Fire is one of if not the most important tools in the outdoors. It can keep you warm, cook your food, purify water, signal for help, and help you feel more secure in a stressful situation.
Finding the right natural materials to start a fire in adverse conditions can be a little difficult. One of the best, in my opinion, is fatwood. Fatwood is also known as lighter wood, pine knot, lighter knot, or heart pine. Fatwood is the resinous remains of a pine tree that has died. When a pine tree dies, either upright or fallen, the sap settles into the heartwood of the branches and trunk. As the tree rots the sap hardens into resin soaked wood, this is the fatwood. The best spots to find it is where the branches attach to the trunk or the roots if the tree remained standing for a while.
Fatwood can be lit easily, even in wet conditions, with a lighter, match, or ferro rod. I carry a piece of it in all my camping and survival kits.
***Before harvesting anything from the wild get the landowner's permission and never harvest from public lands or parks.***
Step 1: Find a Dead Pine Tree
Pine trees are the only ones where I have been able to find any fatwood. Ceder trees might produce some but I have yet to find any.
The pine tree needs to be dead and mostly rotten. I have had the best luck from trees that were fallen. The stump can also produce fatwood in or near the roots.
Step 2: Locate Branches
Locate where the larger branches attached to the trunk of the tree. There will most likely be the remains of branches protruding a few inches from the trunk. I use a hatchet to knock and chop away all the soft, rotten wood. Find the hard heart wood at the joints of branches and trunk.
Step 3: Cut Out the Pine Knots
Cut out a few of the knots. To find out if you have any fatwood cut into the hard core, if it looks shiny and you get a strong pine odor you have found fatwood. These knots will still have a lot of rotten wood on them and will need to be processed.
Step 4: Remove Rotten Wood
I begin trimming with my hatchet and then follow up with my knife. You will remove a lot of undesirable material before you are down to just the fatwood.
Step 5: Trim and Keep
My final step is to reduce the good fatwood into pieces that are easy to carry. I will trim off everything but the best until they look the the pictures above.
There you go. Just shave or scrape off a fair amount and it will light easily with just a spark. You can shave off larger slivers to add on top to increase the flames until your marginal fire wood can light, or in severe situations you can split it down into small sticks and use them, along with the shavings and scrapings, to get a good fire going.