My Name is Jeff Harrelson. I was born in a rural town in south Alabama in 1962. At an early age my love for the outdoors, fishing and hunting was instilled in me by my grandfather and 5 older brothers. We moved to Metro Atlanta when I was 10 but the country life of hunting and fishing never left me. I am a husband of 30 years, father of 3 wonderful kids and a great son-in-law and grandfather of one amazing little boy.
I am a Christ follower first and foremost. Not at all perfect or better than anyone, but blessed by God's grace. I write and play music, am a woodworking craftsman, cabinet maker, furniture maker, and a cad draftsman. I like to teach and share with others knowledge and wisdom that God has given me. I like to work hard. I go by what my old boss used to say, "I usually only work half days, 12 hours".
As a kid growing up in Alabama, I learned about "Fat Lightered" or "Fatwood" and how to find it and use it to start fires. Since then there has always been a stump kept in my backyard. It wasn't until about 2010 that I learned about Firesteels when the "survival" craze began with TV shows like "Dual Survival" that airs on Discovery Channel.
However, the beginning of "Fatwood Firesteels" started with a fishing trip on the Tennessee River in 2004. Each year since college, my best friend and I fish a 4 day trip in early March or April. This trip was early March, on a Thursday and the weather was terrible. The wind was 25-30 mph and it was raining and snowing off and on all morning. The temp was just above freezing, but I am not one to go home because of weather, so I fished.
Normally the first day of our trips is a solo for me but thankfully on this day I had brought a customer along for the day. Because of the wind, we took the boat way off the lake up in a creek where the bluffs would block some of the wind and we could continue to fish. I had broken my line and needed to retie. The floor of the boat was covered in tackle as I looked for something that might change our luck.
Because my attention was diverted, the wind blew the front of the boat onto a sandbar. My guest was in the back with nowhere to fish. In my attempt to free the boat I realized that I needed to walk to the back of the boat which would lift the front up and the boat would blow quickly off the sandbar. Because the floor was covered in tackle, I chose to walk along the side of the boat as I had done many times. However, this time it did not work out so well for me. As I reached to put my foot down behind the passenger seat, I discovered my guest had placed a $200.00 rod and reel just out of sight. Trying to avoid that expensive disaster, my foot rolled off of the reel and I ended up head first in the 43 degree Tennessee River.
At the age of 42 , I do believe that I was scared and in shock for the first time since I was a kid. It is difficult to explain how shocking it feels when every muscle contracts and all the air is squeezed from your lungs at the same time. Your muscles want to instantly lock up. I am convince that even thought I was very agile and strong at 42, I would not have been able to get back into the boat by myself. Fortunately my friend was able to grab me and help me back into the boat. However, he did have a hard time with that because he was laughing so hard he was out of breath. I was only in water neck deep and I would have probably been able to crawl out on the bank. But I was thankful for my customer that day.
It was about 2010 while watching "Dual Survival" on the Discovery channel that I recalled my cold bath in the river. That day as I watched the show, I began asking myself a survival "what if" question. "What would I have done if I was alone, as I had been many times before." The boat probably would have blown away from me and I would have been stranded miles from help. I could not call for help, my flip phone was wet. My first order of business would have been to start a fire. If I had carried a lighter, chances are it would not have worked because of a wet wick and high wind. Normal matches would have been a joke. Maybe storm matches in a waterproof case. But what would I used as tender if I could get them to work? Everything was wet from the rain and snow.
So, I began to learn more about survival, learning a new word and category called "Bushcraft". As I studied and learned about Bushcraft and new ways to start fires, almost everyone referred to the Ferrocerium Rod or Fire Steel as the most reliable and affordable fire starter in the world. Better than matches that can break and get wet and lighters that can break and run out of fuel and get wet. So, my "what if" questions continued. What if I carried a Ferro Rod? What would I have used as tender? My first choice is always fatwood if I can find it. It works even if it is wet. It is so full of sap, water cannot penetrate. But I was freezing and would have experienced hypothermia within minutes. Would I have enough time to find some? That was when the light came on and Fatwood Fire Steels was born. Now I realize that having a Fatwood Fire steel would not have solved all my problems. However, it would have given me a fighting chance.
Now, I do not claim to be the first person to come up with the idea, even though I did come up with the idea on my own. Later I found out that others had already thought of it and had made there own handles from Fatwood. So, I set out to make my own and maybe a few for my friends.
Fatwood Firesteels (Patent Pending)
As many of you know, Fatwood is full of resin or pine tar that is very sticky. Who would want a handle that transferred tar to their hands and was always sticky? So the real challenge for me and my family was to come up with a process that would make the handles look good, not dry out and keep the tar inside as well as possible. We played around with ideas for 2 years and finally discovered a way to do just that and to make them unique and full of "character". I don't try and take credit for the beauty of the handles. God did all that, we just highlight his work. Anyone can take a piece of fatwood and drill a hole in it and stick a ferro rod in it. We knew ours needed to be different. We believe that God has gifted us with a product that fulfills that dream.
Visioneering Woodworks Inc. is a small family company outside metro Atlanta, Georgia where we enjoy hard work, people and engineering dreams and visions. All of our Firesteels are made from rich southern pine fatwood. Most of which we hunt and gather ourselves from Georgia and Alabama. Each handle is carefully chosen and crafted to fit comfortably in your hand and give you control over making a good strike. Our standard ferro rods are 5/16" in diameter and offer about 2 1/2" of striking area. The rods are made of a soft nature so that they create large hot sparks at about 3000 degrees. Fatwood ignites at 200 degrees. We use a "super strike” because we will like it is the best one around. You can use the spine of a fixed or lock blade knife if it has a sharp spine edge and can really throw some sparks if needed. It is easy to grip the super striker and even kids can use it with no problem. We include a sample or "practice" piece of fatwood so that you do not have to damage your new "character" handle until a real emergency arises. It also comes with a 33" long 550 paracord necklace that is adjustable.
We have big ideas and plans for Fatwood Fire Steels. So keep up with us on Facebook and Instagram. There will be new cool stuff coming in the days ahead.
I hope you enjoyed my story and Your Fatwood Fire Steel if you chose to get one. Maybe you will ask yourself some of those "what if" questions. Who knows, it may save your life one day.
Jeff Harrelson, Owner
Visioneering Woodworks Inc. / Fatwood Fire Steels
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