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Appalachia Through My Eyes – Rich Pine

The natural decay of pine trees often results in a natural fire starter. In Appalachia the phenomenon is called: rich pine, lighter knot, pine knot, lightered, fat pine, light wood, heart wood, lightered knot, fat wood, or fat lighter wood.

I grew up hearing it called rich pine. A small piece or a few shavings of rich pine will help you build a fire in a hurry. In the past rich pine was also commonly used as a source of light.

In days gone by keeping an eye out for rich pine while you walked about your way was a natural part of life.

Pap was the oldest grandchild on his mother’s side of the family. When he was a young boy his grandmother (we called her Big Grandma-I can barely remember her) liked to walk in the woods and hunt rich pine. Pap was her helper. He carried a sack to put the small pieces in and helped her drag the bigger ones home.

Granny told me her mother, Gazzie, came to visit for a week after they moved into the house Pap built. Granny Gazzie was tickled pink that her daughter had a new house, something she never had. But the thing that pleased Granny Gazzie the most was when she walked out to Pap’s new garden. The area was hewn out of the woods, with trees still crowding close. As Granny Gazzie walked in the edge of the woods she seen several pieces of rich pine. She said “Oh this’ll be a fine place to live. Just look at the wealth of rich pine right here handy for getting.”

These days not near as many people in Appalachia are interested in gathering rich pine, but there are a few and I live with one of them.


Appalachia Through My Eyes – A series of photographs from my life in Southern Appalachia.

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  • Reply
    February 11, 2018 at 6:50 pm

    Tipper, we called them pine roots and they were wonderful to use for kindling. I loved the smell of rich pine.

    Hope all is well with you and yours. Mary

  • Reply
    Glenda Beall
    February 10, 2018 at 11:24 pm

    Great post, Tipper. I can close my eyes and smell that wood burning in my mother’s wood stove.

  • Reply
    Miike Norris
    February 10, 2018 at 5:29 pm

    I can smell it now. Burns like a fuse.

  • Reply
    Lee Mears
    February 10, 2018 at 3:49 pm

    My grandparent always had some ‘kindling’ but I cant remember what they called it. I don’t think I knew exactly where it came from but you used as little as possible to get your fire going, not usually necessary as they banked the coals at night.. I seem to remember the hunks being dug up but not sure??
    It was a rich golden color when chopped up in small sticks and smelled heavenly..

  • Reply
    February 10, 2018 at 2:24 pm

    We used to raise a few curls on a piece of rich pine, light it and put in the stove. After adding the kindling and letting the fire get going good we would fish out the pine knot and souse it in a bucket of water to stop it from burning. Then after the fire was out and to knot was cold we would fish it out, sling the water off of it and put it back in the wood box. It would be ready to go again.
    You can’t wet a rich pine knot. You can leave it out on the ground in the rain, bring it inside and sling off the water and start a fire. Unlike other woods, rich pine don’t float so even though it is waterproof it is not ideal for a boat. Of course pieces big enough to actually build a boat are rare. Heart pine from trees that fell or were cut 200 or more years ago are the closest wood to rich pine you can find.

  • Reply
    February 10, 2018 at 1:50 pm

    My daddy showed me and my brothers years ago what Rich Pine was, and I’ve used it alot ever since. Matter of fact, I burn lots of Pine in my homeade stove here at the shop. I like the way it smells. Pine don’t last long as Hickory (my favorite) or Oak, but dries out good. …Ken

  • Reply
    February 10, 2018 at 11:28 am

    Your posts are fascinating memoir. I hope you also gather them into a print copy book or notebook of some kind.

    I don’t remember where we bought it, but decades ago we once ordered “fat wood” from some place advertising it as fire starter. It came in a box about twelve inches square. I used one of the sticks in our Iowa fireplace for a number of years. I never before knew the origin of fat wood, though. I may have thought the company added sap or oil or something to the sticks.

