Full Chisel Blog

July 28, 2011

V.O.C. reconsidering

Filed under: Alchemy,Finishing,Historical Material,Of Interest,Techniques,Uncategorized — Stephen Shepherd @ 2:49 pm

The V.O.C. which stands for Volatile Organic Compound is the latest buzz-word around the ‘green’ world.  These are the nasty vapors given off by organic compounds and the higher the VOC’s the nastier the compound.

Turpentine is considered high in VOC’s, turpentine is made by taking sap or pitch from living evergreen trees and converting it to turpentine by distillation with the byproduct being colophony rosin.

And as you see it just comes out of the tree on its own, this being a fir tree in my front yard and yes I will be collecting the pitch and no I don’t score the tree.  As you may see and as I have observed the sap/pitch just leaks out at knots, abrasions, insect holes or other places.

And this is going on all the time all over the world, right now those VOC’s are just evaporating from those trees anyway.  So it is my conjecture that VOC’s when it comes to turpentine just don’t count.

I could be wrong, but I don’t think so.



  1. Great post. I won’t even get into what I think of the “Green Movement”. I will say that I haven’t been happy with Green products this far. Many cause more issues than what they replace.

    Comment by Scott — July 28, 2011 @ 3:52 pm

  2. I had a lady ask me one time what a good “Green” disinfectant was. You should have seen her jaw hit the floor when I said bleach.

    Comment by James Ogle — July 28, 2011 @ 10:08 pm

  3. “And this is going on all the time all over the world, right now those VOC’s are just evaporating from those trees anyway. So it is my conjecture that VOC’s when it comes to turpentine just don’t count.”

    Unless the VOC’s are evaporating inside an enclosed space like inside your house. I do finish projects in my garage with the door open in the summer, but I end up finishing in my basement shop in the winter because of the the cold.

    AS for paints, I haven’t tried any low-VOC or No-VOC paints because I’d rather keep more money in my wallet, but it would be nice not to smell paint dry for several days afterwards. I don’t necessarily think the levels you are exposed to as a homeowner are really all that damaging, but I wonder about the painting contractors who use it day after day though.

    Comment by Benjamen Johnson — July 29, 2011 @ 7:45 am

  4. I’ll start by saying that I have no real notion of whether you’re right or wrong. However, I think there are two places I would dig a bit more if you really want to make this argument.

    First, there’s a big difference in the relative concentration and danger of the VOCs in an indoor space and an outdoor space. The EPA says this as well in their technical overview at http://www.epa.gov/iaq/voc2.html

    Second, by dissolving the compound in a solvent, you’re probably releasing agents that wouldn’t necessarily otherwise have released in the absence of the solute, so I don’t think you can equate pitch sitting on a tree with pitch that’s been soaked in a solvent and placed in a small room with little comparative air volume or movement. I think you need to find out of plain old pitch gives off the same VOCs as pitch in solvent and if so, at what comparative rate.

    Comment by Ben — July 29, 2011 @ 7:52 am

  5. Ben, Turp is the solvent. It is basically pine sap that has been heated and distilled kind of like sour mash for whiskey. What is left over after you drive off the spirit of turpentine is the rosin that that use in violin bows. Man I actually learned something between my artist grandmother and talking to the luthiers here in Austin.

    Comment by James — July 29, 2011 @ 5:11 pm

  6. I think you need to consider both your location and your rate of release when you claim turpentine doesn’t really count as a VOC.

    If you live in the pine forest where the pitch was gathered to make the turpentine, I agree (provided you don’t release an entire year’s production in one afternoon). It doesn’t change the local or global VOC load.

    If, on the other hand, you use turpentine in, say, the LA basin where pine forests are not native, the local VOC load does go up and smog increases. If it weren’t for these local effects, I’d say that the global turpentine VOC load would be indistinguishable from the background global pine tree emissions.

    Complicating this reasoning by individual circumstance is the fact that it is usually expedient and reasonable to regulate things by political unit. Thus VOC regulations appropriate for conurbations applied out in the woods.

    Oh Well…

    Comment by Andrew Adams — July 29, 2011 @ 6:39 pm

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