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les landes—
its forestry industry:
resinous and other forest products
xavier

 

 


Map of France showing Department 40, Les Landes

france

new : the buttresses and roof of Chartres cathedral illustrated

Germans in France illustrated
St. Quentin cathedral illustrated
Noyon cathedral illustrated
Reims cathedral illustrated
Cambrai cathedral illustrated
Soissons cathedral illustrated
Arras cathedral
cathedral destruction during the French revolution, subsidiary page to Germans in France

on first arriving in France - driving
France is not England

Click for motorways and motorway aires in France.

Transbordeur bridges in France and the world 2: focus on Portugalete, Chicago, Rochefort-Martrou illustrated
Gustave Eiffel’s first work: the Eiffel passerelle, Bordeaux illustrated
a fifth bridge coming to Bordeaux: pont Chaban-Delmas, a new vertical lift bridge illustrated

France’s western isles: Ile de Ré
France’s western iles: Ile d’Oleron

Ile de France, Paris: in the context of Abelard and of French cathedrals Sillustrated
short biography of Pierre (Peter) Abelard

Marianne - a French national symbol, with French definitive stamps

la Belle Epoque illustrated
Grand Palais, Paris

Click to go to pages about Art Deco at abelard.org

Click to go to 'the highest, longest: the viaduct de Millau'

Pic du Midi - observing stars clearly, A64 illustrated
Carcassonne, A61: world heritage fortified city illustrated

Futuroscope
Vulcania
Space City, Toulouse

the French umbrella & Aurillac

50 years old: Citroën DS
the Citroën 2CV: a French motoring icon

the forest as seen by Francois Mauriac, and today illustrated
Les Landes, places and playtime illustrated
roundabout art of Les Landes

Hermès scarves
Hèrmes logo

bastide towns
mardi gras! carnival in Basque country
country life in France: the poultry fair

what a hair cut! m & french pop/rock

Tour de France 2014 starts in Yorkshire, England
Le Tour de France: cycling tactics
illustrated

short biography of Pierre (Peter) Abelard

 

 

marker at abelard.org introduction

other documents on Les Landes

marker at abelard.org resin
marker at abelard.org resin tapping, how it was done
marker at abelard.org resin collecting, a short history
marker at abelard.org working the pines
marker at abelard.org resin distilling at Luxey and elsewhere in Les Landes

introduction

The lowly-populated and highly forested French Département of “Les Landes” is part of the region of Aquitaine.

The huge industrial forest is relatively young, being only about 150 years old and it is entirely artificial. It occupies an ancient marshy and unsalubrious plain, where previously sheep were raised, in good part as fertilising ‘machines’.

By the 19th century, there were two main ways to exploit the forests - lumber production and resin extraction. Lumber production still continues; but the resin industry ended finally in 1992, overwhelmed by greater and cheaper foreign production.

resin

Pine resin is collected manually by resiniers, who ‘hurt’ or damage the pine tree trunk so that it ‘bleeds’. The raw resin, which of itself has little commercial use, is then distilled to produce two products:

  • turpentine, and
  • rosin (colophane in French).

In some parts of Gascogny [1], resin-tapping had been done since the Middle Ages and before. At the beginning of the 20th century, there were several thousand resiniers.

In 1962, the last resin factory closed and commercial resin production stopped throughout the Aquitaine forest in 1992, when there were only 76 resiniers left.

The market for French resin products had collapsed throughout the world, for two reasons:

  1. The ability to make cheap substitutes for resin products from petrochemical products. Some examples:
    • instead of using spirit of turpentine, or turps, to clean paint brushes, now white spirit was used;
    • rosin was a major component of varnishes and paints, and was widely used in soap-making. Again, petrochemicals were cheaper substitutes.
    • instead of using rosin to create a more stable and durable road surface, now petroleum-based tarmac was been laid.

