Monday, July 11, 2016

Tar Kilns

Altho the making of pine tar and turpentine (Naval Stores) is associated with the southern states there was tar making operations in Sussex county.  This local industry never achieved the level of commercial industry of the southern states.  I can only guess that it served the local economy before it was economically better to buy a superior product from store keepers. 

Tar was very important to ships as it preserved the wood the ship was made of.  Ropes on the ships were also covered in tar to slow down the rotting process.  Tar was also used for medical purposes on people and beast. Tar was used on roofing shingles and fence post.

Frequently pine with a high resin content is found in the dead stumps left over from logging operations.  Perhaps trees were cut for charcoal making for the local bog iron furnaces and the dead stumps left over time would become high in sap.  Men would cut out the heartwood in the stumps and dig the roots which would also be high in sap. 

We can only guess at what a local Pine Tar kiln might look like based on the ones in the south.  They seem to fit two versions.  One being a plate of iron with a grove on it on which pine fatwood chips or roots would be placed.  The plate of iron would then be covered by an upside down pot and the entire  assembly would be covered in logs and limbs to be burnt.  Since the fire never touches the pine under the pot the heat would make the pine sap in the pine flow and it would flow into the grove in the plate of iron and out to a waiting container where it became tar.

A second method was to dig a large pit with sloping side that in the center had a buried barrel and sometime a pipe or trough that flowed out to waiting barrels.  Sometime the pit was brick lined.  The pit was filled with pine high in resin,  which would come from stumps and roots of previously cut pine trees.  The entire pit and wood was covered in dirt with a single ventilation hole and the pine was set on fire.  the resin would flow down the sloped side of the pit into the barrel.  This operation is very similar to making charcoal. 

One source list the output as;
The average yield for one cord (4,000 lb.) of "light wood" might be:
Wood turpentine8 to 15 gal.
Total oils; including tar65 to 100 gal
Tar40 to 60 gal.
Charcoal25 to 35 bushels or 403 to 564 lbs.

I know of no known tar kiln that still exists in the area.  In the Delaware land records is a deed in which Hugh Elliott sells land to Seth Lingo in 1808 in Little Creek Hundreds Sussex county.  Included in the metes and bounds of slashed pine trees and dead pine trees, is mention that one marker - a slashed pine tree was along side of an old tar kiln.  So if in 1808 the tar kiln was considered "old" perhaps it shows when the making of tar ceased to be a business in Sussex County.  The use of tar kilns must have died out by 1800 as usually, in other types of kilns, a road or some geographic location will be referred to by the type of kiln that was in the area, thusly brick kiln road, lime kiln road etc are still around.  I know of no reference to a tar kiln road locally.

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