Pitch Sticks

Working with Pitch:
Hafting, Bonding and Waterproofing

(As featured in the May 2009 issue of Practically Seeking)

A pitch stick is your storage device and applicator all in one. Pitch can be used to cover cordage or other porous materials as a waterproofing agent, or to bond pieces together such has hafting an arrow point onto a shaft.  

Now that you have a collection of prepared pitch sticks based on last month's instructions, here is the way to use them to secure arrow points or other blades.

The adhesive qualities of pitch are minimal, as it acts mostly as a filler, but following these instructions will help achieve maximum bonding.

NOTE: ALWAYS USE CAUTION and good judgement when using pitch! It is extremely flammable and the fumes are toxic. Always process and use in a well-ventilated area.

Tips & Tricks for working with Pitch:

Step-by-step Instructions for Using Pitch Sticks:

  1. Begin by slowly heating the items you want to bond together. I prefer to use indirect heat, such as a very warm stone, but direct heat, such as flame or a stove burner, will work as well. Heat the pieces until they are very warm to the touch -- hot enough that the pitch will begin to melt a bit when touched to the objects. This will allow the pitch to penetrate the surfaces, improving the bond.
  2. Materials Indirect heat

  3. Heat your pitch stick until it begins to melt just slightly and becomes almost gummy. Do not allow the pitch to become to hot so that it starts to drip as this makes it much harder to control application. 
  4. Warm pitch stick

  5. Apply a small amount of pitch to each of the surfaces you want to bond together. Notches need to be filled about half full and flat surfaces must be well coated.
  6. Apply pitch liberally Nocks should be half full Cover surfaces well

  7. Put the pieces together and align them into their finished position. Hold them carefully in place until the pitch and the pieces have cooled.
  8. Hold together while cooling Bonded arrow Cooled in place

  9. Scrape away any excess pitch using a stone flake or knife blade.
  10. Using a stone flake Remove excess pitch

  11. Heat a small stone or other object with a rounded edge and use it to blend and smooth the joint. Be careful not to overheat, as you don't want to change the bond or allow the pieces to slip. The objective is to only make the surface nice and smooth.
  12. Round-edged tool for smoothing Smooth out the pitch Smooth joints

  13. Scrape away any remaining residue and wrap the join with sinew or other material, if appropriate.
  14. Scrape away remaining excess Sinew wrapping Hafted point

    This basic technique can be used to join a whole host of materials
    from bone for fish hooks and tweezers to bark for basketry — the uses are almost endless.
    So experiment with this wonderful  material, and
    Have Fun!