  2. Foreign competitors became able to produce resin in larger quantities and at cheaper prices. This was despite a local French development in tapping to speed and increase resin production. In 1993, the principal producers of raw resin were Brazil (12,000 tonnes), Indonesia (3,000 tonnes) and China (4,000 tonnes). The main buyers that year were Portugal and India.

Resin collecting was a very labour-intensive occupation. After he had cut the initial incision in the tree, the task of the gommeur or resineur (the resin collector) was to stimulate and keep fresh this wound, without affecting the tree’s growth. This maintained the secretion of resin.





 

 

 

 


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Resin tappers resin tapping, how it was done
After removing the bark (from January to early March), wounds were cut around the tree trunk. Each year, the cuts were made a further 60 cm higher, until they were about 2 to 3 metres above ground. Each original cut was about 20 cm wide and about 70 cm long.

A strip of tin ( the crampon) was hammered in below the cut to act as a sloping channel to direct the resin away from the tree.

According to the region, the cuts were ‘refreshed’ every four days (in Les Landes) or every eight days (in the département of Gironde, north of Les Landes) to ensure that the tree continued to bleed resin. This was done with a small, sharp matlock-like tool, called a hapchòt, that was used to cut away very thin strips from the tree. (The strips were used at home as tapers for lighting fires and lamps.)

[The ‘ladder’ used, called a pitèir, was made from a bark-stripped pole with foot-rests nailed on.]

cut cross-section of a resin-tapped pine

Resin pot - pot hughes - collecting resin.resin collecting, a short history
Originally, the resin from the artificial wound was just allowed to fall into a hole at the base of the tree, or onto a piece of sacking. Not only was the resin collected this way dirty, but also awkward to handle.

 

 

Making resin pots (hughes). Early 1900s.In 1836, Pierres Hughes from Bordeaux had the idea of using a small earthenware pot, like a flowerpot without the bottom hole, to collect the resin. M. Hughes took out a patent on his pots, which were named after him. With these pots, the resin was more easily collected, as well as being cleaner. Close-up of a resin pot, showing the white resin within.


Cleaning machine for Hughes resin pots.However, there was still intensive labour necessary to scrape the resin out of the pots and into a container for emptying into the resin barrel. This chore was alleviated by the invention of a rather Heath Robinson apparatus:

In 1948, an American procedure of pulverising 60% solution of sulphuric acid over a smaller wound was introduced. The acid solution stimulated an increase of about 25% in resin yield, for half the amount of wound-making. However, the acid was tricky to handle, both because of the danger and because the resin produced hardened quickly, requiring speedy distillation using a mobile still. The resin, well polluted with sulphurous by-products, was collected in open plastic bags stapled to the tree.

By the 1990s, the resin industry was collapsing because of heavy foreign competition, abetted by local large proprietors being persuaded that growing pines for wood products was more profitable.

A local resin worker, Claude Courau, from Lanton, developed a more efficient and cleaner method of collecting resin, which resulted in a very much purer and cleaner product. He enclosed a smaller wound on the pine’s trunk with the plastic bag, without using the sulphuric acid stimulant that made a thin and impure product. Courau had observed that, in fact, Landes resin is of superior quality to that from abroad. He stimulated resin flow with a neutral paste, which ensured the resin was not degraded.

However, the demise of the resin industry overtook Courau’s proposals for resin harvesting, and the Landes resin industry has ended.

working the pines


Emptying harvested resin into a vat, illustration dated 1830

emptying resin into a barrel that will be taken to the resin distillery.Traditionally, one resinieur would work about 7,000 pines in a year. One cut produced on average 1½ litres of resin each year. Thus, it was reckoned that, in 1947, the Landais forest produced 120,000 tonnes of resin a year. The trees were worked from when they were 23 to 25 years old until they were exhausted, “worked to death”, 25 years later. The tree, now useless for resin production, was then felled.

The gruelling schedule required to refresh the cuts on 700 trees every 4 or 8 days meant that usually the resineur was helped by his wife (or if unmarried, his mother) as a "couple de resineurs", resin-collecting couple, where the woman would empty the resin pots into barrels, so the man could keep on blazing the trees.

