The Dude: Bane Of Phat Lighter Everywhere

By Don Jordan

posted 7/7/07

Lots of us collect knives, pistols, rifles, shotguns, fly rods, pick-up trucks and even Dixie Choppers, but I have only met one fellow in my life who collects phat lighter.

"I like the smell of it," said Tim Roach, a long-time outdoors associate and scavenger of downed and discarded fence posts, old stumps and what he calls "tree bones."

He is known as The Phat Man and Dude.

Phat lighter, also called fat lighter, is the heartwood of pine. Pine heartwood is impregnated with resin that makes it easy to identify, because it smells like turpentine according to Roach.

Pinewood saturated with resin makes the best natural fire starter you will ever find. Depending on the amount of resin in the wood, phat lighter can burn at up to 3,000 degrees F. That is where the mystical part in phat lighter collecting arises. You always end up burning your collection.

"It is more or less easy to spot, because it stands out, and it is usually leaking resin. I call it early amber because that's what it is. When you see it, it is usually a very nice, light golden brown color. Then I give it the sniff test, looking for that turpentine smell," continued Roach.

Phat/Fat lighter is sold commercially by companies as high-fallootin' as L.L. Bean which sells it in bundles. Other companies you can find online sell split fat light sticks for about $1.25 a lb.

Since I met Dude, I have had a steady supply of phat lighter, and it is far and away the best way to start any fire. It is especially good for fireplace fires because it only takes a stick or two to turn a stack of damp wood into a roaring fire. It is likewise ideal for carrying on any outdoor trip where a campfire is probable. It is light, smells good and is easy to pack. Burning pine resin smells great too. It is the essence of pine.

There are some interesting aesthetics involved in phat lighter collection, says Roach.
It splits really easily, and the grain and resin on the split wood is really pretty.

Roach got started collecting phat wood when he lived near a national forest in Florida.

"I would go out in the woods and find what I call tree bones. Tree bones are the remainders of pine trees that have died and rotted. All that's left of them are where the limbs joined the trunk and made a knot.

"Anyway, I would bring these home, and one time we had a bonfire where I threw these tree bones onto the pile. They burned really hot and fast, and that's how I discovered phat lighter," explained the Hoosier native of his serendipitous discovery.

The Phat Man loves the sight and smell of burning phat lighter, and he is a known phat lighter abuser. One winter, Tim used nothing but phat lighter to warm up his house in the morning. Using his treasure as if it were nothing but hickory sticks is surely abusive.

He estimates that he has collected and burned a good two and half cords over the years.

The 50-something elementary school teacher's most memorable phat ligher find: "I was at Ft. Benning, Ga., for my son's graduation from NCO school. It was my birthday. I was walking in the woods, and there was this whole tree down with lots of limb knots and the heart wood itself still all connected. We dragged it back to the cabin and had a great camp fire. It was special because of all those things."

So why do they call it phat or fat lighter? Although many may connect the use of the word phat with current African-American slang for big or right, I was able to track the term, spelled with "ph" to usage in the 17th and 18th Centuries. It was used to mean right or correct in a big way. Or, hey dude, phat is something really, really correct, possessing heavy karma, even righteous, if you know what I mean. The Phat Man, The Dude, abides on the phat wood trail.

©Copyright 2007. Donald Lee Jordan