What is Natural Resin?

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  • Written By: Mary McMahon
  • Edited By: O. Wallace
  • Last Modified Date: 24 September 2019
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Natural resin is a resin product which comes from a plant, in contrast with synthetic resin, which is made through chemical synthesis. Natural resins have been used in various human cultures for thousands of years; one notable example of an ancient use of resin can be seen in Egypt, where resin was used in the preparation of mummified bodies. Natural resins continue to be used today for a wide range of applications which stretch from perfume to the treatment of the bows for instruments such as violins and cellos.

A few distinguishing features define a natural resin. The first is the fact that it starts out in a sticky, slightly gummy state, and hardens over time. The second is that it is soluble in alcohol and related compounds, but not in water. This is what makes resins so useful; they can be heated or processed in alcohol to soften them, applied to something, and allowed to dry. Once dry, the resin will not admit water intrusion.

Resin is produced naturally by many plants as a self-defense and healing mechanism. Resins have a hydrocarbon base, and often contain terpenes, which gives them a sharp odor. They can contain other compounds as well. When fresh, resins are gummy, sticky, and soft. Over time, they harden up. This hardening is what makes them useful to humans, as resin is hard enough to be used in varnishes, paints, sealants, lacquers, and adhesives, among other things.


Basic natural resin is sometimes treated to remove the terpenes, in which case it is known as rosin. Rosin is the form of natural resin used to treat bow strings. Some resins stay soft, in a form known as gum resins or oleoresins. Gum resins blend the traits of a gum and a resin, and oleoresins can have aromatic compounds which lead them to be classified as balsams.

Soft natural resin is used in perfume and incense. Frankincense is an example of a well-known soft resin which famously appears in the Bible. This aromatic resin has been used in perfumes and incense in the Middle East for a very long time, as have many other balsams. Balsams from around the world also sometimes show up in personal care products, where they may be viewed as therapeutic, or simply for their strong scent.

Sometimes, natural resin becomes fossilized, creating amber. This cured and fully hardened form of resin can be cut and polished to make a glowing translucent stone which can range in color from pale yellow to deep orange. Amber is believed by some cultures to have medicinal or therapeutic qualities.


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Post 4

My aunt is into home remedies that use natural items, and she is certain that amber can relieve arthritis. She has made several pieces of jewelry with amber, and she wears them whenever she is having arthritic pain. I do wonder if it is all mental, but for whatever reason, she is more agile and happy when she is wearing the amber.

She also says it is good for teething babies. When she had infants, she made teething rings out of amber. My own mother was worried that it would somehow poison the babies, but my cousins turned out fine.

My aunt says that this natural resin contains an analgesic, and it soaks in through the baby's gums. When an adult with arthritis wears it, then it is absorbed by their skin.

Post 3

My cousin uses a type of natural resin to varnish his oil paintings. It is made from damar, which is a resin that comes from a kind of tree in Asia.

The damar will not dissolve in water, but it will dissolve when immersed in turpentine. This is what my cousin uses to make the varnish. He just puts a chunk of damar inside of a glass of turpentine and waits for it to turn to liquid.

This resin is great as a varnish, because it hardens so much. This hard layer offers protection from chips and smudges that could ruin the painting. Since oil paintings take a long time to produce and six months or more to dry completely, most artists use varnishes like this to protect what was so long in the making.

Post 2

@orangey03 – Rosin creates friction between the bow and the strings. It may sound strange, but without it, you could not produce a good sound with the violin.

Violin rosin comes in the form of a yellow block with wood on the back and sides. I rub it back and forth across both the base and the tip of the bow hairs, and then I run the rosin in one long motion across the entire length.

When you drag the bow across the strings, it should make a clear sound. If it cannot, then you know you don't have enough rosin on it, and you can simply apply more.

Post 1

It seems weird that a type of resin is used on violin bows. When I think of resin, I picture something as sticky as tree sap. This makes me think that the bow would stick to the strings, which would not make a good sound at all.

If it stays soft, then I don't see how it could work in this case, because there is all that friction between the bow and the strings. I guess I just don't understand the concept behind using it on a bow. Can any violinists out there enlighten me?

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