View Full Version : How to make pitch

Canwell Knives
02-08-2003, 04:06 AM
Making pitch

I want to learn how to make pitch to be used as glue to hold on knife handles. I have no idea where to begin. Can you help?

Also, can you tell me something about the 'qualities' of pitch please.

Is it brittle, meaning would it fail as a fixitive, or is it flexable and tough and how does it perform as a fixitive to wood, metal and bone?

I don't really want to use modern fixatives. I would much rather learn the 'old ways'. Can anyone recommend a tutorial or a good book?
Some glues and resins go brittle and fail after time (several years), does pitch do the same?



02-08-2003, 08:26 AM
Well Bear, Cutler's Resin is different things to different people. I'll give you my recipe though and you can go from there. The problem is in tracking down all the ingredients.

My Cutler's Resin recipe includes the following ingredients in the suggested amounts.

- 1 pound of brewer's or food grade pine picth.
- 1/4 to 1/2 pound of beeswax (less for hard, more for flex)
- 1/2 cup or more of carnauba wax flakes
- a pinch or two of any aggrigates you choose (brick dust, dry moose dung, diatomaceous earth, portland cement etc...)

Melt the pitch and beeswax together SLOWLY in a stainless steel or cast iron pot and add the carnauba wax flakes after it's fully melted. Pine pitch and beeswax are very flamable so be careful. Then add your aggrigate if desired. I've fuond it unnecessary for knifemaking purposes but you be the judge.

The trick is to make the mixture to your own liking Bear. Don't depend on someone else's recipe. Experiment until you come up with the right proportions for your own needs. Start with small batches until you find the right consistency after hardening. I like it to stay flexible and that's what the beeswax does for it. But it also lowers the melting point so it's a tradeoff.

Straight pitch is very brittle but if that's all I had I'd make it work. Once the tang is bedded firmly in the pitch it's not going anywhere. The same with a full tang handle as long as it's stiff enough that it would never flex and crack the pitch. You can see where this is going. The sky is the limit. Just experiment old buddy. And by all means, have fun! And here's a thread from the archives dealing with Cutler's Resin for you to look at. Email me at if you need help finding all the ingredients.
Here's the link to the archives:

Oh, one last tip about using Cutler's Resin for knifemaking. One thing I discovered that will really help you out in the fitup of the tang to handle on full tang knifes is using a thin layer of suede leather as a shim between the handle slabs and the tang. Saturate the leather with hot Cutler's Resin until it's completely soaked and it will act as an expansion buffer and also help the slabs conform to a rough tang surface. Just lay the leather and the slab on the tang and drive your pin through the leather piece for a tight fit. Do that for both slabs and then pein down the pins. After the resin sets up you can trim the overlapping leather off flush with the handle. Hope this helps you Bear.

02-08-2003, 08:56 AM
The pitch I use is natural pinon pitch. I collect the pitch myself. The pinons are the first pines that you come to as you head up into the mountains around here. The cone has a large seed that you can eat. That's the best way to identify them. The pitch also has a very sweet smell. They actually sell it as insense. You want to collect the hard/dry pitch, not the sappy pitch. I look under the tree for hard balls of the pitch.

To process the pitch, first I melt it to a low simmer, and strain out any needles or twigs. Then let it cool. After that I crush the pitch and dissolve it in rubbing alcohol to make the sealer. I use the pitch in other ways too, without the alcohol. It can be used as a glue, filler, and to stabilize wood. The pitch is just a good natural hard waterproof resin that can be mixed with a number of different things for different purposes. It can be used straight as well. It's a very traditional material

02-08-2003, 09:03 AM
To use it as a glue to hold a tang in the handle, first get a good tight fit on the tang, by burning it in. Then heat the tang to about 300 degrees and just rub it with a hard/dry piece of pitch. The pitch will melt over the tang. Then just slide the tang into the handle and let it cool. I've tested it for strength. The only ways to get it apart are to either re-heat the blade until the pitch melts or break the handle off with a hammer.

The pitch is very stable and will not become brittle or break down like other synthetic resins. If it sits long enough under the right conditions, it turns to amber.

