What is Turpentine?

Turpentine Overview

Turpentine Chemical Structure
Turpentine Chemical Structure
Turpentine Oil
Turpentine Oil

Turpentine (also called spirit of turpentine, oil of turpentine, wood turpentine and colloquially turps) is the resinous exudate or extract obtained from coniferous trees, particularly those of the genus Pinus. Turpentines are semifluid substances consisting of resins dissolved in a volatile oil; this mixture is separable by various distillation techniques into a volatile portion called oil (or spirit) of turpentine and a nonvolatile portion called rosin. Although the term turpentine originally referred to the whole oleoresinous exudate, it now commonly refers to its volatile turpentine fraction only, which has various uses in industry and the visual arts. It is mainly used as a solvent and as a source of materials for organic synthesis. Turpentine is composed of terpenes, mainly the monoterpenes alpha-pinene and beta-pinene with lesser amounts of carene, camphene, dipentene, and terpinolene. Oil of turpentine is a colourless, oily, odorous, flammable, water-immiscible liquid with a hot, disagreeable taste. It is a good solvent for sulphur, phosphorus, resins, waxes, oils, and natural rubber. It hardens upon exposure to air. Chemically, oil of turpentine is a mixture of cyclic monoterpene hydrocarbons, the most prevalent of which are the pinenes, camphene, and 3-carene.
Rosin contains mostly diterpene resin acids, such as abietic acid, dehydroabietic acid, palustric acid, and isopimaric acid. Numerous other compounds are present in small quantities in all turpentine products.
Turpentine has been used for traditional self-medication in the United States, and fatal poisonings have been reported in children who have ingested as little as 15 mL of the material. 

World Turpentine Production

World production of turpentine is approximately 330000 tonnes from all sources; almost 100000 tonnes (30%) is estimated to be gum turpentine, and the bulk of the remainder is sulphate turpentine. The naval stores industry is complex and ever-changing. In the early part of the century, gum naval stores production was the dominant, and in most cases, the only, means of producing rosin and turpentine.
As labour in the more industrialized countries has become more expensive and less willing to undertake the task of tapping, gum naval stores production has declined and the centre of its production has shifted. The United States and many former producing countries of Europe are either no longer producers, or are now only able to sustain production at very low levels. Production has also declined in countries such as India and Mexico; in India, a shortage of trees for tapping has added to the other problems. During the 1980s, Brazil emerged as a significant producer of gum naval stores, but here too, the cost of labour is now being felt. Also, government financial incentives which encouraged new planting in Brazil have been reduced, so as existing areas of plantation come to the end of their tapping life fewer suitable trees are available to replace them.
The focus of production for world gum naval stores today is Southeast Asia. The People's Republic of China has been the world's dominant producer for many years, but a dramatic increase in production, signalled by the installation of an improved and expanded processing capacity in the early 1980s, has seen Indonesia become the second biggest producer of gum rosin and turpentine in the world. Chinese production accounts for 430000 tonnes (about 60%) of the total annual production of gum rosin and Indonesia accounts for a further 69000 tonnes (almost 10%). While Chinese production is unlikely to increase further, Indonesia has an ample (and growing) number of trees available for tapping and the potential to increase production 
significantly in the years to come.   The People's Republic of China and Indonesia also dominate world trade in gum rosin and turpentine.

World Turpentine Production
World Turpentine Production

Turpentine Uses and Applications

The largest use for turpentine oil was as a paint and varnish solvent. Oil painters generally prefer it as a paint thinner and brush cleaner to petroleum solvents (mineral spirits), even though the latter are less expensive. But the largest use of turpentine oil is now in the chemical industry, as a raw material in the synthesis of resins, insecticides, oil additives, and synthetic pine oil and camphor. Turpentine oil is also used as a rubber solvent in the manufacture of plastics. Turpentine has been used experimentally in a bath for the treatment of disseminated sclerosis and sexual dysfunction. It also has been studied for its antibacterial activity and inhibition of osteoclast activity. Turpentine is utilized in experimental models of inflammation to induce a systemic inflammatory immune response in animals. 

Gum Rosin Applications

1. Solvent -  Turpentine is used for thinning oil-based paints, for producing varnishes, and as a raw material for the chemical industry. Its industrial use as a solvent in industrialized nations has largely been replaced by the much cheaper turpentine substitutes distilled from crude oil. Turpentine has long been used as a solvent, mixed with beeswax or with carnauba wax, to make fine furniture wax for use as a protective coating over oiled wood finishes (e.g., tung oil).

2. Medicinal elixir - Turpentine and petroleum distillates such as coal oil and kerosene have been used medicinally since ancient times, as topical and sometimes internal home remedies. Topically it has been used for abrasions and wounds, as a treatment for lice, and when mixed with animal fat it has been used as a chest rub, or inhaler for nasal and throat ailments. Many modern chest rubs, such as the Vicks variety, still contain turpentine in their formulations. Taken internally it was used as treatment for intestinal parasites, and candida because of its antiseptic and diuretic properties. A general cure-all. Sugar, molasses or honey were sometimes used to mask the taste, and bait parasites. Turpentine was a common medicine among seamen during the Age of Discovery. It is one of several products carried aboard Ferdinand Magellan's fleet in his first circumnavigation of the globe, and is still used today as an alternative medicine.

3. Niche uses - Turpentine is also added to many cleaning and sanitary products due to its antiseptic properties and its "clean scent." In early 19th-century America, turpentine was sometimes burned in lamps as a cheap alternative to whale oil. It was most commonly used for outdoor lighting, due to its strong odour.A blend of ethanol and turpentine added as an illuminant called burning fluid was also important for several decades. In 1946, Soichiro Honda used turpentine as a fuel for the first Honda motorcycles as gasoline was almost totally unavailable in Japan following World War II.