Friday, December 23, 2011

Fatwood hunt with an amazing find

My stepson and I went for a day hike last Sunday and part of the path went through a burned out area from an old forest fire. I'm always keeping an eye out for good fatwood but didn't expect to find something this good.

For those unfamiliar with fatwood, (also known in the West as pitchwood or resinwood) it is a natural fire tinder that comes from certain conifer trees after they die an unnatural death (lightning, forest fires, windstorms, cut down by man or by animal, etc).

It is a dark, waxy wood filled with highly concentrated tree resins, that when lit, burns like wood soaked with gasoline. A detailed article about what fatwood is and its historical background is forthcoming so make sure to check back here soon

The Hunt

During the hike, I walked past an old rotted-out Douglas Fir log and saw something suspicious poking out. Upon closer inspection, I knew I had found something significant. The photo below was taken after clearing away some of the bark and other dead wood to get a clearer shot of the suspiciously dark pieces of wood sticking out:


Different angle (note the end is solid resin):

I sawed the log in half with my 18" Corona saw (lots of work!) and look what popped out, two beautifully dark fatwood seams!

Closer view of one of the seams:

Here are some of samples of pieces that were split from the main seam. This is some of the richest and most beautiful fatwood I have EVER seen.

There is so much resin in this fatwood that it sticks to your hands, and the ends occasionally "sweat" just from sitting around. Some of the bars that I cut after these pics were taken are solid black resin. 

I lit a very tiny pile of shavings in my work area on a large metal pan that I use to test fatwood and it almost caught the rug on fire because it was shooting small roman candle-like flares out! It's also the first time that fatwood ever made me sick from the fumes, seriously. It's like somebody poured flammable Hershey's syrup on wood. Definitely the best fatwood I've ever seen!

About the author
Jason Schwartz is the founder and senior editor of Rocky Mountain Bushcraft. He is a former Red Cross certified Wilderness & Remote First Aid Instructor, and has taught bushcraft and wilderness survival techniques to the Boy Scouts of America, interned with the US Forest Service, and studied wilderness survival, forestry and wildland firefighting at Colorado Mountain College in Leadville, Colorado. Jason has also written for magazines such as The New Pioneer and Backpacker, including writing the "Tinder Finder" portion of Backpacker's "Complete Guide to Fire," which won a 2015 National Magazine Award (NMA). Email him at rockymountainbushcraft @ (without spaces)


  1. You are fortunate to have such a good eye to see the good stuff through all that rot. Nice catch. I'm still enjoying my resinwood from you as well!

    1. Thanks, it comes from lots of practice :) Glad you're enjoying that Doug Fir resinwood too!

  2. Hey Cw
    I was overcome by fatwood fumes on a recent hike. I was breathing in the fumes when I rested and it was a nauseous felling until I figured it out.

    1. Lol, yeah, the good stuff is really strong. Hopefully you took home some good stuff!

  3. Something else to consume my time... I'm gonna search for some fatwood now that I know what to look for. Is a cedar tree a good one to check for fatwood?

    1. Thanks for the comment Paulie. Once you start it's addictive! As for Cedar, no, it doesn't produce fatwood. Only the Yellow Pines, Fir, Tamarack\Western Larch and occasionally Spruce make fatwood. We'll have an article up by this summer that goes into depth about fatwood, including how it forms, the different trees, how to find it, etc. Cheers, J