Thoughts on Fatwood seem to be somewhat polar in the wilderness survival circles for a variety of reasons. Seems people either love it or they hate it. There are some are really staunch opponents of using the substance out there. Some of whom are truly skilled woodsmen with the belief that using it promotes laziness and dependence upon it in some people, which in turn limits the knowledge and skill of the user. I will admit, after seeing some people get hung up on it, that there is some merit to that line of thinking. Although I'm sure it's possible those same people would get hung up on birch bark if it were available in their area. I will be as quick as anyone to say that laziness in training is a bad thing. However the fact remains that in a true survival situation laziness is, to an extent, advisable in that every calorie needs to count for something. Also, often speed and efficiency are important. To me personally fatwood, light-wood, rich-pine, fat-lighter, lighter-ed pine, whatever you wish to call it, is definitely not the best tinder under every circumstance. I would never walk past paper bark, horse weed, thistle...or many of the other good tinders sometimes available in order to find fatwood on a dry day. All any of the above require are picking, placing in a tinder pile under a few leaves with some small twigs on top, one spark (when really dry even from the sparking wheel of a dead bic lighter) and soon you have flames. Conversely, if I actually needed a fire under wet conditions, I would never waste my time, energy, and my knife's edge whittling into the dryer center of a dead hardwood limb in an area where a quick scan will reveal several nice hunks of fatwood in my immediate area. Though the aforementioned skill is definitely a good one to practice. I live in the East Appalachian Temperate Rain Forest. The humidity is usually high here especially in the spring and autumn, and even in the winter months. For those of us who live here fatwood is a gift of nature that allows us to quickly start fires even under the wettest conditions using an organic substance easily found here in our forest.
The background for the fire in the pictures below is this. Two days ago, after days and nights of off-and-on rains we had a severe line of storms pass through the area. At one point I could barely see cars passing the end of my driveway, only about 15 meters from my kitchen window, with their headlights and flashers on. Hale pommeled the metal roof of my front porch and torrents of brown water poured off of the ridge behind my house. The hardest part only lasted about 30 minutes or so. After it was past there were very large trees broken down here and there laying across roads, on houses, and on power lines. Parts of the city were without power for 28 hours. I went outside immediately afterward.
My fire pit area was thoroughly soaked, as was my tinder, and all of the fuel I used.
The attributes that make fatwood so valuable are that A) it is hydrophobic, the resin rich wood will not absorb water, B) the oils use the wood much like a wick so it burns for a good while, and C) it will easily take a spark and burn under even some of the wettest conditions.
In this case I merely split the piece of fatwood into smaller pieces, whittle some shavings, and made a pile on some wet leaves on the wet ground inside the fire pit.
After that it was only a matter of sparking it to life and adding fuel. As you can see, the ground inside the fire pit is really saturated, as was the wood I used for fuel as you can see by all the steam.
I broke what most consider a cardinal rule of fire starting here just to make a point. Every twig and stick I used for fuel was picked up off of the wet ground. Under such conditions a small amount of fatwood will burn for a good amount of time, producing a fair amount of heat. It will dry out wet fuel saving you energy and giving you time to tend to other needs.
One reason I really love micarta is that it is tough and cleans up well.