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How to video: Find pitchwood, a natural, effective firestarter

How to video: Find pitchwood, a natural, effective firestarter

If you live in an area with pine trees, you probably have access to pitchwood, one of the most effective waterproof  firestarters ever. Here’s how to find it.
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by Leon Pantenburg
Pitchwood is a resin-infused piece of pine that is waterproof and highly flammable.In the northwest pine forests where I hang out, there is generally an abundant supply of pitchwood. If you know where to look, it is usually simple to find enough of this flammable material to get a good fire started quickly, regardless of the weather.
Before you can start looking, though, you need to know: What is pitchwood? (Also commonly referred to known as Fatwood or “fat lighter,” “lighter wood,” “rich lighter,” “pine knot,” “lighter knot,” “heart pine” etc.)
According to the Forestry Forum: “…pines produce resin/pitch as a defense mechanism for wounds or insect attack.  When the bark is wounded, the tree pumps out resin to protect the wound from fungal attack or to expel an offending insect.
Over time as the heartwood forms with age, excess resin over the tree’s needs is shunted into the heartwood.  Over more time, this resin can totally permeate the heartwood to create a “pitch soaked” condition.  This high concentration of resin creates a very decay resistant heartwood.  If the tree dies and falls over, the sapwood (the living functioning part of the wood), decays fairly rapidly.  However, the pitch soaked heart can last for decades.
A dead branch on a live pine tree will probably have some pitchwood at the junction.

A dead branch on a live pine tree will probably have some pitchwood at the joint or junction.

This resin-impregnated heartwood becomes hard and rot-resistant.  The joints where limbs intersect the trunk, can also be harvested. Most resinous pines can produce fatwood.

Fatwood is scar tissue of a damaged or injured pine tree, according to Forestry Forum. A lightning strike will scar a tree sometimes top to bottom without necessarily killing the tree. The result scar of burnt bark will “scar” over with resin. Once hardened, the wood and bark around the area becomes rich with the flammable hardened resin.  Again, resin will harden forming “scar” tissue rich in fatwood. Hard yellowish resin can be found around the wound area. This can then be scraped off and used as a fire starter

So if you’re in a forest with pines, you should be able to find pitchwood. Here’s where to look:

Find a dead branch on a living tree: This is usually the easiest place to find pitchwood. Saw the branch off even with the trunk, then saw off a three-inch chunk. That will probably be pitchwood, and you can split it into tiny pieces to help get the fire lit.

MVI_1946-002

Look at the center of what appears to be a decayed pine stump. It may have pitchwood in it.

Stumps: A retired forester friend of mine told me to look for old stumps that were about waist high. That indicates the tree was cut in about the 1930s with a hand crosscut saw. In other parts of the country, just keep an eye out for old pine stumps. If they haven’t rotted, there is a chance there may be some pitchwood in the middle.

MVI_1957-001

Pine knots can usually be found on the forest floor near a decayed pine tree trunk.

Pine knots: These are the preserved branch parts of an otherwise rotted tree. Because they are impregnated with resin, they last a long, long time, and you may be able to pick them up off the forest floor.

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Leon Pantenburg is a wilderness enthusiast, and doesn't claim to be a survival expert or expertise as a survivalist. As a newspaperman and journalist for three decades, covering search and rescue, sheriff's departments, floods, forest fires and other natural disasters and outdoor emergencies, Leon learned many people died unnecessarily or escaped miraculously from outdoor emergency situations when simple, common sense might have changed the outcome. Leon now teaches common sense techniques to the average person in order to avert potential disasters. His emphasis is on tried and tested, simple techniques of wilderness survival. Every technique, piece of equipment or skill recommended on this website has been thoroughly tested and researched. After graduating from Iowa State University, Leon completed a six-month, 2,552-mile solo Mississippi River canoe trip from the headwaters at Lake Itasca, Minn., to the Gulf of Mexico. His wilderness backpacking experience includes extended solos through Yellowstone’s backcountry; hiking the John Muir Trail in California, and numerous shorter trips along the Pacific Crest Trail. Other mountain backpacking trips include hikes through the Uintas in Utah; the Beartooths in Montana; the Sawtooths in Idaho; the Pryors, the Wind River Range, Tetons and Bighorns in Wyoming; Rocky Mountain National Park in Colorado, the Catskills in New York and Death Valley National Monument in southern California. Some of Leon's canoe trips include sojourns through the Okefenokee Swamp and National Wildlife Refuge in Georgia, the Big Black River swamp in Mississippi and the Boundary Waters canoe area in northern Minnesota and numerous small river trips in the Midwest and Pacific Northwest. Leon is also an avid fisherman and an elk, deer, upland game and waterfowl hunter. Since 1991, Leon has been an assistant scoutmaster with Boy Scout Troop 18 in Bend, and is a scoutmaster wilderness skills trainer for the Boy Scouts’ Fremont District. Leon earned a second degree black belt in Taekwondo, and competed in his last tournament (sparring and form) at age 49. He is an enthusiastic Bluegrass mandolin picker and fiddler and two-time finalist in the International Dutch Oven Society’s World Championships.

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