Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Tree Treasure And Small Scale Capitalism

A few weeks ago, I went on a treasure hunt here at PFHQ. My quest would take me deep into my forest, along old fence lines, and even underground ... a little underground.

I was seeking "fatwood" aka "lighter". Fatwood is the heavily resinous remains of old pine trees and it makes the most amazing firestarter aka "kindling". I've mentioned this stuff before, so bear with me if I repeat myself, repeat myself, repeat ...

Fatwood is so resinous that even here in the land of wet rot and termites, the stumps of old pines that were harvested many decades ago, are still hard as a rock.

That resin is highly flammable hence the desirability of fatwood as kindling.

It gives off a piney thick black smoke, so you wouldn't want to cook over it, but it is wonderful for starting your hardwood fire or even your BBQ charcoal.

It only takes a few thin slivers to ignite seasoned hardwood or charcoal.

Hunting lighter is a great excuse for a slow walk through my mostly oak forest, so I headed south, kicking old stumps and logs as I went. A soft stump meant rotting oak, worthless, while a hard stump that kicked back meant possible lighter wood.

The treasure hunt walk gave me time to think about my place and it's preme history.
My land may be oak forest these days, but once it supported large longleaf pine trees and turpentine harvesting.

How do I know that?

I find the remains of clay turpentine pots and old pine stumps here and there around the property.

The evidence is clear. Before the oaks, a pine forest of large longleaf pine stood here. Probably many of them sported turpentine "catfaces" where the bark had been scored to make the sap flow into a terra cotta turpentine pot hung from a nail.
Somewhere in this blog is a post and picture about catfaces ... pretty old post though.

It wasn't long before I found the lighter stump above. It was lying at the base of an old oak, and could have been easily mistaken for a chunk of oak itself, but it was dense and hard. When I whacked it with my mattock, a rich piney sent arose.


It was half buried in the rich leaf mold beneath the old oak so it took a while to dig and pry it free. A stump like this is pretty excellent black widow, scorpion, snake habitat, so you have to be careful. No biter or stingers in this stump this time.

There's a good chance that this stump was cut when that big oak behind it was a wimpy seedling.

After the excavation, I dragged it out into the sun to dry for a few weeks. This is only the center of a much larger pine stump. The softer, less resinous sapwood has rotted long ago leaving this core of fatwood.

It's hard enough that an axe to the side of it bounces off with a ringing sound. Besides this stump, I found several others which are still awaiting excavation.

After some seasoning, I use the chainsaw to cut it up into approximately foot long sections that can be split easily with the sweetest little hatchet on the planet. I found this hatchet in the woods when I was about 14. No one else is allowed to use it.
It's like it was made for splitting kindling.


That beautiful orangey-red color is pine resin ... the "fat" in fatwood.
I wish you could smell that picture.

I'm still splitting, but I have enough split now to offer some for sale. I've never done this before and am working out some details, so this post is about a week ahead of any price info.

I'll have to be competitive with my pricing since this other guy called "Walmart" sells imported fatwood (looks puny to me) from Guatemala.

Thursday, I'm going to mail a test package of fatwood sticks to some cold people I know up north in New York. After that, I'll know what the shipping costs will be for a nice bundle of this excellent kindling.

More information to come by the weekend.

In the meantime, you can email me at: natcoast@msn.com if you are interested or just want to know more.


debbie said...

Just seeing the picture of the split wood I can smell the rich aroma of the resin. I'm very familiar with that scent. In the Florida panhandle we call that fatlighter, because it lights so easily. It sure can kick up a fire with a quickness.

Thunder Dave said...

Hey man, one you figure out the cost let Lightnin' and I know! Sounds like a must have for an Ohio winter!

Thunder Dave said...

Sorry, that's "once you figure out..."; I guess I got a little excited there! ;-)

ArtfulSub said...

Turbentine camps would be a good future post-focus idea maybe.

There's a culinary Troll Poll at my blog today I want you to participate in. Cause you're kinda rural and a foodie of sorts.

robin andrea said...

That's really beautiful kindling. I swear I can smell that rich piney smell all the way through these internets.

dani813 said...

I just love the Longleaf pine forests. The areas that we have left are just magnificent. Always a good day to have the chance to poke along and imagine the history.

Mockin'bird said...

You are truly a Pine & Palmetto Floridian.

Rurality said...

Very interesting! Were the pines planted? A turpentine plantation?! Or were they natural there and just exploited?

Hurricane Teen said...

This stuff was responsible for the destruction of the original Pacetti homestead. Have you ever heard that story?

threecollie said...

You have a way of even very hard work sound fascinating. And I know the cold people will be wildly grateful for your efforts and kindness..

ImagineMel said...

YAY "lighter'd" wood!

SophieMae said...

If only blogger came equipped with scratch-n--sniff. Aaaaahhhhhhh!!!

I was just reading about a relative in Largo who spent some time in the turpentine business 'near Ocala'. Velly intellesting. (But not funny.)

OldHorsetailSnake said...

Mr. Cracker, the wizard.

Deb said...

I checked our bag of six inch, tiny sticks of fatwood and it said "Product of Honduras". So I would be happy to buy some of your Florida fatwood. We sure use it around here, at least until we get our new propane heater, but I still want to do a wood fire once in a while.

Sharon said...

Mmmm...I know that smell very well, and the feel of an axe bouncing off of it. :) Another reason to NEVER have a gas fireplace >:o|

Floridacracker said...

Forgive me a blanket comment instead of my usual individual style. We spent last evening at a basketball game and then the emergency care center so Junior could get repaired.
I thought basketball was a noncontact sport!
He's okay, but I'm outta time and have to get to work.
Thanks to all for your comments!!

kathy a. said...

oh, no! poor junior. sending virtual ice cream and cold-packs and videos -- that combo can heal anything.

threecollie said...

Oh dear, hope he feels better quickly!

Hurricane Teen said...

Tell him to eat a pot of grits, chew on a Datil pepper, and call me in the morning.
Seriously, though, all the best to him! So what ails him?

Larry said...

No native pines here in N. Missouri, but many of the buildings around here built after about 1890 or so were framed with southern pine lumber, after the the North Woods had been thoroughly mined.

Every now and then I'll come across a southern pine board which is unusually heavy, striped with yellow and orange, and laden with waxy resin, the heartwood of a tree from the virgin pine stands. You're right, it does make good kindling!

Leslie said...

When it gets very cold here, our gas goes out. At those times we rely on a wood stove for our heat source. We buy fatwood by the case (really).

Our last batch (two boxes) is from Honduras and distributed by UniFlame corporation out of Winston-Salem, NC. There are several 4 lb. bags in a box. I think we got this last batch from Home Depot.

Floridacracker said...

Kathy A,
Works for me!

He's good now.

Cuts from a rough basketball game.
Chew on a datil?

It practically lights itself.

I'll have to price the Home Depot stuff and see if I could compete.

Hurricane Teen said...

I hear there was a doctor in St. Augustine who used to say the likes of that.

foxkat said...

Hey there, I would be interested in purchasing an UNSPLIT CHUNK of that wood. Perhaps a 6" - 10" round that's about 15" - 20" long. Since you wouldn't have to do all the splitting, perhaps we could make it worth your (and my) while?

Please email me.