When in a survival situation, you may find yourself in need of a reliable fire starter that is highly flammable and water-wind resistant. Fatwood is a naturally occurring resource which is all of these things, but the question is: where can you find it?
Fatwood is found in dead and decaying pine or spruce trees and stumps. The center of the stump will have the highest amount of resin and contain the most fatwood. Sometimes the resin can settle down into the taproot – the area where the roots and the trunk meet. It’s most easily harvested with a survival axe and a knife.
To have the best chance of finding fatwood, it’s important to know where to look, what to look for, and how to harvest and store it.
Where Do You Find Fatwood?
When a tree dies, it remains standing for some time before the trunk weakens and the tree falls. While the tree remains standing, the sap is pulled down by gravity into the trunk. The sap continues to harden into resin, leaving behind what we call ‘fatwood’ because the wood becomes ‘fat’ with resin.
Knowing how fatwood is made is an important step for finding it because it tells you where you need to look. But not every tree is capable of producing fatwood, so let’s take a look at what types of trees you should look for.
Finding the Right Tree
Fatwood is a resource that is specific to two types of trees: pine and spruce. Both trees are classified as evergreens (meaning they stay green all year) and conifers (meaning the seeds they produce are in cone form). Both trees are part of a much larger family of evergreens and conifers, so they won’t be the only types encountered in the wild.
A large number of other species of trees may make it difficult to identify a spruce from a fir or cedar tree, but the easiest way to tell them apart is by looking at two areas: the leaves and the cones.
- Have leaves that are long, thin, needle-like, and appear in clusters
- Clusters come in 2, 3, and 5needle clusters
- Cones are woody, rigid, thick, and grow towards the ground
- Have leaves that are short, thin, stiff, and squared
- Leaves grow from small, woody, stalk-like projections
- Cones are smoothand flexible, with thin scales. They also grow toward the ground
Fatwood comes from the stumps of dead trees. Once you’ve identified a grove of spruce or pine trees, start looking for fallen trees and stumps. The larger and older the stump, the more fatwood it’s likely to contain.
Now that you know where to look, let’s take a dive into what you should look for.
Identifying Fatwood in The Wild
Identifying fatwood comes down to three things: color, smell, and hardness. All of these are related to the amount of resin the wood contains.
- Look for wood that is reddish and amber in color – the darker the color of the wood, the more resin the fatwood contains.
- Check for a strong citrus, pine odor. The chemicals in the resin give it this distinct smell.
- The hardened resin makes fatwood much more solid than the rotting wood that surrounds it.
Once you’re sure you’ve found some, you can now get to harvesting.
How to Harvest and Store Fatwood
To harvest fatwood, you need a knife and a small survival axe. A word of warning before you start cutting – the resin in fatwood is extremely sticky, so make sure you have some sot of de-greaser or gum remover around to clean your blade after harvesting.
First, take your knife and scrape away the decaying wood surrounding the fatwood core. Then take your axe blade and a sturdy stick to hammer the axe blade into the wood until it splits. Continue until you have thin, medium-sized sticks of fatwood – about a half-inch thick.
To maximize your yield, take a shovel and dig into the center of the stump to expose the taproot. Take your knife and whittle away any decaying wood you may find from the roots.
These smaller pieces of fatwood work well as starter shavings, while the larger pieces function best as kindling sticks. Typically, a single piece of fatwood will be enough to last you several fires – especially if you use it primarily as shavings.
If you’ve harvested your fatwood ahead of time and want to take some with you on a camping trip or hike, you should wrap it tightly in some plastic wrap or other adhesive resistant material so you don’t risk getting pine tar all over your belongings.
To save yourself some time, carve off some shavings to store in a small, metal tin (like an Altoids tin) that can be kept in your bag or pocket. With the metal storage method you can keep your fire-starting method close – whether it be matches, a Ferro rod, striker, etc. – just be sure to keep a non-flammable barrier between the two.
Starting and keeping a fire lit can be the difference between life and death – making fatwood an essential part of your gear. It has highly flammable, water and wind-resistant properties that can help you start a fire no matter what the elements throw your way. Look for stumps of pine or spruce trees and harvest it like you would other firewood.