GIFTS OF THE SPRUCE: Together we’ll enjoy some spruce tea, make spruce pitch glue and learn to process spruce roots for cordage. The primary focus of the class we’ll be on conifer pitch. Pitch can be used for things like fire starting, hafting arrow points and feathers, mounting a blade, patching holes in a birch bark canoe or tent, making a torch or even healing a cut or a sore throat. It’s entirely free as a woodland resource and always regenerating in the forest. It can be processed with a few simple steps to be made into a quality glue!
To make some Conifer Pitch Glue follow these five steps.
1. Go take a nature discovery walk and collect your Conifer resin aka “pitch” into a container like that of an Altoids tin or a seashell. The pitch is secreted out of conifers (pine, spruce, fir) to close wounds on injuries. It’s actually antiseptic, anti-inflammatory and antibacterial for both the tree and us. Use a sharpened stick to pry, scrape and collect it.
2. Gently heat on a low flame fire (I use a sterno can if a limited time lesson) without too much heat or it will smoke, boil and cause a flash fire. You’ll want to warm it up to cook off the oil and strain out debris. It might help to make tongs out of a bent stick to hold the container carefully over your fire or use plier grips.
3. Add 10-25% well crushed charcoal and an additive like crushed rabbit scat, mollusk, uncooked egg shell or even charred plant cordage. Adding these to the pitch helps temper the glue to find the right hardness and elasticity you are after. The goal is to find the right recipe to offer flexibility, strength and durability rather than have it either too gooey or crack due to brittleness.
4. Let the mix harden away from fire, it will harden solid when cool. It will be tacky when warm. It can also be scooped up onto a stick and dipped into water to cool so that it may be rolled into a neat mound to make a glue stick. You may add layers of well crushed charcoal between each layer on the pitch stick. This will help reduce the stickiness and let you roll it. Other storage techniques include rolling it into a coil to create pieces for easy transport.
5. Reheat the pitch glue as needed. It’ll be like “nature’s glue stick” available when needed.
You should be able to dent it with a fingernail. If it’s too soft and tacky you’ll need to add more charcoal and reheat/mix. If it’s too hard, add more beeswax or substitute fat as replacement for beeswax. Give kids popsicle sticks to glue together the first letter of their name. Allow them to break the bond as well and experiment to make glue that breaks the stick before the glue cracks.
In this old video for a Hardwoodsman Skill challenge, I made some spruce pitch glue next to a river to fix my fishing rod tip that broke off and also made a cup of spruce tea from needles of the same tree. You can also use the pitch as gum and the branches as a broom or brush.
David Alexander is a professional outdoor guide and conservation biologist. He enjoys making nature more accessible to people and wildlife. You can follow him at www.natureintoaction.com
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