Choose video
1: Signs of tar-burning in the landscape
2: Building the pit
3: Tar-burning
4: Obtaining tar-rich wood
5: Draining off the tar
6: Rowing the tar
7: Barrel making
8: Making a Tar Boat

Building the pit

An area for the pit-base was cleared as soon as the ground frost had melted. It was constructed in sandy or soil-rich terrain, in a mound or higher ground so that the gully needed to drain off the tar required less digging. The base of the pit was funnel-shaped and it was sealed with clay, bog-mud and finally pieces of spruce or birch bark. A wooden pipe, ‘the chimney’, led from the base of the pit and was used to drain off the tar into barrels, located in the gully. The edge of pit was lined with saplings on top of which were stacked suitably chopped lengths of pine, fanning out from the centre of the pit. A stack of wood was placed in the centre of the mound, on top of its ‘eye’ to prevent blockages. The mound of stacked wood was covered in peat, which was sealed with soil. The peat-covered mound was then weighted with long poles to prevent the peat from falling off during burning. It took several days to stack the pit under the diligent eye of the ‘pit-master’.