02-10-2003, 01:34 PM
For anyone living east of the mountain states, the pitch from a Scotch pine works well. Scotch pine have been extensively used in landscaping, reforestation, and for Christmas trees. When mature the Scotch pine is short lived. It often develops extensive leaks of pitch which collect in masses on the trunk. If one climbs the tree, or uses a ladder it is my experience that several pounds of pitch can be collected from a mature Scotch pine with no damage to the tree whatsoever.

02-10-2003, 01:42 PM
The discussions in this thread have been using the term "pitch" throughout. IMHO the more proper term for the hardened, processed, substance derived from pitch is "Rosin". In historical and nautical terms pitch indicates a liquid or semi-liquid material which is the sap of various evergreen trees. Rosin on the other hand is what is created when the volatile lighter molecular weight components of pitch evaporate, or are cooked off. Rosin is hard, amber-like, and a dense solid at room temperatures. Rosin is waterproof but soluable in alcohol, and petroleum. It is rosin, not pitch that is used in stitching wax, cutler's resin, adhesives, and many other products of the pre-modern society. :cool:

Chuck Burrows
02-10-2003, 02:21 PM
hexenwolfe welcome to the Outpost and thanks for the info.

You're right about the name, but everybody I know always calls it pitch and I know it is often sold as brewer's pitch, of course maybe we could start a movement.....:p

For those who don't have easy access to pitch/rosin you can get it at James Townsend and Sons for $7.00 a pound here's a link.

They also carry a very good grade of golden beeswax for the same price.


02-10-2003, 07:53 PM
Here is a photo of some pitch/ rosin I made from Scotch pine. I harvested the pitch from 5 mature Scotch pine trees and ended up with 28 lbs of rosin. I originally made it because I needed a small amount of rosin for stitching wax. One thing lead to another and now I have a lifetime supply! The photo shows the reddish brown color and hard shiny surface. This rosin is very hard and not at all tacky. It melts easily and blends well with wax and linseed oil.

02-10-2003, 10:25 PM
The correct hillbilly term is "hard pitch". :)

Just kidding, thanks for pointing that out. Hope you can hang around and keep us straight.

Jamey Saunders
02-11-2003, 12:00 AM
Well, that picture of rosin looks familiar. I get to see that every fall. The small town I'm from (Portal, GA, outside of Statesboro) has one of the two remaining old-time turpentine stills in the state (maybe the country, not sure). Every fall, they fire up the still for making turpentine, and once they've boiled all the turpentine off, they pour the remaining stuff out into a pan about 3 feet wide and 15 feet long. When it hardens, they break it up with axes. They sell it off to be powdered and used in stuff like a pitcher's rosin bag.

I'll have to post an announcement for any of you in the area who would like to see turpentine being made when the time comes around. My grandfather helped build that still. Kinda has sentimental value for me.

02-11-2003, 07:14 AM
Hey Hexenwolfe, please share your harvesting method with us. How did you get all that resin out of the pine trees? I've seen the old method of building a fire under a suspended pine tree trunk but that must take days of tending the fire. How'd you do it?

Dana Acker
02-11-2003, 07:31 AM
Hexenwolfe and Bear, Welcome to the forum! Good topic. Yeah, I'm interested in your harvesting methods as well.

02-11-2003, 08:54 AM
It would make a better story if I could claim some exotic and secret technique. In fact, Scotch pine secretes pitch from every hole as it ages. All I did was scrape the piles of pitch from the locations on the trees where they had collected. I did not harm the trees in any way. As I recall, I collected about a five gallon bucket of dirty pitch. I heated it in an empty coffee can on the kitchen stove on a low heat. (smelled great, just like pine incense until I dripped some on the burner and it scortched!) When it was melted, I strained it through coarse cheesecloth to remove the debris. My yield was about 40 percent clean rosin. I discarded the rest. I probably could have crushed the consolidated trash and recovered another 20 percent as powdered rosin, but I had no need. Historically, pitch was collected by slashing the trunk of the pine and collecting the sap that was secreted to seal the injury. Very much like collecting latex for making rubber.

