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Pine Tar/Pitch

Posted: Mon Jun 01, 2009 11:11 am
by Clarenceboy
I'm thinking of having a go at making some pine tar at events and I was wondering if anyone had come across any pictures of how it was done in the period (15th cent)
I have done some background on how it is done "tradionally" and a lot of it is made in scandanavia by filling a container (basicailly a metal bin) with fresh cut wood and making it air tight except for a spout at the bottom of the container, then light a fire under the container. The heat (without oxygen) forces the tar out of the pine and dribbles it down to the bottom of the bin and out of the spout to a handy tin or bucket and your left with part charred wood (useful in itself) and tar, sinple enough to do.

But I'd like to do it at events if I can and would like to do it right so rather than just fabricating something up that will do the job but not be the right shape or desighn I wondered if anyone knew of any images or archeology or anything like that so I might be able to do it right.

Posted: Mon Jun 01, 2009 12:47 pm
by Kate Tiler
Mad Jack nearly asphixiated us both in a small building by distilling small pine wood chips! Only a couple of handfuls of bits of pine wood in a glass alembic, over a small flame, gave off so much gas! Very explosive - be careful!

Posted: Mon Jun 01, 2009 2:02 pm
by Clarenceboy
Hmm thats good to know, so make sure you do it in a well ventilated space so that a build up of explosive gasses doesn't happen, good to know it now!

Posted: Mon Jun 01, 2009 4:44 pm
by Sir Thomas Hylton
And no wonder you call him Mad Jack :lol: :lol: :lol:

Posted: Mon Jun 01, 2009 5:48 pm
by gregory23b
clarence, IIRC the way colonials did it in the US was to burn a pile of firs/pines etc on a designated rock, with a runnel, the stuff dribbled out ad was collected, saw it on tv so must be true.

Posted: Mon Jun 01, 2009 8:58 pm
by Jack the dodgy builder
Did we make it in this country ? I think its called stockholm tar for a reason . Reason being not many pine trees in these parts in them days ;-} No forestry commission to blight the landscape or big enough wars to have all the other trees chopped down.

Posted: Mon Jun 01, 2009 10:29 pm
by Ariarnia
to the best of my knowledge - from a forestry course rather than from historical research - pine was introduced and planted by the Danes during about the 8th century.

Posted: Mon Jun 01, 2009 10:56 pm
by guthrie
Biringuccio says:
The oil of the juniper, larch, fir and every tree that produces a gum is made by means of a vessel similar to an earthenware pot, perforated on the bottom with many very small holes. Another is placed underneath as a receiver, and in the one on top is put as much finely cut wood of the kind from which you wish to extract oil as it will contain, and it is covered and well luted so that it may not breathe. A pit is made in the ground and both the pots are buried there, leaving only about four dita of the higher one uncovered. The fire is lighted above, it is heated, and the gummy liquor that the materials contain is made to run down in this way.
Note the luting. If mad jack had read his period sources he would have added it. I've been meaning to do this for a couple of years, just havn't fitted it into my busy schedule. I suggest no more heat than that used for a light simmering of a pot of water.

Posted: Tue Jun 02, 2009 6:59 am
by Clarenceboy
I realise that the good majority of pine tar would have come from scandanavia and most of it would have been imported to the UK for use rather than made here.
I wanted to try this both as a experiment and to get some for an end use.
I believe that some production would have happened in the UK and even if it didn't I can explain to any public that I am producing the tar in the manner that was correct for the time albeit it a few hundred miles away from where it may have been practiced origionally.
I am hoping to arrange a long event (5-10 days) for the group I am in for 2010 and one of the projects I have planned is making a coracle so the pine tar is going to be used to paint the linen covering the coracle (I'm also going to buy a tub of the stuff from a supplier so that if it goes wrong I will still have some to hand) and I wanted to have a go at making it in the manner correct for the period.

Thanks for the info thats just what I was looking for, I have read about that method and a few others but wasn't sure which was right for the period, I don't suppose you have a source or date for that quote at all as it would be really useful to be able to quote it.

Next step then is to make and drawing and hand it over to Jim the pot then!

