It's that time of year when homes are starting to build fires in order to keep warm. Growing up in a household that has a wood-burning stove, I know the value of a pitch stump. Using pitch kindling makes fire starting a no-brainer. I never really thought about when or how we came across pitch stumps, just that it was nice we had one (or more) during the colder months. My sister added the question of how does a pitch stump come about to my growing list of Daily Doodle questions... I'll finish my 366 day project in 27 days, but who knows, maybe I will have to keep going (doubt it).
A pitch stump, known as "fatwood" is dried wood that is full of resin. In fact, you could even say that fatwood is “heavily impregnated” with resin or pitch, hardened to the point that it almost seems petrified.
You find fatwood in the stumps of dead pine trees. More specifically, when a pine tree dies (especially from getting cut down or broken off) all of the resin in the roots gets drawn into the stump, right above the tap root. The stump becomes saturated with resin. As the roots and trunk rot away, the resin-soaked wood at core of the stump hardens and endures.
The highest concentration of fatwood will be right at the top of the tap root, that intersection between roots and trunk. In some cases, you might have to burrow down through the stump until you hit that section. If there’s fatwood, it will feel like a rock compared to the rotting stump.
You’ll know that you’ve reached the fatwood in a stump by the smell it gives off, the sweetest, strongest, pine scent you’ve likely ever experienced. It’s like walking through a Christmas-tree farm. That’s the resin. Be aware that the fatwood resin is very sticky, so if you find some you'd like to harvest, try WD-40 on your blade before cutting the stump.
The resin itself contains terpene, the main component of turpentine. It is incredibly flammable. It takes flame effortlessly and doesn’t want to give it up. Because of this, fatwood shavings can be lit with a spark, even when wet, producing a flame that resists the wind and burns much, much hotter than regular shavings. Fatwood shavings make a wonderful tinder that will easily set blaze to larger pieces of kindling.