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.
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.
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.
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).
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.
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).
Then I sprinkled a good-sized pinch of charcoal dust into the mixture and carried on mixing it up.
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.
I used a sliver of wood to scrape the hot, sticky pitch onto a squared-off stick.
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.
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.
I found that the curved piece of bark was very effective for storing water to cool the pitch.
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.
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.
To melt the pitch, simply blow on the ember stick while holding the pitch stick close to 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.
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.
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.