Updated: 7/25/18, 3/12/17
- Pitch is a product made with either organic resin or, a petroleum-based product, asphaltum. Then, either brick dust, plaster of paris, fine clay, sand, tallow or wax is added to create strength and resilience. There are a bunch of commercial pitches available. You can make your own but, it is a dangerous, messy job. Starting out, it would behoove you to start with a commercial pitch.
- Pitch comes in Soft, Medium and Hard – each has its own particular usage. Soft pitch melts at low temperatures and is great for filling hollowware as it is easy to pour. As expected, soft pitch yields more and is more responsive to the forces of the tools and is great for deep forming. Although, soft pitch is too soft for chasing and planishing. Medium pitch is a good all around pitch. It gives enough to form deep repousse´d areas and is firm enough to chase on. Hard pitch is useful for detailed work using engraving or chiseling tools and for planishing.
- Pitch needs to be warmed to hold onto the metal. This is generally done with either a torch or a heat gun. Care must be taken to not burn or let the pitch catch on fire. This burns out parts of the mixture, making the pitch no longer pitch. Also, the fumes are eye and lung irritants and aren’t good for you. When working with pitch and heat, be sure to ventilate well. If you don’t have adequate ventilation, go outside and warm the pitch. If you can smell it, your ventilation isn’t good enough.
- While the pitch is warm, the metal is placed into it. Then the pitch is allowed to cool. If you are doing repousse´ work, the pitch needs to be cooled somewhat but not hard. It should yield a bit if you push your finger in it. You’ll know the pitch is too soft if, when working, your piece sinks way down, into the pitch. For chasing work you want the pitch hard so that your chased lines remain crisp. If your room is too warm, you can place the pitch bowl in the refrigerator or outside, if it’s cold.
- When working, keep the pitch bowl at about chest height – although, I like my bowl lower than that. Whatever is comfortable for you.
- Cover pitch when it is not in use. The pitch will catch and hold any dust or cat fur that is floating around. Also, don’t stack pitch bowls when storing them – eventually, they will sink into each other and good luck then! Keep pitch bowls level, when not in use – fluctuating temperatures can cause the pitch to spill out of the bowl. (Pitch in a zip-lock bag).
- A pitch bowl needs some sort of base to hold the bowl, absorb hammer blows and to facilitate the various angles that the pitch bowl will need to be in. Bases can be made of rubber, leather, felt, small tires or even a sandbag. Nechamkin sells a loaded pitch bowl that sits on a little tire.
- Before placing your metal in the pitch, grab your pliers and bend down the corners. Generally, you’ll want to bend all four corners but, if you are working with scrap, often there aren’t clear-cut corners. Try to bend at least three areas down. The bends are anchors for the pitch to hold onto. If you don’t make anchor bends, the metal will lift from the pitch and the process of C&R will be, a) very difficult to execute and b) will drive you insane. Each time you change from front to back, you will need to bend the corners in the opposite direction. Of course, no re-bending is involved if you are only working on one side. Since you anneal between courses, there should be no problem with bending the edges back and forth.
- Colors of pitch: Green, Red, and Black. Each is made differently. Check with the manufacturer as to the ingredients so, you know what you are dealing with! Otto Frei’s German red pitch is made from resin, powdered brick, and tallow. Their German Black Pitch is different from the more commonly available black pitch in that it is not asphaltum based (a petroleum product).
How much pitch will I need?
Please see More Information, on this page.
How to get the pitch into the pitch bowl
- If the pitch is in an aluminum container, remove the container so that the aluminum doesn’t get embedded in the pitch.
- Refrigerate the pitch for about 10 minutes.
- Place the pitch in an old pillowcase or other fabric that you don’t mind wrecking.
- Place the enclosed pitch on a hard surface like concrete, a steel surface of a tree stump.
- Hammer the pitch until it breaks up into 2″ cubes.
- Pour the dust and smaller chunks into the bottom of the bowl and place the larger chunks on top. Hold some of the pitch back – you’ll add the rest after the pitch starts to melt and levels out.
- If you are using an organic pitch, you can place it in your home oven. You can also use a kiln. Ensure that there is adequate ventilation – if you can smell it, your ventilation isn’t working well enough. Don’t hit any exposed heating elements in the kiln with the pitch bowl – the elements are very fragile and will break. Protect the interior surface of your kiln or oven in case the pitch leaks or spills. You can use aluminum foil or parchment paper to line your oven or kiln. You can use a cookie sheet covered with foil or parchment paper too.
