How To…. Make Hot Rock Spruce Pitch

After writing the post How To…. Make Spruce Pitch in a Tin Can I promised I would write up one on making pitch using a more primitive method.

Pitch can be made with many different materials and I have covered some of these in that previous post. On this occasion I used spruce resin, beeswax and charcoal dust. Instead of a nice handy tin to prepare it all though I opted to try this out using more primitive materials: hot rocks. I touched on this method previously in the post How To…. Make a Flint-Tipped Arrow but feel it needs its own stand-alone post.

Hot Rock Pitch
Hot Rock Pitch

I collected a lot of resin from some spruce trees in my local area with the use of a stick as I find that this does not damage the trees as a knife would do. Also I look for areas where the resin has pooled at the base of the tree as you can collect all of this without affecting the tree.

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Spruce Resin

My other ingredients are charcoal dust to give the pitch body (I used the small rock to crush the charcoal) and beeswax to make it flexible. I used the sticks to make the finished pitch stick.

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Preparation

While I was out collecting resin and preparing everything else I had a rock heating up in the fire. I used a rock that had been heated before so I could be sure it would not crack. (If there is any trapped air or moisture in a rock there is a chance it will crack or, in the worst case scenario, explode.)

To handle the rock I used some wooden tongs I had made up (sorry, no photo).

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Hot Rock

The rock I had chosen had a slight hollow in the top surface which I thought would help stop the resin from flowing away instantly as it melted. I dragged the rock to the side of the fire, popped a piece of resin onto it and with a small twig moved it around until it had all melted. Some resin did run off but enough was kept in the hollow for me to use.

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Melting the resin

I then moved the rock onto a piece of curved bark which held some water to act as a coolant as I built up my pitch stick.

Once this was all set up I popped a piece of beeswax into the melted resin and allowed it to mix in (experiment for yourself with ratios).

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Melting the beeswax

Then I sprinkled a good-sized pinch of charcoal dust into the mixture and carried on mixing it up.

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Adding the charcoal dust

As the rock was quite small I could only make a little batch of pitch at a time so it did not take long to all melt and mix together.

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Mix it all up

I used a sliver of wood to scrape the hot, sticky pitch onto a squared-off stick.

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Scrape onto a twig

The pitch you create using this method is a bit lumpy but still perfectly useable. As soon as I had some pitch on the stick I dipped it into the water to cool it down rapidly. This cooling-down process allowed me to use wet fingers to mould the pitch and smooth it out.

I kept repeating this process until all the melted pitch was on the stick and then mixed up another batch.

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Cool rapidly in water

The rock was so hot that I was able to keep melting and mixing the ingredients several times to build up the pitch on the stick.

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Mix more resin, beeswax and charcoal

I found that the curved piece of bark  was very effective for storing water to cool the pitch.

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Scrape onto the twig and cool again

The pitch stick on the right was made using hot rocks and the one on the left using a tin can. The primitive hot rocks method takes longer and produces a coarser pitch but in my opinion was far more satisfying to make.

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Keep repeating until you build your own pitch lollipop

The pitch is great for waterproofing things like sinew on arrows. I prepared a ember stick to help melt the pitch so I could cover the sinew you can see in the picture below.

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Ready to be used

To melt the pitch, simply blow on the ember stick while holding the pitch stick close to it.

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Heat the resin with an ember stick to melt it

Drip the melted pitch onto what you want to cover and with wet fingers spread it around. Keep re-applying more pitch until you are happy everything that needs to be covered is covered. I sometimes re-heat the area I have covered with the ember stick to further smooth it out.

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Drip it onto whatever you want to cover, fill or attach

With a little patience this primitive method can produce some very good pitch. I have seen some master primitive technology craftsmen makes some wonderful pieces with the use of pitch.

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All covered up

I have also made a post showing you how to make pitch in a more modern method using a tin – How To…. Make Spruce Pitch in a Tin Can.

Cheers

George

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