How To Make Tar From Pine Step by Step

Before today’s technological and industrial advancements, our ancestors had to make do with whatever nature had to offer. They learned how to start a fire with a branch and a rock.

They made weapons out of sharp stones and sturdy sticks. They made their homes out of just about anything that could protect them from any kind of weather.

Though this knowledge is in danger of being forgotten, it can still help us through dire and critical circumstances wherein we have to fight for our survival.

In these situations, we can expect that we will have almost nothing to go by and the only help that we can reach immediately is nature. Without some basic knowledge, we might as well be doomed.

Unknown to many, we don’t need to ransack a supermarket and pharmacy to get materials to make a heat source or to treat wounds. Pine resin, more commonly known as tar, is an important survival material.

how to make tar logo
photo by Andrew Hitchcock, adapted from Flickr.om

What You Can Use To Make Tar

The number one ingredient that you can use to make tar is pine resin. All you need to do is look for cut off or injured parts of a pine tree where you will find pines resin trying to heal the wounds.

Fallen branches will yield a small amount and if not you may find clumps of resin on it. The tree itself will have clumps of resin from previous injuries caused by the weather or animals scratching on it.

Before you decide to make new sources of pine resin, always check if the tree can offer you what you need before intentionally hurting it.

Another thing that you can use to make tar are birch barks. These can be burned over a fire which will yield a considerable amount of tar. Here are a few tips to help you determine if you can harvest the bark and how to do it:

  1. The best time to harvest birch bark is during spring. When harvested at this time, the bark will come off easily which reduces that risks of inflicting fatal damage on the tree. If it is harvested later in the year, you will risk taking off the inner bark which could kill the tree.
  2. Know the width and age of the tree. Bigger trees will naturally give you wider barks. Trees that have been harvested before will give you thicker barks.
  3. Once you’ve pinpointed a tree and you’ve determined how thick the bark is, use your knife and cut a vertical line down to the inner bark for however long you need it to be. Do not cut horizontally or around the tree because it will cause the tree to die.
  4. If the bark is harvested at a perfect time in the year, it will pop out as soon as you the vertical line. If not, you will have to use your knife to pop it out.
  5. Use your hands to gently separate the bark from the trunk and work your way around the tree until the entire bark has come off.
Making Pine Tar and Its Uses

Needed Tools and Materials

You don’t need much in the way of tools if you want to reliably make pine tar or birch tar, but having a few essentials is going to make the process much easier and far safer.

Come up with the following supplies or improvise them out of what you have on hand:

  • fire
  • firewood
  • two metal containers
  • tight fitting lid
  • awl or punch
  • tongs
  • work gloves

Fire

You will definitely need a fairly large fire for this operation, and more importantly one that is capable of completely surrounding the containers you will use to hold and process your tar.

Note that due to the process used to create the tar, an intense source of heat is not going to work the same way as an honest open fire built on the ground. you really won’t be able to create tar reliably using your grill, a stove, a heat gun or anything like that.

Firewood

This is a process that will take a little time, and you’ll need a roaring fire going for the entirety of that time. Accordingly, you’re going to need a good bit of firewood. Make sure you have it on hand ahead of time so that you can sustain your fire on demand.

Metal Containers, x2

Two of the most important things you’ll need for processing and collecting your pine tar are metal containers. Ideally, they will be two containers of the same size that nest tightly together.

Lacking this, you can use a larger container and a smaller container. They must be metal and furthermore should not be lined or finished with anything that can burn off or melt and potentially contaminate your tar.

Tight Fitting Lid

For one of your containers, or the larger container if you have two different sizes, you’ll need something that can work as a tight fitting lid. It does not need to snap on necessarily, but it must be able to remain in place and provide a good seal for the process to work.

This could be something as rudimentary as a cut and flattened piece of scrap metal or something as sophisticated as a purpose made snapping or locking metal lid for some other kind of cooking container.

Same rules apply for this as the containers themselves: it must be able to withstand intense and prolonged heat and not be finished or coated with anything that will melt and contaminate your tar.

Awl or Punch

One thing that will really help the process is a sharp and concentric awl or punch that you can use to perforate one of your containers.

It should be thin and sharp to make holes of the right size but also punch them cleanly enough that it does not impede the flow of tar out of the container. You can use something as simple as a nail, a spear point knife or Swiss army knife awl.

Tongs

A simple set of tongs will give you an extra margin of insurance against getting burned and can also help you to retrieve, position and reposition your metal cans during the procedure if necessary. If you have to, you can get by with using a couple of sturdy green sticks, or fashion a simple holder out of bent fencing wire.

Heavy Gloves

This will provide you a measure of protection from the fire and embers, but more importantly it will save the day should you accidentally drip or splash some of the still hot sap on yourself.