Posted: Tue Jun 02, 2009 7:00 am
by Clarenceboy
No worries about the sorce, just found it myself, sorry should have googled before asking

Posted: Tue Jun 02, 2009 8:33 am
by John Waller
I thought stockholm tar had been banned for use in marine craft? Vague memories of some EU directive.

Posted: Tue Jun 02, 2009 9:52 am
by Type16
Of course, if things go wrong on the day, you can always revert to "and heres some I made earlier".

Its about £3 a 750ml tin at our farmers' store. 'Stockolm tar'.

Its not that long ago that I remeber using cotton fishing nets proofed with it!

Smells really good. Sometimes use some in a vapouriser at Christmas.

Posted: Tue Jun 02, 2009 12:01 pm
by guthrie
I should have remembered to put the date in. Biringuccio was printed in 1540, but writing about things he had seen over the previous 40 years or so. It is one of the earliest books on the topic of actually making things and analysing things, from bronze casting to making gunpowder to mining.

Posted: Tue Jun 02, 2009 4:03 pm
by gregory23b
The juniper et al were used in earlier periods for varnish making, the gum is the resin, the varnish the resin with linseed oil or similar drying oils added for viscosity.

Posted: Wed Jun 03, 2009 10:04 am
by Tod
Pine pitch resin was used for hundreds of years to proof leather bottles and other items. I use it all the time.

Posted: Wed Jun 03, 2009 10:56 am
by Medicus Matt
Tod wrote:Pine pitch resin was used for hundreds of years to proof leather bottles and other items. I use it all the time.
Birch bark resin is rather good too. Stays flexible unlike other tree resins and it doesn't bring me out in blisters, which pine sap does.

Posted: Wed Jun 03, 2009 10:58 am
by Attilla the Bun
Birch was the tar of[preference in earlier periods. You can make it from birch bark - there's quite a lot of websites about that on the net

Posted: Sun Jun 07, 2009 9:12 pm
by Jack the dodgy builder
As seems to be the case , I make a reply then scamper off to somewhere with no computer access .

So I will try to be a little more specific this time.
Apart from the making of small quantities by them arty or alchemy types.

As far as I am aware there is no evidence at all of the production of wood Tar in England or Wales even when we had a big fleet that required it, 1750 to 1860 ish ( slightly interesting fact . between 1800 and 1860 twice as many wooden boats where built in the UK than in the preceding 500 years!!) .
It came from the new colonies or Scandinavia. depending who was least upset with us!! With decrees to encourage the New Colonial types to get in production asp
As I previously said the reason for this that although we did have some Pine trees growing in England and Wales and lots of Scots pine. We did not have the plantations of Pinus Silverus growing here to produce the quantity of raw materials to produce the stuff in a viable way.
The main consistant of wood tar is pine tree roots which are dug up , split and left over winter . The traditional Scandinavian method was to dig a big pit 20m or so in diameter on a slope puddle it with clay to make tar proof . Then put the stuff in like in charcoal burning. cover it all up and set a fire to it for up to 2 weeks. That is a very simplistic description.
With 4000lbs of material needed to produce 65 to 100 gallons of product with about 12 gallons of turpentine .
It wasnt actually called Stockholm Tar until the second half of the 1600s , before then it was stamped from its location with the top grade being Hararandola . Its also called peasant tar as it was a cash crop. after tree felling. but very labour intensive.
Birch tar was seemingly made in small quantities . again due to the scarcity of raw materials
There are some good terms like Tar p@ss this is the first liquid that comes out which is heavy with water and therefore of no use.
So I dont think making it in a UK based living History context would be correct more correct to say what we did and that was to import it and very few People in the UK would have any idea how it was produced . Keeping of trade secrets was the thing in Medieval times and indeed later.
Unless in small quanties for art or alchemy purposes as the Biringucci description and then thats a gum not a liquid tar. but the smell is lovely and will get any Finish person out of the woodwork.


Posted: Mon Jun 08, 2009 7:43 pm
by gregory23b
The 1485 London import lists show turpentine, in resin not distilled form being a frequent imported item. I would posit this for things like painting and varnishes etc.