turpentine, yellow to brown semifluid oleoresin exuded from the sapwood of pines, firs, and other conifers. It is made up of two principal components, an essential oil and a type of resin that is called rosin. The essential oil (oil of turpentine) can be separated from the rosin by steam distillation. Commercial turpentine, or turps, is this oil of turpentine. When pure, it is a colorless, transparent, oily liquid with a penetrating odor and a characteristic taste. It contains a large proportion of pinene, a compound from which camphor is manufactured. Turpentine is obtained in large amounts from several species of pines of the SE United States; its physical properties, e.g., boiling point, depend on its source. It is used chiefly as a solvent and drying agent in paints and varnishes.
The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.