Laughing Lion gift shop Ipswich MA

Ipswich Pine

There is a local tradition that the Minwax wood stain known as Ipswich Pine originated with Dick (Richard) Carman who owned and operated Carman Woodworking in Ipswich MA behind the former Laughing Lion gift shop on Essex Road. The Laughing Lion specialized in Early American pine reproductions.

Ipswich Pine

Eastern White Pine

eastern white pine
Eastern white pine forest

Most of the pine trees in Massachusetts are Eastern white pine (Pinus Strobus), a quick-growing and easily workable lumber that was used in early construction. Virgin stands of this tree that can live up to 450 years once covered New England. The largest trees were reserved by the King of England for masts and other uses, and the Colonies established limits to prevent over-harvesting.

Eastern White Pine is wide and full when standing alone but grows tall and makes excellent lumber when grown in a properly maintained tree farm. In wind storms the trees tend to snap about 20 ft from the ground. Freshly cut white pine is creamy white but as any old carpenter can tell you, aged pine acquires a golden or reddish tone, sometimes referred to as “pumpkin pine.”

Pitch Pine

A stand of pitch pine at Castle Neck
Aged pitch pine is knotty with a reddish color.

Castle Neck in Ipswich has one of the largest stands in Massachusetts of Pitch pine (Pinus Rigida) which dominates the pine barrens found in southeastern Massachusetts and New Jersey. The coarse knotty wood of these trees contains a large amount of resin (pine tar) that was used for pitch.

The settlers often lighted their houses by burning thin strips of the pitch pine trees. It is thought that this is the source of the name of Candlewood Road. Sticks from these trees or “Carolina Pine” were used into the 20th Century for catching herring at night. The wood was used primarily for ship building and railroad ties because the high resin content preserves it from decay. The wood is similar to the loblolly pine of the American Southeast and is used for similar purposes.


by Quincy Norton, Connecticut Magazine, 1904

“As the Pilgrims found the Indians using the pine torch they availed themselves of this convenient mode of producing a light. As the virgin forests furnished abundant material the prudent settlers supplied themselves with what proved to be a very good substitute for the domestic lamp. This torch was simply a portion of a dry limb of the pitch pine cut into convenient lengths and was usually selected so that the terminal point would expose a knot, as this was more abundantly supplied with the pitch and the hard knotty fibre burned away more slowly than the softer portions of the wood.

“What is more properly known as candle wood was sections of an old dry pitch pine log out into lengths of about eight inches; then these were split into thin slices the portion about the heart of the wood furnishing a better material for burning. These were burned several at a time where much light was required or singly for carrying about the room. Much of the Bible reading at night by the pious colonists was done by the flickering smoky light of these primitive illuminators.

“Although the smoke of the pine torch was at first somewhat offensive and the pitchy drippings from the burning wood a source of no little annoyance to the tidy housewife, still the easily obtained candle wood was religiously regarded as a special gift of Divine Providence.”

1 thought on “Ipswich Pine”

  1. I knew Richard (Dick) Carman, and worked at Carman Woodworking for several years, but I never heard that about Ipswich Pine stain being invented by him. Any idea if this is really true?

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