Monday, July 21, 2014

The turpentine and tar business.

One of my most visited posts is on the making of turpentine. So I thought I'd add a few more tidbits about this industry.

The turpentine and tar business.
The making of turpentine and tar is the almost sole business of the thinly settled population of the pine lands. They are generally poor and indolent; yet this business allords good profits even at the present low prices, and enormous profits were made when naval stores were tuore than double their present prices. Turpentine now sells at 81.80 the barrel at Wilmington, and it has sold for upwards of $4. Mr. Lazarus told me that he had paid to a poor white man, who worked singly and unassisted in making turpentine, 81000 lbr the fruits of his labor of one year. It is understood that a good hand can attend to 9000 trees, and can secure 200 barrels of turpentine in a year.

In commencing the operation on trees untouched, a receptacle (or “box”) is cut by the axe on one side of the tree, and about six inches above the ground, which is large enough to hold a quart of the fluid turpentine which exudes from the cut sap-wood, and which flows into this hollow from the upper part and sides. The flowing of the sap begins of course in the spring. At the end of a few days, (according to the time and state of the season,) the laborer visits all his trees, collects turpentine and puts it in barrels. He then cuts from each side of the tree a shallow groove, inclining downward to the box, through the bark and a little into the wood. Into these new cuts the turpentine exudes, and flows down them into the box. The tool by which this operation is performed is called a “shave.” It is a circular piece of iron like the eye of a weeding hoe, with the lower edge sharp, and which is attached to a shaft or handle, so as to cut its groove like a gouge, but by being pulled to, instead ol'being pushed from. the operator.

Every time the box is emptied of its turpentine, the “shaving” is extended upward, and thus gradually making the tree bare of bark and ofthe outer surface of the sap-wood as high sscan be conveniently reached, or 15 feet and upwards.' This shaving rises about two feet in a year, and thus it takes about seven years to finish one side of a tree. The side edges of the bored surface are carefully kept perpendicular and straight, and not quite to embrace the balt'ofthe trunk of the tree. Next, the opposite side is “boxed,” and treated in the same way, taking care to leave a strip of an inch or two of bark on each side between the old and the newer work. Without other cause ol'decay or destruction. the trees will live and yield well until the sides or, be shaved no higher. But the spreading ot'accidental fires selgom fails to kill the tree earlier. For the entire face of the cutting being encrusted with turpentine, and the wood below being converted to solid lightwood, no trees can be more inflammable ; and the fire burns so deeply in, as to kill the strips of living bark by heat, or to weaken the trunk so much that it yields to, and is prostrated by, the next storm. The trees, or parts that escape being burnt, are finally cut up into billets, and the tar extracted from them, by burning them slowly in a close kiln, made by covering the lightwood with earth in the mode well known in every pine country.

It is only the turpentine that retains its fluidity, and is collected in the box, that is considered firstrate. The part that sticks to and hardens above has lost its most valuable part, the oil or spirits of turpentine,) by evaporation, an when scraped off, which is the last part ofthe process, is sold at half the price of the fluid turpentine. Of course the expense of land-carriage is a suificient bar to the production of so heavy and low-priced products, where the distance is considerable.

The turpentine getters are careful every spring to rake away the leaves from the foot of every tree, and to burn the collected trash when it can be done slowly and stately. But they cannot always command the progress of the fires; and from that, or other less carelhlly made fires, great havock is olien mode among the boxed trees.

Where vicinity to market, or cheapness of carriage, permits this business to be in full operation, it cannot last long, as the long leaf pines will be destroyed and will not be renewed. The other kinds of pines are not worth working for this purpose.
Source: The Farmers' Register ©1840

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