The Frugal Furniture Maker: Make Your Own Tack Rags


Only suckers and the richie-rich buy tack rags at the store.

The rest of us can do a better job of making our own tack rags with simple shop chemicals and a just a few hours of work.

Step one: Get some cloth. To make the rag, you need something cotton that has got no lint. Old tank-top T-shirts are fine – just as long as they are thin enough that you can see your nipples through them.

Other options: Swipe some cheesecloth from the garbage of the local yuppie “cheeserie.” Raise some ungrateful kids and use their cloth diapers. Tip: Sort through the trash of your neighbors and get their old tack rags. Soak them in mineral spirits to remove the dust and binding agents. Launder them.

Step two: Soak your rags them in turps. If you live in the South, then turps are easy to get. Just pull over on the interstate in November and tap a longleaf pine tree by the side of the road. Here’s how:

First “box” the tree. Using a long-headed axe, cut a “box” shape into the base of the tree that is 10” to 14” wide and 2-1/2” deep. This will catch the sap from the tree.

Drive off.

In March, chip a “streak” approximately 3/4” wide and 1” deep above the box using a “hack” tool. This releases the sap, which collects in the box you cut back in November.

Drive off.

About April, use a steel spatula to scoop the liquid (called gum) from the box and into a bucket. With the turpentine collected, you can then soak your cotton cloths in the pine resin and get them ready to receive the thing that makes them “tack” cloths – some sort of resin.

Now, you can buy a varnish at the store and spend upwards of $13 on a quart of stuff that you can drizzle on your rags. Or you can easily make your own varnish using ingredients from the sporting goods store.

Step 1: Go to the sporting goods store and buy a cheap “batter’s bag,” which is filled with unrefined tree rosin, the key to making beautiful varnish. Suckers.

Step 2: You need a few quarts of olive oil. Take a Ziploc to your local Olive Garden and get the unlimited salad and breadsticks lunch. On the table will be a bottle of olive oil. Empty that into your plastic bag. Tell the waiter you are out of olive oil. Repeat until you have enough.

Step 3: A gallon of turps. You know the drill. Drive out to your longleaf pine forest in November….

Step 4: Boil these ingredients until they are the consistency of honey. Let it cool and put it into mason jars.

Now you are ready to make your tack rags. Take your turp-soaked diapers and drip some of your varnish on them, kneading the rags the whole time. Drizzle. Knead. When it gets real sticky, stop.

Victory. You are done. Store the rag in a plastic bag until you need it.

You have now made dust your slave.

— The Frugal Furniture Maker


About Lost Art Press

Publisher of woodworking books and videos specializing in hand tool techniques.
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15 Responses to The Frugal Furniture Maker: Make Your Own Tack Rags

  1. Mark White says:

    Or just go and buy some and use the time saved to make something.

  2. marnspiger says:

    I can get tack cloths for about three bucks. Unless this procedure takes less than, oh, about five minutes then I’m spending more time than I’m saving money.

    And eating up my precious project time.

  3. mpp12013 says:

    Surely you jest, right? This is WAY too much work – no wonder people just buy tack cloths. Who has the time to do all this? I have so much other work to do, I couldn’t possibly do this – and never in a million years would I steal the olive oil from ANY restaurant. Get real, or just don’t publish this kind of thing.


  4. jonathanszczepanski says:

    An axe?! Who can afford an axe Richie Rich?! Instead, I wrestle a squirrel to the ground (hard than it sounds), put his head by the tree, and then tickle his feet.

  5. jer1ivp says:

    Have you and Mr. Lang been drinking at the same pub beers lately?

  6. englishmaninseattle says:

    “When I were a lad, our family lived in a cardboard box at the bottom of a lake.”
    “Did it have a lid?”
    “Ee – what luxury!”
    Monty Python’s Yorkshiremen sketch.

  7. Jeopardy Answer:
    From the Greek sarkazein, which literally means, “to strip the flesh off”, this form of rhetoric can be confusing to those who do not understand it, but is often amusing to those who do.

  8. shopsweeper says:

    This is fine if you can count on already-grown pine trees. I would have stared with a pine cone.

    But I guess the 1% have access to a bunch of mature trees…

  9. yazoonian says:

    Who can afford gas to drive on the interstate?

  10. msauber says:

    I need a YouTube video accompanied by banjo music to help me understand this process

  11. raney says:

    For a second I thought you were serious.

    Not really – but I’m amused that so many people did.

  12. woodwrk says:

    The Onion headline – Local woodworker arrested for illegally hacking a pine tree on I-40.


  13. johnny2xs says:

    “Never in a million years would I steal the olive oil from ANY restaurant.” –Hands down the best possible response to this article. There’s no way I could every top that, so I’ll just say that articles like this are exactly why LAP holds such a deep, cute, little chiseled-out place in my soul. Almost…ALMOST…makes it worth puttin’ up with Jeff Burks’ posts… 😉

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