02-11-2003, 08:55 AM
I know alot of you have already seen this, but here's how I find and collect the pinon pitch... oops I meant rosin. c

02-11-2003, 11:00 AM
Ok. So, I've read the old recipies for cutler's resin, seen all the threads and posts and opinions on the subject. Now I have one final question...

At what rate does the addition of wax (bees, carnauba, maybe even parrifin) affect the final hardness of the rosin/pitch/whatever?

My reason for asking is, I want to do some reprousse work on copper sheet, and need a firm but somewhat flexible backing for this. Theophilus reccomends a pitch mixture, but the proportions are not well explained. When I hit the copper with hammer and chisel, I need the stuff underneath to give way - not crack and powder. Sooooo... are we talking 1 part pitch to 1 part wax, or what?

Anyone who's messed with this before, I'd appreciate the input. I suppose I could just trial and error this until I get it right, but I'd like to save a little time.


02-11-2003, 11:54 AM
That I don't know, but I have used commercial "repousse pitch", which they call pitch, for that purpose. I don't think that it has and wax. They mix something else with it, but I forget what it's called. It's ready to go right out of the can, but you can add this other stuff to get smoother consistancy if you want. Most jewelry suppliers carry it.

02-11-2003, 04:45 PM
Well shucks, Tai, I just went and ordered 3 pounds of Brewer's Pitch and 2 pounds Beeswax from Jas. Townsend and Son... Hope I can still use it for what I'm trying to do. Wish me luck.

02-11-2003, 04:49 PM
It will probably work fine. Good luck bro. Keep us posted.

Chuck Burrows
02-11-2003, 05:00 PM
If nothing else you've got a lifetime supply of stitching wax!:D
Just melt them together at 1/3 pitch and 2/3 wax or even up to a 50/50 ratio.

For melting pitch and wax the best thing I have ever found is a crockpit. You can control the temp and the fire danger is lowered considerably


02-11-2003, 05:38 PM
Here is an address for a pitch supplier for anyone interested in larger quantities for repousee. The address is about 3 years old so can't vouch for whether this is still valid. I purchased from him one time with excellent service.
Northwest Pitchworks
1317 Rowland St. Bellingham, WA 98226
For repousse I suggest that you put your pitch in a 10 in cast iron skillet. It stands up well to heating the pitch with a torch to soften the surface, it can go in the oven if it is necessary to completely remelt, it is heavy enough to anchor the work, and it has a handle!

02-11-2003, 06:18 PM
Prizzim, after my experience with Cutler's Resin, I'd have to say that straight beeswax should work fine for what you're doing. If that's not quite firm enough I'd try one part pitch to three parts beeswax. All carnauba wax does is firm up the finish on the resin. Good luck.

02-11-2003, 06:25 PM
From my( admittedly limited) experience with repousse, it seems like straight pitch works well. It does shatter a tiny bit , but this is not a problem. After the metal is removed, a pass with a torch melts the surface and the pitch is ready to go again. IMHO you need a hard surface to support the metal, and a wax base would be simply too soft.

02-11-2003, 06:32 PM
Don't ask me. I don't even know how to sepell reopouseey :D

02-11-2003, 09:51 PM
The purpose of cutler's resin was to act as an adhesive for handles, and ornaments. As such it would be required to have a set of specific characteristcs. It must be sticky. It must be permanent. It must be waterproof. It must bond with many surfaces even some that would be oily. In some instances it must be very hard and wear resistant. It must fill spaces between scales and tangs with a durable stable material at least as durable as the handle bone or wood. So let's look at what is avaible , Rosin will provide adhesivness, It will stick to any dry surface. It lacks shock resistance and space filling character. Brick dust , crushed egg or oystershell, limestone, or sand all add stiffness, and act to fill space and convert a liquid into a paste product. The minerals also add hardness and wear resistance,

02-11-2003, 10:08 PM
The non mineral addatives suggested in some of the old recipes included dung, charcoal, leather dust, wood flour, and waxes. The vegetable fibrous products, if they were used, might add elasticity. They might have searved as a drying agents in pitch that was not processed completely into rosin. IMHO they were seldom used.
The waxes would add softness and reduce adhesiveness. I cannot help but believe that if the purpose was to build a paste or adhesive, there would be very little wax in the mix. If you were making a varnish for a final surface polish, rosin and wax with some linseed oil would provide a ideal product.
So experiment a little rosin, ceramic frit, crushed clay flower pot, brick dust of various colors Create a cutler's resin that will be your own. Then come and share the recipe with us.

