Hi, my name is George Aitchison. I have been friends with Kevin now for a few years and have worked with him on a number of occasions. I teach outdoor skills (including Bushcraft) to SeaCadets.
Kevin asked me to write for his blog while he is on his travels, so I thought I’d share a few projects with you.
I’m going to start with my favourite technique for making spruce pitch, which can be used as a glue/filler in primitive crafts – for example coating the bindings on arrows, as in the picture below.
- Primitive arrows
There are several ways of making pitch: I’m going to show you the tin-can method today, and in the next post I’ll cover the hot rocks method.
First up we collected a tinful of resin from some spruce trees that had been damaged by woodland machinery. I prefer to use a flattened edge on a stick to collect the resin as this is a sight safer than using a blade.
- Collecting spruce resin
My mate Ben collected resin in an old baked bean can – as you can see we quickly got a tinful.
- A tinful of resin and collecting stick
To make pitch I use two baked bean style tins with a small improvised colander in one made out of half a beer can with holes punched through the bottom.
The sticks in the picture below are ready for rolling the pitch on to when it is ready. An alternative is to use a stick like elder with the pith taken out and the pitch poured into the cavity, which makes a kind of pencil.
- Kit for making the pitch
I packed the colander with resin then set light to it. The disadvantage of this method is that you lose a little of the resin but the big plus is that it melts quickly and collects cleanly in the bottom of the tin, leaves the detritus in the colander. Two good friends of mine Mark Oriel and Keith Coleman introduced me to this method: previously I’d just put the resin into a tin, placed it into some embers and scooped out the detritus when it had melted.
- Burning resin
My friend Mark then powdered the charcoal with a small stone.
- Powdering the charcoal
The melted resin (it looks black from previous pitch making). As the detritus is left in the colander the resin in the tin is very fine, which makes for very smooth pitch.
- Melted resin
To temper the pitch and make it less fragile and more flexible I add beeswax and charcoal. There are many other ingredients that can be used instead of these. The charcoal went in first. I normally put in as much charcoal as there is resin.
- Adding charcoal
Next was the beeswax. I have heard some folk say they put in the same quantities for everything but I usually just put in a small block or two. I also use beeswax balsam you can buy in shops. It seems to work just as well.
Then stick it on the embers and mix it up. Watch out that you don’t overheat it as it will froth up and spill over.
- Melting the beeswax
When it is mixed and the tin has been pulled out of the embers it is time to get the sticks and water ready. Let the pitch cool slightly and become a little tacky first.
Put one of the sticks into the mixture and roll it a few times (I try to square off the stick when I can remember to help me here) until you have some pitch on the stick.
- Adding the pitch to the stick
Then stick it into the water to rapidly cool the pitch down. The pitch shrugs off any water and any bits that fall into the water turn into little blobs that can be popped back into the can.
Keep repeating this process to build up the pitch on the stick.
- Rapidly cooling the resin
Remembering to wet your fingers first, you can mould the pitch how you want it.
- Moulding the pitch
The 3 pitch sticks were made by my friends Mark, Ben and myself. The piece at the top had been made on an earlier course. All will be used in craft making.
- Completed lollipops
Hope you found that useful: next time I’ll show how to make pitch using hot rocks.