Fatwood is a non-toxic, natural firestarter prized by homeowners, hikers, and backcountry survivalists for its ability to light easily and burn very hot—even in damp conditions. Whether it’s lighting up a cozy fireplace for the family during dinner, a woodstove that will heat the house all day, or a ring of stones around a fire pit for the evening camp’s fire, fatwood makes quick work of starting a crackling fire.
The Origins of Fatwood
Fatwood is formed by a natural process in pine trees. Pine trees use pitch or resin—a sticky, waterproof substance—to protect themselves from damage. In the living tree, resin flows to areas of insect activity, limb loss, or other damage. When the resin hardens it seals off the area, protecting it from boring insects and moisture.
After a pine tree dies, the plant’s resin gradually concentrates in the heartwood—the dead wood in the center of the trunk. This process occurs whether the tree is upright or fallen, and whether it’s intact or only the stump remains. The outer layer of wood, called the sapwood, rots away, but the resin concentrated in the heartwood means that extraordinarily rot-resistant portion remains.
Obtaining Your Own Fatwood
You have a couple of options for sourcing fatwood: You can find it in the wild, harvest it, and chop it into kindling yourself, or you can purchase it.
To Find Fatwood in The Wild
In the United States, the best producer of fatwood is the longleaf pine. It is found from eastern Texas to southern Maryland. Look for pine trees that have been dead for some time. The soft sapwood should be pretty much rotted away—you should be able to kick it apart with a boot. The heartwood, preserved by the resin, should be yellow and smell like pine or turpentine: That’s fatwood.
To harvest the fatwood, cut it out with a hatchet. Process it into thin sticks about 8” long for kindling, or use shavings as tinder.
Since resin heals pine trees’ wounds during a tree’s life, you may also find resinous fatwood in the trunk where the pine tree had lost a limb.
To Buy Fatwood
To buy fatwood, look for sustainably harvested fatwood with no added chemicals. Orvis’s fatwood always meets both marks—as you’d expect from a company actively dedicated to environmental stewardship. Orvis sources its all-natural fatwood from SmartWood/FSC-certified suppliers. Our fatwood is a by-product of the sustainable timber industry and is never taken from living trees.
Fatwood Safety for Woodstoves & Fireplaces
Fatwood is ideal for use in wood stoves and fireplaces. It lights quickly and burns hot, meaning a lot less time and effort between you and a well-established fire in the firebox.
Fatwood firestarter does not generate more creosote than any other fire-starting method. The main causes of creosote buildup are incomplete combustion of fuel, burning wet or unseasoned wood, and cool chimney surfaces. Since fatwood burns hot, it causes less buildup in chimneys.
Is Fatwood Toxic to People—or Dogs?
Pure fatwood is all-natural and non-toxic. It’s pine wood imbued with pine resin: no more, no less.
But some companies do harvest natural fatwood and then treat it further with chemicals.
If the fatwood is of high quality, however, no further treatment is necessary. Orvis fatwood is always 100% high-quality and natural, never chemically treated. It is non-toxic and safe for household use around kids and dogs.
Fatwood does not expire or go bad. Its resin makes it resistant to water and rot, though you should keep it as dry as possible and avoid any standing water. Store it wherever it’s easiest to reach: in a good-looking wooden box next to the woodstove, in an open basket, or by a partially sheltered woodpile. There are reports of farmers turning up usable, resinous, pine-smelling fatwood stumps in fields that were cleared for planting a century before. (Not that you should bury your fatwood in the dirt—it’s hard to imagine a less convenient storage method.)
How to Use Fatwood Sticks to Start a Fire
All you need to start a fire is fatwood, fuel wood (whatever split wood or collected wood you have lying around), and a match. Fatwood acts as both tinder and kindling: It’s quick to ignite and burns hot, and also burns long enough to ignite the wood that will be the fire’s fuel.
To light a fire, use two or three fatwood sticks. If you are lighting a fire in a grate that elevates the fire off the ground, the grate will provide your airflow from below; if not, cross two sticks on top of the third to elevate them slightly.
For a small or short-burning fire, simply place a small or medium log on top of the fatwood, light the ends of the fatwood, and keep adding similar logs as necessary.
Alternatively, for a larger, hotter, or longer burning fire, arrange your fuel logs in a teepee, log cabin, or whatever configuration you think best, making sure the fatwood will be accessible once the fire is built. When it’s constructed, light each stick of fatwood at the end. You’ll be enjoying a crackling fire in no time.