In many of the episodes of FAT GUYS IN THE WOODS, I instructed the guys how to ‘carry fire’ from base camp to their individual solo base camps. Oftentimes, this was quite a trek through the woods and the fire carry needed to last up to a couple hours. In the pioneer settlement themed episode with Dave, Andrew and Bill, we made fire on Day 1 using a YUCCA HAND DRILL. When it came time to send them each out on their own, it was raining. Making fire with a HAND DRILL would have been impossible under those conditions. So, I decided to send them each with a couple of PINE FATWOOD TORCHES. I didn’t get a chance on the show to really explain where I got these and how to find them so I thought I highlight that skill in this blog series.
The ability to source a torch that will burn upwards of an hour is a very important survival skill. Not only can you use a torch to carry fire from one location to another but it has all kinds of survival uses. It can allow you explore dark caves, hunt at night (frog gigging especially), travel at night, signal for rescue, and keep predators at bay. It is an incredibly useful survival tool.
‘Fatwood’ is a term for wood (typically in the pine family) that has become saturated with sap, also called resin. Fatwood is sold in stores and online as fire tinder and is an amazing fire starting material. Pine sap is extremely flammable and wood that becomes saturated with it will burn for a very long time. Fatwood makes an excellent torch! Fatwood can be shaved into thin shavings and ignited with just the spark from a ferro rod. Pine sap (dry or oozy) can be added to fire starting tinder as a flame extender and is a great substitute for PETROLEUM jelly when making PET balls (cotton balls soaked in petroleum jelly). Below is a photo of pine resin oozing from insect drill holes in the side of this pine tree.
If you can find pine trees then you can find FATWOOD. I find that many people are confused about how to actually find fatwood. If you are, I hope to clear that up. The easiest way to find FATWOOD is at the base of dead, low hanging branches on pine trees.
Pine resin (sap) tends to collect at these joints and will saturate the bottom few inches of the branch where it connects to the tree. It will remain there long after the tree has died. In fact, for this post, I am using the dead pine tree shown below which has been dead for over 10 years. Notice the dead branches along the trunk. This is where I will be looking for FATWOOD. Even though much of the tree and the branches are dead and rotting, there is still fatwood at the base of many of these branches.
Here’s a closer look at a couple of the branches.
As I begin to hack into the base of one of the branches with my ax, you’ll notice that the wood inside has a rich amber color. It’s also very dense. This is fatwood and it is completely saturated with 10+ year old pine resin.
In the photo below you can clearly see the difference between the resin rich fatwood in the branch (left) as compared to wood that came from the trunk.
As soon as you cut into fatwood you can SMELL the rich pine scent and it is sticky to the touch almost immediately.
MAKING THE TORCH
You can even see the pine resin glistening in the sun on the branch I collected below. Once you’ve chopped a resin rich lower hanging branch from a pine tree, you have to prepare it for lighting.
It’s important to split the resin rich end to expose more fatwood surface area and allow oxygen to freely flow between the split. This helps the torch to light and burn longer and more efficiently.
Once you split the end a few ways, press in some green spreader sticks to keep the splits forced open.
Depending on the size, a fatwood torch will burn for quite some time. I’ve found there is a ratio to estimate how long one burns. If the stick is 2″ in diameter, it will burn about 1 hour. If it’s 1″ in diameter it will burn about 30 mins. 3″ = 1.5 hours. Basically, divide the diameter in half and that’s how many HOURS it will burn.
FATWOOD is an amazing survival resource and is an unrivaled material in the natural world. I hope this tutorial helps you be able to identify, harvest and use a fatwood torch!
Have you ever used FATWOOD to start a fire? If so, tell us about your experience in the comments below!
Remember, it’s not IF but WHEN,