- Another method is to place a piece of steel over a hot plate or use a griddle. Place the pitch bowl on either the hot plate or griddle and add some of the pitch to the bowl. You can fill the bowl to the rim, with the pitch and as it melts, the level will sink. Check the level of the pitch – it may be necessary to add a few more of the chunks. Add a few pieces at a time so that you don’t overflow the bowl. Heat until the pitch is smooth and level. It can take from 20 minutes to 2 hours – depending on the size and thickness of your pitch bowl.
- Don’t leave the pitch alone on the hot plate! Remember: hot bowl! Use gloves to move it from the hot plate, oven or kiln – but only after it solidifies and cools a bit! If this spills on you, you will be in a world of pain! It is best to wait until it cools completely. Please, please, be careful!
- Try to find out the melting temperatures of your particular pitch. Most pitch melts between 250F (121C) – 300F (250C). Set your oven to the lower of the temperatures – you can always make it a bit higher if nothing is happening.
- Turn on the ventilation hood, fan or open doors and windows.
- Don’t go bowling, shopping or running. Stay near the pitch and check it often. FIRE HAZARD. This is one meal that you really don’t want to overcook!
- Support the bowl, if necessary, so that the container is level.
- If is best to have the pitch slightly mounded as this allows easier access to your working surface. After the bowl has cooled, take additional chunks of pitch and hold in tongs. Warm the surface of the pitch bowl and one side of the piece of pitch. Push the chunk of pitch into the pitch bowl.
- Heat the chunk with the heat gun or torch until it is smooth and shiny. Repeat as necessary.
- You can also use a cold hammer to hammer down the warm pitch. Cool the hammer if the pitch starts to stick.
- Surfaces that have pitch on them, can be refrigerated and the pitch can then be chipped off.
NOTE: If you are using black pitch – DON’T USE YOUR HOME OVEN! The fumes are not what you want wafting through your house.
A note on the black pitch: although I have black pitch and have worked with it for a long time, I don’t recommend it. I’ve switched to red pitch. Black pitch is sticky, gives off noxious fumes (like your dog), and leaves your hands looking less than “model ready”. Plus, black crud under your fingernails is not a current fashion trend (or so I’ve heard).
The non-German black pitch is somewhat sticky. I have never used the German black pitch so, can’t comment.
If You Don’t Want to Bother Putting Pitch into a Pitch Pot
Nechamkin has pitch already in a bowl! It comes with a tire for holding the bowl at varying angles.
They also carry green and red pitch as well as all things chasing and repousse!
The pan seen in the video, that I use to protect my soldering area during pitch work, is from Harbor Freight. It is called a Mixing Board. The heat gun is a 12 Interval Heat Gun, also from Harbor Freight – mine caught on fire – so, I can’t recommend it. I now have a Dewalt heat gun and feel much safer.
You can also use old baking sheets, a piece of wood, tin foil, etc.
Cleaning Pitch off the Metal
You will want to coat the side of your metal, that will be in the pitch, with lip balm or oil to reduce the amount of pitch that adheres to the back. Cleaning off tons of sticky pitch is not fun.
There are several methods to remove pitch. But, the most important method involves not having the pitch stick in the first place. You can use lip balm, vegetable oils or mineral oil to coat the back of the metal. This coating will keep the pitch from adhering to the surface. Don’t use water. The water can get trapped in the pitch and, when heated, will create a scale replica of a volcano – complete with spewing molten lava (the pitch). The villagers, in the path of the eruption, will be seriously burned! You can dampen your fingertips when touching the pitch – to keep your fingers from getting burned – just make sure you don’t leave a lake on the surface.
I love using lip balm to coat the back of my pieces. The pitch doesn’t stick to it. I usually just have a little bit of pitch clinging to the edges. To apply: I smear a bit of the balm onto the “pitch side” (the side going into the pitch) of the metal. Using a balm dedicated brush, I brush the lip balm all over the piece and into the repousse´d areas.
Here’s where you can get a lip balm base and save money: Amazon – Crafter’s Choice – 12.99 for 1lb, US.
To remove pitch, you have a few options:
- Warm the piece and wipe the pitch off with a rag, paper towel or cotton ball.
