Fat wood fire

The start of your fire

I was in the Scottish woods recently clearing some ground with Apprentice Andy for a new camp and quite honestly we struck gold. Much is said about fatwood and it’s fire lighting properties so I’ll start with what it is put in simple terms – it’s the heartwood (or duramen) of around 120 or more pine trees which, most notably, in the uk would be the Scots pine (pinus sysvrstrus ) (de-mystifying conifers pt1).

30 years in the making
As a rule the best source is the largest limbs and in the stump and tap root of felled trees which can be collected after an extraction by diggers clear the ground, however, not everyone has access to those .

This particular lump was from a stump dating to 1991 which had apart from the fat wood completely rotted away so we could work it free giving us a massive lump of resource for courses

Source of the fat wood
Source of the fat wood.

What is it /why does it burn
In quick easy terms the heartwood has been chemically transformed to make it more rot resistant and in this particular case has become resin impregnated. The sap in conifers contains terpene which is a volatile hydrocarbon which my o level in general science makes me think it burns.

Preparing the fat wood
Preparing the fat wood.

Its use
Firstly assuming you’ve identified and acquired a “small“ bit of fat wood then to my northern forest mind you have one of the two best fire lighters there are in nature. I’ll not explain the enjoyment of actually splitting such a large chunk here, however, I’ve found a thumb thick 6-8 inch piece is best. Plenty to grip during knife work with cold wet hands. You’ll need a sharp knife to process.

Begin as you would with feather sticks, however, you continue the cut to remove the feathers. One tip is to use a mix of sizes of feathers ranging from 6 mm at the largest to extend the life of initial flame down to fine almost cabinet shavings with your knife at 90 degrees.

Shavings removed
Shavings being prepared.

Bigger is best
My text tip is to ensure you have enough and to have a large supply of birch /spruce twigs and hopefully some birch bark to have ready. Always prepare twice or three times as much as you need.

One you have you tinder pile ready it’s time to add some sparks.

Adding some sparks
Adding some sparks.

Don’t be concerned it it takes you a few strikes and you are best with a good ferro rod with nice hot sparks. If you struggle add more very fine shavings then a bit more then try again.

Once burning very little, except heavy rain will put it out. You can build on it from there adding more fat wood and small kindling. This small bundle of about two golf balls in size burned for over 3 minutes giving plenty of time to build that fire.

Remember though always think about ground conditions, weather, location and asses the risk and impact of your fires.

The start of your fire
The start of your fire.

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