Fatwood is a natural accelerant that can be used to start fires under virtually any conditions anyone might wish to build a fire. It is formed when a Pine tree dies while standing and the pitch settles and collects in heavy concentrations in the lower sections of the tree. In the largest trees it can form in the heart and limbs several feet about the stump and root section and in the smaller trees it will be closer to the ground. It will also form in areas of the tree that have been injured where a heavy concentration of pitch built up while the tree was still living. In any case the fatwood in the lower stump and root sections will usually be much more rich than the sections higher up. From my research Fatwood can be found in any area where Pine trees grow, I have personally found it through out the South East U.S., and have friends who have found it in the Northern regions, in the U.K., in the Philippines, and in places like Honduras (whose lumber industry appears to be the leading supplier of commercial fatwood). From what I have seen it will form in vurtually any pine tree white or yellow. However it does not appear to form in all conifer trees. I have never found it in what I knew to be a Cedar or Hemlock tree.
Fatwood can be found in the woods in different states of being. Some times you will find it in rotten looking stumps like this. At first glance this just looks like rotten wood unfit even for a camp fire.
But if it is fatwood, when you break into it you'll see a much more solid interior than you expect and you'll smell a strong scent of turpentine.
Other times you can find whole trees that are mostly fatwood.
In this particular case the outer layer is very "punky" to a depth of approximately three inches but very solid past that. Eventually the outer layer will weather away leaving a large Fatwood skeleton.
It can be found as what appears to be a weathered, rotten looking piece of wood protruding from or just laying on the ground. In this state of being the wear pattern in the grain will be your best clue
At times you will find it in what appears to be just a rotten pile of wood where a tree used to be.
It can also be found in what a lot of folks refer to as Pine Knots. These are concentrations of pitch that have formed at the bases of limbs.
How the tree dies, and what time of year likely have a good bit to do with how it forms. Regardless of what state you find it in, whether you find it on top of the ground or under it, whether it has been dry in the area for weeks or raining for days it will still exhibit the same characteristics. It is a pitch heavy wood that will not absorb water that will take a spark easily, and flame even more easily, and a fire made up of only split pieces of fatwood will even burn in the lighter rains once it is going good.
It is a hard dense material that is best processed from stump form with an axe or a heavy knife.
It will ignite with either flames or by spark when whittled into the traditional "fuzzsticks"
but one of my favorite ways to work with it to get a fire quickly when using a firesteel is to use the spine of my knife to scrape the surface of the fatwood into a thick, gooey type of fuzz. This fuzz takes a spark very well and burns very hot to ignite other heavier slivers of fatwood quickly to get a fire going fast even under very damp conditions.
the following pictures more completely illustrates this process from start to finish.
Place the spine of the knife against the fatwood like this and repeatedly scrape until you have the desired amount of fuzz.
This is what will be going on on the other side of the knife.
When working with smaller pieces as above I usually just leave the fuzz attached to the piece and ignite it. When working with larger pieces of fatwood you can whittle off the fuzzed up part and place it where ever you intend to start the fire.
Just place the end of the firesteel directly into the fuzz pile and scrape.
add your fuel and soon you have fire. This was done after two days of rains and flooding.