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The Last Tapper and His Craft

The art of resin tapping - a UNESCO cultural heritage.

Author: Ursula Schiller


He loves the forest, the fragrance of the pines and his workplace. But above all, he loves the moments of silence. Bernhard Kaiser is one of the last tappers in Austria who is still practising his craft.

Eight men in the area around Hernstein in Lower Austria have dedicated themselves to the tradition of obtaining resin, which in countryside to the south of Vienna dates back many thousands of years. The region, which extends from the Vienna Woods to the Rax and Schneeberg mountains, is home to a botanical rarity: the largest and most northerly black pine forest in Europe.

The Fragrance of the Forests

Here, along the edge of the Alps, a particular type of black pine has evolved. Christened the ‘Pinus nigra Austriaca’ by botanists, it even survived the Ice Age. Far less sensitive to cold than its southern relatives, it can put down roots in even the most shallow soil and can withstand long periods of drought. No other tree in the vicinity can match it. Up to 800 years old, it covers the slopes of the Kalkalpen as a tall, light forest or perches – stunted and battered by the elements – on rocky ledges and mountain crests.

But there’s one characteristic that makes the black pine especially unique: It likes to sweat. Rich in resin, it produces small, clear drops that roll down the tree trunk and the essential oils spread a lovely fragrance through the forests in summer. Even the ancient Romans used the resin of the pine tree as glue and for shaving.

The black pine in Lower Austria

  • Lower Austria © Region Triestingtal / Corinna Pernitsch Lower Austria © Region Triestingtal / Corinna Pernitsch
  • Black pine © OK Black pine © OK
  • Black pine © Region Triestingtal / Corinna Pernitsch Black pine © Region Triestingtal / Corinna Pernitsch
  • Black pine cone © Region Triestingtal / Corinna Pernitsch Black pine cone © Region Triestingtal / Corinna Pernitsch
  • Emmerberg castle ruins in Lower Austria © WA_FranzZwickl Emmerberg castle ruins in Lower Austria © WA_FranzZwickl
The Region’s Gold
During the reign of the Empress Maria Theresia, the tree population was extended from the mountains to the Vienna Basin. By the late 18th and early 19th centuries, resin had become the region’s “gold”. According to Johann Leitner, curator of the museum in Hernstein dedicated to resin production, “In times gone by several thousand people earned their living tapping resin”. The sticky pine resin that does not dissolve in water was used as an ingredient in products as diverse as paint, varnish, lubricating oils, shoe polish and paper as well as for medicinal purposes.

Tapping, the Art of Resin Extraction
Then, more than 50 years ago, in the 1960s, synthetic resin was developed. All at once, extracting resin from trees became too expensive and unprofitable. One after another, the large resin manufacturers, who had once processed hundreds of tonnes, closed down, the last one in 1978. Resin is now only collected in the forests between Baden and Neunkirchen, barely an hour’s drive from Vienna, between April and September – but more from a desire to keep an old tradition alive than for commercial reasons.

“It’s more of a hobby, you can’t live from it. But I do it, because we’ve always done it in our family.”

Bernhard Kaiser, Pecher © OK Bernhard Kaiser, Pecher © OK Bernhard Kaiser, Tapper


What’s so special is the oral tradition. The craft is passed down from one generation to the next within the family or amongst friends by word of mouth. For this reason, and of course, because it contributes to preserving the cultural landscape in southern Lower Austria, the profession of resin extraction has been given protected status by UNESCO and has been placed on the list of “intangible cultural heritage”.

Tapper Bernhard Kaiser
Bernhard Kaiser is a resin extractor motivated by a pride in his craft and a love of work – and also by a promise he made his grandfather. Using a traditional method not found anywhere else in the world, he removes a little piece of bark from the tree and carefully planes over the trunk. The resin, with which the tree fills its wounds, begins to flow. Two pieces of wood are placed at an angle to the left and the right to guide the flow of resin into a catch pan. The resin flows for between 24 and 26 hours, before the supply of resin is exhausted. Bernhard Kaiser leaves the tree to rest for four days before applying the plane again. By the end of September, the tree is missing about half a metre of bark on one side and between four and six kilogrammes of resin have been harvested.

The art of resin extraction

  • Bernhard Kaiser, tapper © OK Bernhard Kaiser, tapper © OK
  • Removing bark from the tree © Region Triestingtal / Corinna Pernitsch Removing bark from the tree © Region Triestingtal / Corinna Pernitsch
  • Bernhard Kaiser at work © OK Bernhard Kaiser at work © OK
  • Bucket of resin © OK Bucket of resin © OK
  • Tree resin © Region Triestingtal / Corinna Pernitsch Tree resin © Region Triestingtal / Corinna Pernitsch
  • Forestry Museum © Region Triestingtal / Corinna Pernitsch Forestry Museum © Region Triestingtal / Corinna Pernitsch
The last eight tappers harvest roughly 10,000 trees a year, extracting some 40,000 to 50,000 kilogrammes of resin. Most of the resin harvested by the Percherhof Hernstein is exported and goes to Switzerland, Germany and the USA as raw resin. The remainder is processed and used in creams and balsams or is sent to the company Petz in Vienna, which has manufactured violin resin and sold it throughout the world since 1912. The colophony, a solid form of resin, is refined according to a secret recipe, so that it – if rubbed over the hairs of a violin bow several times – gives the violin its beautiful sound.
Niederösterreich, Wiener Alpen © Niederösterreich Werbung / Michael Liebert Niederösterreich, Wiener Alpen © Niederösterreich Werbung / Michael Liebert

Top walks in the region

Tapper museum in Hernstein

The Tapper Museum in Hernstein

Telephone: +43 2633 47205

The Tapper Museum in Hernstein

Telephone: +43 2633 47205

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The Last Tapper and His Craft

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