I've got a torch that is ready to start any fire. Two to three sticks of wood starts a three-log fire in my fireplace right quick. I like using the laden-with-tar pine to start fires instead of factory-made firestarters as my fireplace has a catalytic converter and gets kinda finicky. It also just strikes me as a simpler, likely safer to be around solution.

If you are interested in harvesting it yourself, Rambling' Jim offers a ton of great information. Evidently it is quite simple to find if you're in the right area.

Jim had this to share:

Fatwood is easier to find than you’d think. All you really need to do is find a stand of pine trees. Once you’ve found one, look for old, dry stumps. You’ll find a fatwood bounty in logging areas. Ideally, you want stumps that are rotting. Rotting stumps have had plenty of time for the resin to collect in the stump. Fresh stumps will be poor in fatwood.

I keep fatwood by the fireplace and I always have a few sticks in the Westy to quickly get a campfire going.

Fatwood firestarter, 3lbs box.

Notable Replies

  1. One of my Scoutmasters showed us how to make firestarters out of paraffin, sawdust, and twine. Fatwood seems like a much better alternative, especially if you're in an area where you can harvest your own.

    The reason's for fatwood's flammability would probably also explain why my Scout troop, which camped in areas with a lot of cedar wood around, never had to use that Scoutmaster's firestarters.

  2. Best source: pines hit by lightning. Shards everywhere, from splinters for firestarting all the way to bat-sized which are perfect for movie-style torches that will burn for hours, with or without pitchfork and mob.

  3. 2/6/14: BoingBoing Hipsters Discover Kindling.

  4. Gene_D says:

    Poor man's fatwood: cut paraffin coated cardboard boxes into inch wide strips. Check your local grocery for the boxes that vegetables arrive in. These waxy boxes typically end up in the landfill. The strips burn cleanly with lots of heat.

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