Lightwood — nature’s gift to man

Published 5:55 pm Tuesday, February 5, 2019

short rows header

Before there were paraffin fire starters, butane grill lighters and other products, there was lightwood. In fact, down through the centuries, lightwood, or as it’s better known among country folk, light’ud, was cherished by those who needed fire. And everyone did.

I thought about lightwood last week while writing about woodstoves. We used a bit of kerosene to soak wood before lighting a fire in a woodstove, and being a 20th century family that insisted on reading, there were always newspapers that could be rolled up and used as fire starting torches.

Subscribe to our free email newsletter

Get the latest news sent to your inbox

(You had to be careful with the kerosene. If the stove wasn’t cold, you dare not toss a dose of kerosene in it. Such carelessness damaged or burned down a number of houses over the years.)

But small sticks of lightwood were also kept handy, reminiscent of a time when starting a fire was a more critical, and exacting, art.

Lightwood, also known as fatwood, pine knot and lighter knot, is one of nature’s best gifts to man, and it’s pretty much unsurpassed for dependability — and safety.

When a pine tree dies, the resin that has served as the tree’s natural defense against injury throughout its life begins moving downward and collects in the base and roots. In time, the gooey and aromatic resin hardens in those lower wood sections creating lightwood, the resin-impregnated remnants of the tree.

Find a stump hole where a pine tree once stood, and you should be able to find a nice, large piece of lightwood.

Take it home and then split it into tiny pieces of kindling. Light the end of a lightwood stick and it will burn dependably, even if wet. And using a lightwood stick isn’t a one-time phenomenon. You can blow out the fire, let it cool and reuse the stick of lightwood numerous times. And when it’s too small to use again, you know it is, unlike a butane lighter that gives no warning before it quits lighting.

A piece of heart pine lumber also makes excellent starter fuel for a woodstove or campfire, but it a step below lightwood.

The last piece of lightwood I had was a gift from Mac Cofer, another country boy who knew whereof light’ud came. The three-foot piece he presented to me served to ignite fires in my wood-fired shop stove for years.

The point of all this? None, really, except that in an age of electric heaters, butane and friction lighters, and other wonders of our modern age, it just seemed that an earlier, natural approach to a basic need ought to be remembered. Kind of like corncobs in an outhouse — something that’s interesting to recall, but not necessarily to revisit.

Oil stoves

Last week’s column about space heaters, oil and wood, refreshed the memories of readers who grew up in those conditions. Trisha Tallman (formerly Reid) who grew up in Carrollton recalled that her father, Bill Reid, would place two blankets on the family’s oil stove when she was quite young, then wrap she and her sister in the blankets and haul them off to bed.

(Trisha’s family later built a “modern” home on Chuckatuck Creek that had one of the only radiant heat systems poured in a concrete floor that I can recall back in those days.)

And while we’re on the subject, Tidewater Petroleum in Windsor has an old Siegler oil stove in the lobby. It was salvaged from a house being modernized and Tidewater Manager Clarence Hucks had the foresight to have the stove brought to the office as a conversation piece. Drop by. It will bring back memories if you’re old enough.