Full Chisel Blog

January 4, 2011

Turpentine and Turpentine

Filed under: Finishing,Historical Material,Of Interest,Uncategorized — Stephen Shepherd @ 3:28 pm

Turpentine – during the nineteenth century ‘turpentine’ was differentiated from ‘spirit of turpentine’ or ‘oil of turpentine’, the latter being the distilled spirit solvent.  Raw (crude) turpentine is described as having the consistency of honey and it is basically the sap of the tree that has not been oxidized or distilled.  This is added like a resin to various varnish and paint finish recipes. 

Terebrinth – of or pertaining to turpentine.

Recipe from The Joiner and Cabinet Maker, 1839:

             Rectified spirits of wine              1 quart

            Gum shell-lac                                  1 ounce

            Gum seed-lac                                  1 ounce

            Venice turpentine                       1 ½ ounce*

*indicates this is in solid not liquid form

Turpentine – Spirit[s] of Turpentine, oil of turpentine, spirits of gum turpentine – (C10H16) an oleoresin from the distillation of the sap [raw turpentine] of; pine, fir, spruce, larch and a number of other conifers.  French or Bordeaux turpentine are from Pinus pinaster or P. maritima, Venice turpentine is from Larch (Larix spp. or Pinus Larix). Chian turpentine also called Chios turpentine, Scio turpentine or Cyprian turpentine, this one considered by some to be the finest.  Canadian turpentine from Balsam fir trees is by far the most common.  Spirits of turpentine is flammable, has a flash point of 90-95° (F), boils between 302 to 356° F, a lower ignition limit of 8% and auto ignition at 476°F, has a specific gravity of 0.89, is soluble in alcohol, ether, chloroform, acetic acid and is insoluble in water.  Turpentine has a molecular weight of 136.112, and a dielectric constant of 2.2 at 68° (F),is not photo reactive and is considered a non polar solvent, but can dissolve polar substances [solutes].

J. Davies Manual Materia Medica, 1831 – American Turpentine, Pinus palistris Lin P. australis, Michaux from the southern states, Terebinthina communis, common turpentine from P. sylvestris, P. rubra.  Bordeaux turpentine T. picea from P. maritima, Lin. Bordeaus pine.  Strasbourg turpentine T. abietina from P. picea, silver fir tree.  Venice turpentine T. laricea from P. larix, white larch.  Canadian / Balsam fir turpentine from P. balsamea, American silver fir.

Tar, pitch and turpentine mentioned as products of Virginia as early as 1610, the full scale production of oil of turpentine did not start in America until the second half of the eighteenth century.

“To make turpentine varnish.

Mix one gallon of oil of turpentine, and five pounds of powdered rosin put it in a tin can, on a stove, and let it boil for half an hour.  When cool, it is fit for use.” 1829

Spirit based varnish recipes can be either spirits of wine [alcohol] or spirits of turpentine.

Turpentine is best stored in non-metallic containers such as glass or ceramic.  Venice turpentine is used by veterinarians to treat horses hooves and English turpentine is used in fine art painting.

Strong alcoholic beverages were said ‘to go down like lighted turpentine’.

DMSO a natural treatment for arthritis is refined turpentine.  If you use turpentine regularly, ticks won’t bite.  Care should be taken when using turpentine read the MSDS for all warnings.

Colophony – [rosin, yellow resin] a byproduct of turpentine distillation, the sap from various pines, fir, spruce and other conifers, is collected and distilled.  After removing the turpentine and all the water has been driven off, the resulting dross is colophony rosin.  It is a vitreous, brittle Abietic Anhydride that melts at 80-100° [F] with a specific gravity of 1.045 to 1.085, and fractures in a conchoidal manner. Soluble in alcohol, benzene, ether, glacial acetic acids, oils and solutions of fixed alkali hydroxides, it varies from pale yellow to dark brown depending on grade.  Colophony rosin can be hardened by the addition of 2 to 5% lime, taking care not to turn it into soap, zinc oxide also hardens rosin.  It is interesting that after it is made it is not readily soluble with turpentine.  Acts as a dryer in varnish when added as an ingredient.

Rosin is also the slang term for an alcoholic beverage imbibed by musicians.



  1. Have you a source for powdered rosin in bulk?


    Comment by Shay — January 4, 2011 @ 10:19 pm

  2. Canada balsam is a good substitute for venice turpentine as it is still used by the optics industry, The ‘venice turpentine’ used by farriers and vets is just a grubby rosin/spirit blend and will make a poor varnish compared to to true P. larix turpentine which has amazing optical refractivity. It is thick like honey, smells divine, is self levelling and costs a small fortune.
    (oil painter)

    Comment by Ian Wells — January 11, 2011 @ 5:08 am

  3. DMSO is not refined turpentine. DMSO is Dimethylsulfoxide (C2H6S0), don’t confuse the two as they are very different compounds

    Comment by Marc — January 18, 2011 @ 9:50 am

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