02-12-2003, 07:12 AM
Good info, thanks.

Dana Acker
02-12-2003, 08:07 AM
I went with an old recipie someone gleaned from a book on older US knifemakers--1800's era I believe, with 5 parts pitch to 1 part beeswax and 1 part aggregate, be it brick dust, herbivore dung, etc.

It was my understanding that the wax was to add a bit of elasticity to the dried pitch, so that it wouldn't be so hard and chip or crack. In my experience, the pitch blend mentioned above does keep some residual tackiness, instead of feeling totally hard or glassy, say like a dried epoxy. However, it is hard enough to make it difficult to dent with a fingernail. The tackiness problem (only to the feel) is solved with the application of a little dust or dirt (thank you Gene Chapman for that one.) I might add that the tackiness described is not gumminess. It only feels somewhat tacky, but won't stick to anything that touches, like fresh sap will.

Once I was setting a stick tang in a deer leg bone, using the above pitch blend. Something occurred which necessitated my removing the blade, less than a minute after mounting it. I could not get the blade out manually. I put the knife in a vise and using a piece of wood and a mallet tried to knock the handle off the blade--no go. I finally had to use a hobby torch and melt out the pitch blend in order to remove the blade. That's pretty good adhesiveness in my book.

02-12-2003, 08:20 AM
I have one of Dana's knives with the cutlers resin, and it seems like a perfect consistancy.

02-13-2003, 11:43 AM
If you need only a small amount of hard pitch/rosin to make cutler's resin, or stitching wax, you can use the rosin sold for musicians. Purchase rosin for a violin bow at a good musical instrument store. It is sold in 1-2 ounce blocks in a little box for a couple of bucks. I have used this to make stitching wax. It melts and mixes well.

02-13-2003, 11:52 AM
jsaund22.... I would appreciate learning more about the process of your turpentine still. What kind of pine tree do they collect the pitch from? How do they tap the trees? How much pitch do they process? How is it collected and handled? What kind of still? What temperature and for how long? ? How much rosin is left over. Anything about the process would be appreciated.

Turpentine is readily available in the paint department. Does anyone know about the commercial methods of manufacture? Where is it made? What happens to the rosin by-product? From the quantity and price of turpentine, I would think that there must be large quantities of rosin created as a by-product. Where does it all go? Why is rosin in such short supply? If rosin were as common as terpentine would suggest, why would any of us ever need to make our own rosin?

Jamey Saunders
02-13-2003, 12:06 PM
I think that the rosin is used in other things, like glues, but I'm not sure. The scarcity of rosin may also have to do with the fact that it's not exactly a household necessity. Not many people use it or even know what it is, so it could be that a lot of it is simply discarded.

As for the old still, it has a large brick base (round) with a huge boiler on top. This base is probably 25 feet in diameter. There is a platform on the top where the distillers work. It is wood fired, and the turpentine that boils off is piped through a copper coil in a 15ft. diameter cooling barrel. The pure turpentine drips out of the end of the coil. Kinda like making moonshine.:D

I don't know what kind of trees they use, just that they're pine. They call the festival they have the "Catface Country Turpentine Festival". This comes from the way they tap the trees. They don't so much tap them as they scar them. They have a pan (kinda like a bread loaf pan) that they nail to the tree. They then have a sheet metal ramp that nails just above the pan. This ramp follows the contour of the tree and guides the sap into the pan. Then, they take a concave-faced ax and cut the bark off the tree. The way they cut the trees looks like a bunch of "V"'s stacked on top of each other. (Kinda like this, <<<<<<<<, only rotated 90*.) The sap runs out of the tree and into the pan. The scar that's left looks like a cat's whiskers, thus the name "Catface".

I don't know how they get the sap now. That's the way they did it many moons ago. As far as how much they process during the one weekend a year that the still operates, I don't know.