I went in to research mode to figure out its history and if it had a name. The only name that popped up frequently was found in wooden boat forums that referred to it as "boat soup." There was lots of documentation of its use throughout history on wooden ships. I did also see a couple of forum articles about long hunters who have used the mixture on the stocks of their Kentucky rifles. I've read about pine tar for wood treatments in 19th century receipt books but never in this seemingly magical concoction. Pine tar has long been respected for its wood protectant and preservative properties. All I needed was a project to use this new-to-me wood finish.
A couple of weeks ago, I was shocked to find this old D handle shovel for only 50 cents at a community yard sale. I certainly didn't need another one but couldn't pass it up. I knew the paint would be a bit of pain to remove but appreciated that the paint likely did a lot over the years to preserve the wood and steel. I eventually got the chance to begin the restoration process of removing paint and rust. The handle was cracked, but they're almost always cracked. Once everything was stripped down, I checked to see if the handle would clamp together. It did but it was out of alignment. I figured the old rivet was bent so I carefully removed it, straightened it, cleaned it and set it aside while I epoxied the handle back together. Once the epoxy cured over night, I reinstalled the refurbished handle rivet and sanded the wood. After that, I applied a liberal coating of Evaporust gel on the spade to get any left behind rust before quickly sharpening the end of the shovel. Once all the routine restoration work was complete, it was time to mix the "boat soup."
Why did I decide that this finish would fit this shovel? The paint remover worked well, but the pigment had settled into the grain of the wood. I didn't want to remove all the wood necessary to get below the staining (minimally invasive) so I figured a darker finish would complement it. Also, I figured that since Company D was from Maine, familiarity with pine tar would be an expression of a nice historical detail. I will note however, Stockholm tar was preferred for ship rigging. Stockholm tar is just a high grade of pine tar from Swedish pines.
Since I only had a handle to oil, I mixed one tablespoon each of pine tar (available at most farm supply stores), boiled linseed oil, and turpentine. I mixed thoroughly and applied like any other oil finish.
I am very pleased with the result. Not only do I think it looks great, adds improved water and insect protection, it's further proof of the soundness of historical practices. As always, when working with boiled linseed oil be sure to safely dispose of your rags since they can spontaneously combust.