Nature's Own Conifer Tree Pitch Fire Starter

The conifer tree pitch fire starter is a natural combustable for starting fires, includes which trees to harvest from, making pitch portable and safety issues.


| November/December 1985



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Pitch balls like these clinging to the bark of a spruce can be plucked by hand, but the fastest and cleanest method is to slice them off with a sharp knife.


PHOTO: MOTHER EARTH NEWS STAFF

Here's the pitch: No more crumpling up a mountain of newspaper to fire up the woodstove, and no more wasting valuable Coleman fuel to coax a reluctant campfire into comforting flames, use some conifer tree pitch fire starter to build your fire. (See the fire starter photos in the image gallery.)

All the experienced woodsmen I knew while I was growing up in Montana and Idaho started their campfires with nature's conifer tree pitch fire starter known as pitch —a sticky, resinous substance found in and on conifer trees. Those old-timers knew that this naturally occurring incendiary is not only totally dependable, but also available anyplace evergreen trees are found.

Pitch is formed by the concentration of resins in a conifer's heartwood and roots, as well as on the bark, especially around scars and near the base of the trunk. Wood that's impregnated with pitch is interchangeably called lightwood or pitch wood.

In some cases, a tree will produce so much resin that the sappy substance actually exudes from the wood in the form of highly flammable, yellowish globs—known as pitch balls t hat cling to the bark. Pitch balls as big as a prizefighter's fists can sometimes be found near the bases of young pine trees, while in spruce and fir forests pitch balls rarely exceed the size of peas.

In fact, the pines produce more pitch than any other species of conifer, and of the pines, the most resinous variety is the eastern North American Pinus rigida, commonly called the pitch pine. But pitch is most common in the vast western evergreen forests.

Although pitch resins are most abundant in the pines, Douglas fir produces the richest (that is, the most flammable) pitch. But because it congeals only in the heartwood, fir pitch is more difficult to locate and harvest than pine pitch; about the only way to find Douglas fir pitch is to chop the heartwood out of rotted stumps or logs.





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