- Warm the metal and using mineral oil, wipe off the pitch.
- Burn off the pitch. For this, you must have excellent ventilation. Remember: if you can smell it, the ventilation isn’t enough.
- If you are using the “burn-off” method, don’t drop the piece right into the pickle (that’s a no-no anyway), quench it in water first and scrub with a brass brush to keep the gunk out of your pickle.
If you choose to “warm and wipe“, you will need to de-grease the metal before putting it in the pickle. Use a detergent soap to remove the balm or oil or you can try pumice powder or a cleanser like Bon Ami. I like using Dawn dish detergent and hot water for degreasing.
What to do Next
After you remove your metal from the pitch, you need to re-surface the pitch. Gently heat with either a brushy flame or the heat gun, until the surface returns to its shiny, smooth state. Usually, though, things aren’t that easy – especially with deeply repousee´d areas. So, you might need one more tool – a putty knife is handy for scraping off globs of pitch that are threatening to slump off the edge. Just drag and plop the offending pitch into the low areas. Sometimes, I heat my putty knife a bit to encourage the pitch to abandon the surface of the putty knife.
I like to slightly mound up my pitch in the bowl. This makes it easier to access the metal that I am working on. Too little pitch and the walls of the bowl get in the way of progress. But, eventually, the pitch self-levels.
I usually heat most of the pitch and then start adding chunks. I carefully monitor the pitch so that it doesn’t overflow the bowl (but, I’m not always successful!). I, quickly, remove the pitch from the heat and start mounding it in the center, using a wide-ish putty knife. At this point, I’m shaping and moving the pitch towards the middle of the bowl.
Getting Ready to Chase & Repoussé
Anneal your metal and pickle. When the metal comes out of the pickle, brass brush off any remaining weirdness and dry it well. Bend four corners, downwards, in the opposite direction of the surface you will be working on. Re-apply your pitch repellant of choice, re-warm the pitch and push the metal back into the pitch.
Eventually, the process of applying metal, removing metal, heating the pitch, applying, removing, heating, etc., will deplete some of your pitch. You’ll know when it’s time to add more: when you find yourself standing on your head, trying to raise the side of a design.
In the USA
- Green Chasers Pitch – Otto Frei
- Contenti – Petroleum based and German Red Pitch
- FDJ Tool – Their California Pitch is resin-based and is available in hard and soft. You can mix the two together to form a medium pitch or keep them separate.
- Northwest Pitchworks – Here’s a quote from their site: “Northwest chasers pitch is a vegetable, or pine-tar based pitch that is resilient, has a non-tac surface, and binds well to metal.” You order via phone, mail or email. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org. Address: Northwest Pitchworks, 1317 Roland St., Bellingham, Wa. 98229. Phone: 360-715-1772
- Otto Frei – German Red Pitch, German Black (very hard) and USA Red Pitch – hard.
- Cookson – not sure what Chaser’s cement is – maybe someone has tried it and can report back?
- Cousins UK, Pitch Bowls
- Fischer’s Embossing Cement in red (hard) and black (soft).
- Shop Bijoutil in English, French and German
- Lacy West, Vancouver, Canada
Pitch Recipe Links
- Charles Lewton-Brain at Ganoksin
- Charles Lewton-Brain, Silversmiths Pitch Review, Society of American Silversmiths.
- Charles Lewton-Brain, Pitch Bowls and Alternatives for Jewelers.
- Saign Charlestein, Pitch FAQS.
- Brian Meek, Setting Up A Pitch Bowl.
Related Web Pages
- Wear an apron and PLEASE, PLEASE, PLEASE, ventilate those fumes. Even if it is organic pitch, the fumes are not good for you. If you can smell the pitch, you are not venting properly!
- When touching hot pitch, always dip your finger(s) into water first. Each type of pitch has different “clinging” power. Some glom on and others slide off. Watch out for the “glommers”! They will give you horrendous burns.
- After hours of use, the pitch bowls start to heat up and the pitch gets too soft. Stick the bowl in the fridge or the freezer until the pitch cools off. I work with 2-3 bowls simultaneously: that way, the bowls don’t overheat.
- The temperature of your studio will also affect the pitch. Obviously, on hot days, the pitch will be softer and the opposite, for cold days.
- Occasionally, with an old rag, wipe excess pitch off of your tools. They get pretty gunky after a while.