Pine Tar and Three Rewards

Pine Tar and Three Rewards

Another update from Diana Pops, on the the candlestick she is crafting for us. For a bit more on the project, simply click here

Hello All,

Here I am again, with more things to share.

This week I’m going to focus on how me and my dad went about making pine tar, to be used as a finishing compound for the wooden core of the candlestick. I’m also going to talk about 3 rewards that I was given over the course of our “Pine Tar Afternoon Extraordinaire”. 

Before you see the pictures and say, “Hey!!! Imposter!! That is most definitely a spruce!”. Yes, I know. However, the internet assures me that because my required yield is so small, I can use almost any evergreen tree for this process. 

Fun Facts about Pine Tar!

  1. Pine Tar is a sticky material produced by the high temperature carbonization of wood in anoxic conditions (dry distillation or destructive distillation). 
  2. It has a history that goes back at least six centuries.
  3. It was originally used for waterproofing wooden boats.
  4. It repels insects.
  5. It doesn’t come out from under your nails.
  6. …ever.

I recruited my dad to help me with this process. To begin, take one Christmas Tree. Remove all the branches. We want just the trunk of the tree. 

But don’t worry, this tree didn’t lose it’s arms in vain. They will be used a little later on.


The reason we need to take all the limbs off is shown in the picture below.  


Where the orange wood is…that’s what’s holding our precious tar.

When the limbs are removed, saw the tree into short sections.


This is the point in the process where I received Reward #1. Reward #1 was that I got to spend a whole afternoon with my dad. We both run our own businesses and have busy lives. I had a moment here when I realized that I felt like a little kid, just hanging with my dad. 

I was blessed with a childhood where, if dad was around, there was always a sense of safety and security in the air. When you grow up, move out, marry, and make the natural steps that distance you from your parents…this feeling goes farther and farther away. I had a fleeting moment of that feeling while we were chatting and sawing up the tree. 

It was awesome. Full stop.

Moving on.

You need to chop the pieces of wood down to little sticks of kindling. We want to make it as easy as possible for the sap in the tree to run, and this is the best way to achieve a good flow. 


Follow this up by punching a few holes in the bottom of a clean paint can, and then pack that can with the kindling. We want to have the sticks as tightly packed as possible. 

I was looking at buying all kinds of fancy (and expensive) apparatuses for making pine tar…until it dawned on me…

“Hm…I need like, a half cup of pine tar…and I also need to not spend 300 dollars on something I’ll use once and never again…*light bulb*…PAINT CAN.”

The important thing is that our container seals, air tight, on the top. 

The outside is a bit dirty, but the inside is clean as a whistle. That is also important. We don’t want to mix chemicals from paint residue with our precious tar. 


Now we had to dig a hole. And here is where I received Reward #2. 

It is winter, and the earth is hard as stone. I needed the hole to be three inches deep into the ground. We foolishly started with a shovel. Yeah right. Then an ice pick. As if. 

I ended up rooting around in my dad’s shed (which is full of all tools, strange and wonderful). I emerged from the shed with this weird little sledge hammer and some kind of stake with a wide and heavy blade on the end of it. 

It took around a half an hour to dig down three inches into the ground. And you know what? I really didn’t want to do it. It wasn’t that it was cruelly arduous or that it was bitterly cold outside…it was that I felt really self-conscience about sitting on a cardboard box in the snow, working up a sweat by swinging this little 5-pound sledge.

What is my best for His glory? 

Is it creating things in silver and gold, which admittedly, have an inherent beauty of their own? It is creating beauty at all? I always assumed that it was.

But now I’m thinking that maybe my best for His glory is sitting on a cardboard box in the snow, chiseling the ground…because it feels like prostration. If I’m honest, when I decided that I wanted to explore “contemplative craft” and “prayerful craft” I think I sorta imagined myself in a dimly lit renaissance-styled room, surrounded by antiquated tools, making something particularly difficult and impressive while saying some kind of frilly-worded ancient prayer.  

While I’m sure that would be quite enjoyable, this experience, small though it may be, moved me somewhere new…and that is always, always a good thing.

Five minutes in, I felt really peaceful, just chipping away at the earth, praying silently in my head. 

May the work of my hands bring glory to Your name. Complete a good work in me. 

May the work of my hands bring glory to Your name. Complete a good work in me. 


With the hole finished, place a coffee tin in it. This is going to act as our catch. The sap will run out through the holes in the bottom of the kindling-packed paint can, and into the coffee can in the ground. 


We packed some sand around it so that the coffee tin wouldn’t heat up with our sap in it and boil the sap away to nothing.

Place lid on paint can. Place paint can on top of coffee tin. Cover with all the discarded limbs of the tree…and light that baby up.



It burns quick and hot, and that’s what we want for this process. 

Here’s two dutch nerds taking a selfie.


We let it burn for a meticulously calculated time. Here is the formula.

Time required to render pine tar = one cup of coffee’s worth of time units.

And here it is! Liquid Gold!


I filtered out some of the ash. This is ready to mix with linseed oil, to create a finishing compound that will preserve the candlestick for generations!

Reward #3 is the tar itself. It was so important to me, when approaching this project, that it spoke of the land we live on. I wanted it to say something about the rootedness of your community here in the prairies. Taking something from the land, and making it into a piece of this work that will be a part of the history of St. Benedict’s Table…it just made sense. 

Lastly, in other news, the flock of sparrows is growing!

Talk soon! 

My Very Best,



Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.