Portal celebrated its history Saturday as hundreds enjoyed the 33rd Annual Catface Country Turpentine Festival, and a local forester and turpentine enthusiast says the demand for turpentine may be on the rise again.
Portal is known for having one of the last remaining on-site working turpentine stills in the state and celebrates its rich agricultural history each year by firing up the E.C. Carter and Sons Turpentine Still to distill a new batch of turpentine. The Portal Heritage Society, which hosts the festival, sells turpentine produced during the festival year-round, said Doug Chassereau, chief ranger senior with the Bulloch County division of the Georgia Forestry Commission.
Recent demand for pure turpentine has increased, and a South Georgia industry has a “niche market” for gum spirits of turpentine, he said.
Diamond G Forest Products LLC, located in Patterson, Georgia, provided three barrels of pine gum for this year’s festival, Chassereau said. The demand for pure turpentine as opposed to the product made from paper mill byproducts is growing.
The paper mill turpentine has a sulfuric odor, and many consumers want the old-fashioned pure product, he said. Diamond G ships its gum spirits of turpentine “all over the world,” and it has become difficult to find the product.
Diamond G’s website (www.diamondgforestproducts.com) states that until the 1960s, Georgia produced 88 percent of the world’s gum. Today, China produces most, the site says. However, Chassereau feels the industry could make a comeback, because demand has risen and “Georgia’s slash pine (rosin and gum) has always been super grade.”
Turpentine has many uses, including being an ingredient in paint thinner, used in finishing wood products such as violins; as an antiseptic and a muscle rub for animals.
Diamond G “is a very small company but they report a demand,” he said. “They ship all over the world.”
Portal’s festival is named for the way old-time turpentine harvesters collected pine tar – slash marks made in the trees resembled cat’s whiskers. The pine tar that dripped from the slashes was collected in tin receptacles nailed to the trees below the slashes.
However, today, the resin is collected in bags below holes bored into the trees, Chassereau said.
Chassereau is an advocate of the revival of demand for pure, “true” gum spirits of turpentine, and said he would advise potential producers who are interested in the business. He may be contacted at the Georgia Forestry Commission’s Bulloch County office at (912) 681-5920.
Holli Deal Saxon may be reached at (912) 489-9414.