It is a well-known fact among experienced Special Operators that when it comes to starting a fire, the use of pitch and pine resin is an easy way to get a fire lit. This pitch and resin are readily prevalent in the Southeast’s pine forests. But for the younger troops who’ve never spent much time in the field, it may be a good thing to learn.

If you find yourself in a situation where you must dry out your uniforms and equipment in a wet environment, this is a quick and easy method to get a fire going. If you’re in a tactical type situation, I’d go very lightly with this method as it does tend to smoke.

If you know where to look, it is usually easy to find enough of this flammable material to get a good fire started quickly, even in rainy weather, as we’ll soon demonstrate.

But before you begin to search for it, what is this pitch/resin? The pitch wood is commonly referred to under a myriad of names such as “Fatwood” or “fat lighter,” “lighter wood,” “rich lighter,” “pine knot,” “lighter knot,” “heart pine” etc. In North Carolina, going thru the SF survival courses and SERE School, they referred to it as lighter knot, so for our purposes, we’ll do the same. But it is all the same.

So where do you find this? Pine trees produce pitch/resin as a defense mechanism for wounds or insect attack. The easiest place to search is in the trunk of dead or dying pine trees.

When the pine’s bark is penetrated by insects or birds, the tree pumps out resin to protect the inner trunk from fungus, rot, or to deter insects. As the trees age, the pine pitch or resin will collect in the heartwood of the tree.

Up here in the northeast, there aren’t as many pines so it actually took a bit of looking. The best area to find it is in a stump of a dead tree, but as luck would have it, there wasn’t one in our search. But we found plenty of dead limbs on a tree and cutting it off close to the trunk, we used our survival Bowie knife to chop off a chunk about 3-5 inches from the limb-trunk connection. Then it is just a case of cutting or chopping small chips of the pitch soaked wood.

It can be chopped into chips or shaved down into tinder.  You’ll know when you have the right stuff, it has a strong piney odor to it. I equate it with a turpentine smell. If you find enough of the chips and they’re soaked with the resin, it is easy to put some in a small plastic bag and include it with your survival gear.