Pine tar has been used for centuries for preservation, sealing, and even as medicine. Made from the resin of pine trees, this invaluable resource is something you should always carry with you when venturing out into the wilderness.
The easiest way to make pine tar is to create a fire and heat up fatwood in an airtight metal container. Make sure to poke holes in the bottom of the metal container to allow the pine tar to seep out and have a container placed underneath to collect the runoff.
If you’re hoping to start producing your own pine tar, continue reading below to find all the information you need to get started.
Before You Get Started
So that there’s no confusion, let’s go over a few things you should probably know before you set out to make your own pine tar.
First and foremost, there are some terms you’ll probably hear over and over again while reading about making pine tar. Those are pine resin, pine tar, and pine pitch. Though these terms sound pretty similar, they each refer to something different.
Pine resin is the naturally occurring substance you’ll find on pine trees in the wild.
When a pine tree is injured by weather, insects, or animals, it produces pine resin, which oozes from the bark to clog the wounds. It starts as a gold color and then turns darker as it hardens. You’re able to harvest pine resin in order to make pine tar.
Pine tar is what we’re focusing on today. It’s what you get when you heat pine at a high temperature without actually setting it on fire.
By subjecting pine resin and branches to high heat, they begin to secrete moisture and tar that is strained from the debris, leaving behind charcoal. Pine tar is used as a sealant, adhesive, or for medicinal purposes.
Pine pitch is what you get when you pull all the moisture out of pine tar.
If you’re unsure whether you have pine tar or pine pitch, just keep in mind that pine tar is a liquid, and pine pitch is more of a solid. It has a lot of the same uses as pine tar but can also be used to make torches, among other things.
Materials Needed To Make Pine Tar
The ingredients for pine tar are pretty straightforward:
- Somewhere to Build a Fire
- Pine Resin / Fatwood
- A Metal Can With Holes In The Bottom
- A Metal Collection Can
There are a few variations on the process of making pine tar, so let’s go through these things one at a time to make sure you’re completely prepared.
A Fire Pit
You need a safe place to start a fire with enough room for it to surround your cans. Make sure the area is clear of any debris and surround your fire pit with rocks to keep the fire from spreading.
If you already have a fire pit and you’re making your tar at home, that’s perfect.
The point of the fire is to surround the container holding your pine resin without actually setting the resin on fire. It just needs to get hot enough to release the tar for collection. So make sure you have enough room whether you’re doing this outside in the forest or in the safety of your backyard.
Harvesting Pine Resin
Collecting pine resin is as simple as walking around the forest checking pine trees for the resin they’ve created. There should be plenty of resin sitting on a tree’s bark for you to scrape some off and leave enough for the tree to continue healing.
You shouldn’t ever need to open a new wound in the tree to make it produce resin.
The best way to harvest pine resin is by using a knife and scraping it into a container. If the resin is hard or it’s cold outside, you may be able to break the resin off of the tree rather than scraping it.
Fatwood is dried wood that’s a great source of pine resin. The stumps of dead pine trees make the best fatwood. This is because when the tree is cut down or broken, it will force the resin from its roots up into the stump to attempt to heal itself.
When looking for fatwood, seek out stumps that are already dry and even to the point of rotting. They’ve had plenty of time for the resin to rise to the surface.
Harvesting fatwood includes cutting down into the stump to find where the taproot meets the trunk of the tree. You’ll want the wood that has an orange color to it and gives off a clean, fresh pine scent.
In order to make pine tar, you’ll need two separate metal cans. Stone is okay too but never use plastic because it will melt in the fire.
The first can will be the one that holds your pine resin during the heating process. This can should have holes poked in the bottom so that your pine tar can strain away from the debris.
When poking your holes, always poke them from the inside out. Doing it the other way will result in a lip on the inside of the can, trapping some of your pine tar. The holes don’t need to be very big, about the size of a standard finishing nail.
The second can will be your collection can. This is where all of your pine tar will go when it strains out of the first can.
It’s ideal for your two cans to be the same size but it’s okay if the collection can is a little smaller.
You’ll also need a metal lid for the can that holds your resin. Covering this can keeps oxygen from easily getting inside and helps to trap the heat. However, you have to make sure your can isn’t sealed too tightly. The pressure in the can could cause it to explode.
How To Make Pine Tar
Now that you have all of your ingredients, you’re ready to make some pine tar! While everyone has their own personal ways to go about it, here are the basic steps to make pine tar.
- Dig a hole in the center of your fire pit that’s just big enough for your collection can to fit inside. This will protect it from the high temperatures.
- Put your pine resin or fatwood pieces in the metal can with holes poked in the bottom and cover it.
- Place the can holding your pine resin over the hole where the collection can is located. Ensure your can is level with the ground and not inside the hole with your collection can.
- Pile loose dirt around where your cans meet. Do not pack it at all or you may create a seal that could lead to dangerous pressure building up.
- Start a fire around and even over the cans. It doesn’t have to be huge, just big enough to cover your cans to give them enough heat.
- Let the fire die out naturally. It should burn for about two hours. Add more wood if it starts to die too quickly.
- Once the fire dies, allow everything to cool before doing anything else.
- Remove the top container, which should contain charcoal. If there is no charcoal, then the process has likely failed.
- Your collection can should contain dark liquid. That’s your pine tar!
Uses For Pine Tar
As stated before, pine tar has a number of uses that make it essential when you’re out and about.
Pine tar can be used to seal wood and ropes as a form of weatherproofing. It is also a great adhesive that can be used in any situation where you might need superglue. You can use it to seal holes in shelters or cover parts of the shelter to make it stand up longer to the elements.
The medical uses of pine tar include using it as a bandage over wounds and soothing rashes or eczema developed in unfamiliar conditions. It has antibacterial, antiseptic, and anti-inflammatory properties.
You can also use pine tar to create a source of light and heat by placing some in a hollow rock or metal container and creating a wick from a piece of cloth. Light it up and you have yourself a makeshift candle.
Though you might never need your pine tar while you’re out on the trail, it’s better to be safe than sorry.