Bushcraft and survival skills are often the process of reverse engineering. Take fire, for example. If you want to learn how to make a friction fire, you would begin by learning how to make a bow drill set, what materials you would need, and how to actually make the coal. Eventually, you would probably figure out how to make a coal and create your first friction fire.
For a short period of time, you would be happy with this accomplishment and continue practicing the skill. Over time, though, you may become curious about other aspects of the drill set. You might begin to wonder: “How did people create the string in the bow drill?” or “What tools did they use if they didn’t have steel to shape the wood?” I can tell you from experience that as you dig deeper and deeper, you’ll truly begin to understand how little you know.
Another appealing aspect of bushcraft is the real world application of the knowledge you gain. Unlike some aspects of our formal education, everything you learn in bushcraft can be directly implemented in your life. The fact is, they were all skills people used regularly. When I started making my own primitive arrows, I learned an awful lot about the lives and skills of people who depended on their arrows to stay alive. I also learned how to create a product I could take into the field and actually help me on a hunt. The skills of the past definitely are relevant today.
During my experience in making arrows, I eventually began to reverse engineer the process. Over time, I would learn to wrap my arrows with sinew, straighten the shafts using fire, and process turkey feathers for my fletchings. One aspect of the project that really drew my curiosity was how primitive archers created the glue they needed to attach points and fletchings.
I eventually learned that ancient people sometimes used an adhesive called “pine pitch glue” that was made from all-natural materials. I learned quickly that this all-natural glue is not only an excellent way to attach feathers to my arrow shafts, but is an outstanding adhesive in general. For anyone interested in primitive skills, making their own archery gear, or developing skills for a survival situation, learning how to make pine pitch glue is about as simple as it gets.
The first thing you will need to do in order to make this primitive glue is to gather your materials. To begin, you’ll need to find a source of the material that lends its name to the glue: pine pitch. Pine pitch is a golden resin you’ll find seeping from scars, broken branches, or any piercing of pine trees. When the sap first finds its way out of the tree, it is soft and sticky and cannot be gathered. Once it has had sufficient time to dry, however, pine pitch hardens and becomes easy to gather and store until you are ready to start your project. The amount of glue you’ll need depends on the amount of glue you want to make. Around half a cup to a full cup would be a good amount for your first project.
With your pine pitch in the bag, you’ll need to find some charcoal or some other filler material to bind the resin. Other examples of binding materials are wood or bone shavings, or dried dung of herbivores. Whatever material you obtain, it will need to be ground into a fine powder. It is best to use a round stone and simply grind your material until it is as fine as possible. The amount of binding material needed isn’t an exact science and will take some experimentation. I would suggest to begin with around half as much binding material as you have pine pitch. Finally, you’ll need a small stick that will carry the glue for you, a fire, and a tin can of some kind. Obviously, ancient people didn’t have tin cans, so if you’d like to stay primitive you can substitute a thin flat rock.
As previously mentioned, the actual process for making pine pitch glue is incredibly straightforward. Once your materials are gathered and you have a fire rolling, let the fire burn down to a good bed of coals. Next, fill up the tin cup with the resin you gathered and place the tin in the bed of coals. You’ll be surprised how quickly the hard resin turns into a thick sludge of melted sap. Stir the mixture in order to make sure all of the resin is melted down evenly. If you find any additional substances such as bark or dirt in the sap, you can remove it from the mixture. These would cause an inferior product if left in the glue. Next, take your pulverized binding material — charcoal in this case — and add it to the melted resin. Stir the mixture well. At this point you now have made pine pitch glue, which if allowed to cool will become very hard.
Before you allow the glue to cool, however, you need to get it out of the tin. The final step is to take the small stick you found and begin to scoop the pitch out of the tin. As the glue begins to cool it will harden and you can shape it on the stick. The shape of the pitch doesn’t matter, but many folks make it resemble a cattail. Continue to scoop more and more of the liquid glue out of the tin onto the now cool stockpile you have. Once you have removed as much glue from your tin as possible, all you have to do is wait for your project to cool. It can easily be stored and transported until needed. When you find yourself in a situation where you need to use some of the glue, simply heat it over a flame and apply it to the surface you would like to bind.
Pine pitch glue is an excellent natural adhesive. It was used extensively by ancient people to bind fletchings and secure stone, and bone points to arrow or spear shafts. It can also be used to repair holes in tents, packs, or even shoes. Really, anything you would hot-glue together can be bonded using pine pitch. Pine pitch glue may not stand out as one of the top necessary resources or skills of a survival situation. However, when you begin to think about all of the possible uses of the glue, and the utter simplicity of the process, it is easy to see how learning the process is well worth your time. Even if you never need to use this exceptional glue, learning how to make it will help you better understand the lives of those folks who came before us, and the skills they mastered to live seamlessly with the natural world.