  • Reply
    Janis Sullivan
    February 10, 2018 at 11:12 am

    Your blog makes me remember and re-appreciate so many things I was privileged to grow up with like the rich pine. I am not around a lot of these things now, but the memories are sweet and strong.

  • Reply
    Kenneth Ryan
    February 10, 2018 at 11:05 am

    Here in East Texas, I grew up gathering rich lighter pine and pine knots for kindling, too. I know some folks who still do. We used it in to start fires in the wood heaters and stoves and to get the fire going under the big cast iron pots on wash day. The old surveyors would use the rich lighter pine and pine knots for property corners. They could be found just about anywhere when they needed to set a corner and would last almost indefinitely. I know of many pine knot property corners throughout this region of Texas that were set in the 1800’s and are still in excellent condition. We sometimes set an iron stake adjacent to them, not because they need replaced, but so they can be found easily with a metal detector.

  • Reply
    Sanford McKinney Jr
    February 10, 2018 at 10:51 am

    Here in the mountains of Upper East Tennessee we referred, many years ago, to any dry wood used to start a fire as: Kindling
    kin·dling [ˈkindliNG]
    easily combustible small sticks or twigs used for starting a fire
    We would use a knife to make some shavings to get the initial fire started and then stack more kindling on top ofthe lighted shavings and the regular heating or cooking wood on top that pile. Relying on my less than perfect memory, I believe hickory was one of our favorite kindling woods.

  • Reply
    b. Ruth
    February 10, 2018 at 9:58 am

    Our pine trees are long gone. Beginning to be infested with pine beetles we had a logger come in a cut down the best stand. He poked a downed tree with a screwdriver and had us look…sure enough there were those little black beetles crawling around. We got them down and sold just in time. Some on the ridge we left. The blessing from the invasion of the pine beetles was more woodpeckers than we ever had before…feeding on those rotting trees where new bugs made their home. It was a woodpecker buffet…
    We don’t build fires in our home anymore…but I’ve picked up many a pine knot to light a fire in the past.
    Thanks Tipper,
    Hope you stay dry…it’s beginning to rain very hard on this side of the mountains…

  • Reply
    Rico Pino
    February 10, 2018 at 9:36 am

    Yep, know all about rich pine! I used to whittle shavings off the knots into a bowl and pour a little milk and sugar over them. I thought it it would make me rich but it didn’t work. I am pretty tough though and it don’t take much to light my fire, baby!

  • Reply
    Ron Stephens
    February 10, 2018 at 8:11 am

    I’m another one. I love to have an excuse to gather pine knots. I have so many fond memories connected with rich pine, beginning with my Grandma and the pine snag along the trail on the way to the Sand Cliff on Cumberland River. Rich pine is one of those woods treasures to seek out and bring home. I love the fresh smell of it for one thing and the color is beautiful to. Then just a whiff of that pine tar smoke takes me back.

    Back in the day, a good way to start the fire in the cook stove on a cold morning was to dip a piece of rich pine in coal oil. Fire in a jiffy.

    Back when we were first married we would sometimes stay a night or two in a cabin at a state park. Our way was on a gravel road through the Daniel Boone National Forest. I would stop along the way, walk out one of the pine and oak ridges, kick up some pine knots and take them along to burn in the fireplace. They would flame for hours.

    Does anybody else remember Cracker Barrels ‘rosin potatoes’? They were boiled in pine resin (rosin). It was a short-lived thing. And once, long ago, passing through Cottondale, FL (I think) the main street had all kinds of booths selling fruits, vegetables, crafts and of course boiled peanuts. The whole street smelled of pine tar smoke.

    Such good memories this morning. Thank you. Keep gathering. Can’t have too many pine knots.

  • Reply
    February 10, 2018 at 7:54 am

    Yes, Tipper out here in eastern NC. we call it fat wood an I use it. Just a little kindling an a little fat wood an you have the makings of a good fire.

  • Reply
    Sheryl PaulI
    February 10, 2018 at 6:26 am

    My husband always had a chunk of lighter pine we called it . He made sure never to be without.

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