If that occurs, then you don’t have gloves on, it is going to stick and burn savagely. You don’t want to go through that, I promise, so wear your gloves.

Steps To Making Tar

Here’s a step-by-step process of how to make tar out of pine resin and birch barks…

Step 1: Pick a Good Location

Choose a location where you can start a fire. If you’re in a grassland, clear a small space and surround it with rocks to prevent the fire from spreading. Make sure that you’re not in any danger of accidentally starting a forest fire.

Step 2: Gather Tools

You will need two metal cans because plastic will melt because of the fire. Ideally, the two cans should be the same in diameter but if you can’t find those, then one can be smaller than the other.

Make sure that the larger one is equipped with a tight-fitting lid. If you can’t find one that has a lid, make sure that you find something that can act as one.

Step 3: Punch Holes in Can

Punch a hole (or several evenly spaced holes) in the center of the metal can that has a lid. Make the holes from the inside out because doing so in the other way will only trap the liquid inside. This is where the tar will drip from. The holes should not be too big as it will cause more debris than tar to fall.

Step 4: Dig Hole for Collection Can

In the space where you chose to start a fire, dig a hole in the middle. It should be able to fit the can with no lid (or the smaller one) in a way that the only part that pops out of the ground is the rim. You can also make the hole big enough to cover the rim.

Put the smaller can in the hole that you made. Make sure that it is clear of soil and other debris that may have gotten in it when you placed it there. This can is your collecting can. This is where you will find the tar.

Step 5: Load Bark or Wood

Fill the larger can with the birch bark. You can either cut it in smaller strips or roll them as it is. Either way, the size of the bark in the can should allow you to put a lid on it. If you’re going to use pine wood, cut the wood to smaller pieces.

It should not be too small or too big because you will need to make sure that you don’t cover up the hole that you punched in the center earlier.

Step 6: Place and Seal Can

Cover the larger can with a lid and place it on top of the collecting can (smaller one). There should not be any air gaps because this setup will need an oxygen-free environment.

Use the soil that you dug out earlier to create a light seal around where the two cans meet. It should be tight enough to hold the two cans together but tight enough to make the expanding gasses cause your cans to explode.

To make sure that you don’t accidentally do this, just remember not to pack the dirt. Let it loosely surround your cans.

Step 7: Build Fire

Start a fire around and over the cans. Remember to be mindful of your surroundings so as to keep the fire from spreading. It does not have to be a big fire but it needs to cover and surround your cans to give it the necessary heat.

Let the fire burn and die by itself. Once the fire is gone, let it cool down before doing anything.

Step 8: Carefully Remove Cans

Clean off the ashes, wood and debris that is covering your cans. Again, make sure that none of it falls into your tar.

Using tongs, pliers, gloves or thick cloth, lift the top can. The bottom can should now contain your new tar.

Step 9: Collect Tar

Remove the can filled with tar from the ground. If you need to use it to treat wounds or waterproof and protect your stuff, you can use it while it’s still hot. Otherwise, you can let it cool down and store it for future uses.

Survival Uses of Tar

A pine tree’s defense mechanism in the face of animals or insects that hurt it is to secret resin to help close the wounds. The resin acts as a sealant, which is soft and gold at first and then hardens and darkens over time. Clumps of that resin can for and that is what you can harvest and consider as pine resin.

Because of its sealing characteristic, tar can also be used as something like a glue and an epoxy. You can use the tar to make weapons by using it as you would a superglue.

You can make arrowheads, hammers and other tools that you may need in your quest for survival. In addition to this, you can use the tar to cover up the holes on your shelter. You can also use the tar to cover the pillars of your shelter to make it last longer and stand stronger.

Pine resin or tar can also be used as a heating source. If you manage to find a rock that has a hollow point, you can use that to make a candle. By simply filling the hollow point with tar and putting something that burns easily (wick, cloth or dried moss) on top, you can light it up and it will provide you a source of light.

On the other hand, it can be a heating source if you light up the tar in a container (preferably metal) as it will conduct the heat and help spread it to the surroundings.

During rainy days, your first concern might be that you just ran out of things that you can burn because almost everything is damp or wet. Don’t worry.

Tar is flammable and, with just a little bit of it on a stick, you will have something that looks like a match that you can use to start bigger fires to dry out the wood that you use for burning.

A final use of tar is waterproofing. Although it may not be flexible and it can crack easily, tar can slow down water from ruining the things you want dry like shoes or bags.

As you have seen, tar is more than just that black and sticky stuff. It has many uses and although it takes time and effort to make, tar is a must to have in your survival arsenal.

It’s a five-in-one deal wherein you get medicine that you can use for waterproofing and strengthening and act as a sealant and a source of heat. In situations wherein survival is your priority, tar may save your life.

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