Once collected, the resin is tipped into barrels to be taken to the local resin distillery for processing.

resin distilling at Luxey and elsewhere in Les Landes

The resin still at Luxey. The still-head has been stolen. Image courtsey of  eco-museum, Luxey.
The resin still at Luxey. The still-head was stolen during the summer of 2006.
This photo is a copy of a photograph of the still in a publicity document for the Eco-museum at Luxey.
Image courtesy of Eco-museum, Luxey.

At Luxey is a former factory for extracting resin products, now open as a museum. This distillery for pine resin, founded in the 19th century, was functioning until 1954. Since its closure, its rural industrial architecture, the still and tools have been conserved. However, in August 2006, the significant part of the still, the copper still-head or alambic (the large horizontal pipe affair in the photo above) was stolen for its valuable metal. It is now hoped that it can be replaced, and the financing of such a project is being investigated.

Early resin storage, above and below ground.
Barrels awaiting emptying into vats, in centre
Barrels awaiting emptying into vats, in centre Note the rail-born truck.
 
Early resin storage, above and below ground. 

In visiting this Historic Monument, you are plunged back in the heart of history of the Landais forest at the times of resin. You will see

  • where the incoming barrels of resin were unloaded and checked for quantity and quality of the resin
  • storage vats for the resin before processing;
  • the transport system for the resin between different parts of the factory;
  • the magnificent still, impressive despite so sadly being ravaged by thieves in 2006;
  • the run-outs, from the still, of the rosin sediment and the volatile turpentine;
  • A factory exhibition showing tools for collecting resin and maps indicating the extent of resin exploitation in Acquitine;
  • another exhibition showing the end products from the factory and their uses completes a visit to the Luxey distillery;
  • a display of barrel-making.
The resin factory at Luxey, Les Landes
The resin factory at Luxey, Les Landes


By comparison with this small artisanal factory, here is an airial image of the extensive factory of resin products at Marcheprime in Les Landes, taken in 1958.

The resin-processing factory at Marcheprime, Les Landes.
The resin-processing factory at Marcheprime, Les Landes.

Here is a translation of the text accompanying the image above:
Along the railway line between Bordeaux and Hendaye stands one of the 77 distillation factories in Les Landes. The gum is put in 340-litre barrels lined up in the factory park. From the gum is extracted essence of turpentine and various derived products: colophane, pitch. The turpentine is used in the making of paints, waxes, shoe and furniture polishes. Competing strongly with turpentine are synthetic solvents (or white spirit) obtained from petrol. The dry gum products are used in soap making, electric isolators, the celluloid industry, paper glues. The pitch is used in making printing inks. Since 1937, production has halved, but France still remains the third world producer after the United States and the USSR

end notes

  1. Gascony:
    A large historical region and former province of southwest France. Its historic capital was Auch. Gascogny became part of the kingdom of France in 1453, as one of its largest provinces.

    During the French Revolution, as part of their drive to break old allegiances and power blocks, the Revolutionaries split Gascony into the departments of Landes, Gers, and Hautes-Pyrénées, as well as into parts of Pyrénées-Atlantiques, Lot-et-Garonne, Tarn-et-Garonne, Haute-Garonne, Gironde, and Ariège.

    However, recognition of the region continues in France and, particularly, in the regions that once were Gascony.
    Gascony is also spelt as Gascogny. The adjective is Gascogne, as in ‘the Gascogne Forest’.

    Gascony, has its own language, a corrupted type of Latin /French mix, that is also related to Occitan. Most of the terms used in resin harvesting are Gascon, as are words relating to stilts.
on first arriving in France - driving Les Pyrénées, A64
motorway aires, introduction Pech Loubat, A61
Mas d’Agenais, A62 Les Bréguières, A8
Lozay, A10 Hastingues, A64
Catalan village, A61 Port-Lauragais, A61
aires on the A75 autoroute from clermont-ferrand to béziers Tavel, A9

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