As a follow up to the last segment of Talkin’ Tools, I thought it would be important to discuss a few of the pitches I use.
Pitch is the material that is used to support your metal as you move it into the shape of your designs using the Chasing and Repousse technique.
It comes in three consistencies: soft, medium and hard. There are a number of commercial pitches available. I have only used three types pictured at the top of this post:
- A special blend black virgin tar, made only by Il Maestro Fabrizio Acquafresca
- German red pitch
- Green pine rosin based pitch by Debra Montgomery
As I explored the different pitches available, I found the standard German black and red through retailers like Rio Grande, Otto Frie, Metalliferous and others. As I like to say, Google is your friend when searching for materials and tools. Some are what I refer to as ‘special blends’ created by teachers like Il Maestro Acquafresca, Debra Montgomery, and others. I have discovered, as with most things I have learned, I tend to favor what I used in a workshop setting…..however……read to the end and find a surprising turn…..
Unfortunately, the black tar blend I used in Fabrizio’s workshop is only available through Fabrizio. The only reason I prefaced that with “unfortunately” is because you can obtain this through him via his workshops (limited number in the US per year) and I think he may ship it to you, but it is heavy and international shipping….well, not much fun for this. On the bright side, I have been told and so far it has been my experience that with proper care, your pitch can last a lifetime. I think it is my personality to find alternatives along with being curious about others, so I decided to explore what might be available.
For the work I do, I have found a medium consistency to be a good, all around pitch.
So let’s get started.
Fabrizio’s special virgin tar pitch. One of my favorites, because this is the pitch I used in Fabrizio’s workshop. As you would expect, it has a very STRONG tar smell when heated. Proper ventilation is very important. My ideal is to heat and burn off this pitch outside given my studio set up. However, living in Colorado, that is not always a practical option for me, which is another reason why I have explored and used other pitches.
Safety is of primary concern when using any pitch. I wear these gloves anytime I work with this pitch or any of the other ones. The picture shows the front and back of the gloves. The dotted pattern is the palm side. I think they are garden gloves that you can find at Walmart, Home Depot or Lowes….other places too. They appear to be a heavy cotton canvas with some type of rubbery dots on the majority of the surface. The important thing here is that you need to wear some form of hand protection when you heat ANY pitch. It will literally burn your skin off if you touch it when it is in its most liquid state. Fabrizio was extremely adamant and strong with his warnings about heated pitch. I too feel it is that important to stress the need for extreme care and caution when working with any of these pitch materials.
Moving metal in this black pitch is wonderful. As with any of the pitches, you have to wait til it has returned to the right temperature before you begin your work. Fabrizio recommended testing for proper work temperature by placing the back of your fingers lightly against the metal seated in the pitch. If it is warm but not hot enough to make you want to move your hand, you are good to go. I have found an exception to this rule when working with the green pitch, which I will discuss in a bit.
If you have the opportunity to take one of Fabrizio’s workshops, buy the kit (which includes the pitch block that sits on a plywood base), purchase his chasing tools….including the small set and see if you can buy an extra pitch block. Generally he only has what is needed for each student in the workshop. However, if you can get a message to him through the facility where the class is held, do so and see if you can acquire an extra pitch block as a back up. Just be prepared that you need excellent ventilation when you work with it and there’s just no getting around that tar smell. Great workshop, awesome instructor, wonderful concepts and techniques, coupled with the tools of the trade that he has worked with and created over 30+ years.
Red German Pitch. This is a really nice, all around medium consistency. I got this through Rio Grande. It comes in a ‘brick’ that you have to break up and place in the pitch bowl to heat in your oven at a low temperature. Rio recommends heating slowly, 250 – 300 degrees F. It is one of the few pitches that you can put in your oven to melt the pitch in the bowl for the first time. The bowl is cast iron, manufactured by Grobet. If you can find a Grobet pitch bowl, don’t hesitate to buy it. Wonderful quality.
The red pitch has a very mild aroma when heated. You don’t have to burn off the residue from your work, but I have when it doesn’t respond well to being removed by acetone. It is not as malleable as Fabrizio’s black or Debra’s green pitches. However, the ease of accessibility and less noxious fumes makes it a great pitch. I am certain if I had not learned the technique in Fabrizio’s workshop, I would be very happy working with this pitch.
Debra Montgomery’s Green Pitch. I discovered this pitch through Nancy L T Hamilton’s blog. I LOVE this pitch. Debra makes it using a pine rosin. It is so environmentally friendly, coupled with being great for moving metal. I cannot say enough good things about this pitch.
Now you cannot heat this green pitch in the oven. Debra provides tons of information with the instructions, along with plenty of details on her Chasers-Pitch website. And if you have some questions, send an email and she gets back to you right away!
This pitch comes in chunks so I didn’t find a need to break it up for heating it in the pitch bowl.
This is the pitch bowl (cast iron pie plate) that I purchased for the green pitch. I found this at an online company, Wasserstrom Restaurant Supplies. That link will take you directly to the pie plate I purchased. You can also look for cast iron plates at thrift shops, Walmart or other online stores like I did. The reason I got this plate is I couldn’t find the nice Grobet pitch bowl any more. Debra does recommend that you make some modifications if you use something like this as your pitch bowl. I did try to weld the bar, as recommended, for this new bowl, but I wasn’t successful. So far, I have not experienced any issues with the pitch pulling away from the sides, so maybe this bowl is shallow enough to not have the problem.
Again, since you cannot heat this green pitch in the oven, rather than using my torch, I used a hot plate I have in the studio. Please, please, please remember that anytime you take a kitchen item into the studio (the hot plate in this case), that becomes its new permanent home. You cannot safely return those items back to the kitchen for use in food preparation again.
I kept a careful eye on this and it melted quickly.
I have a heat safe surface adjacent to this so with the gloves and potholders I moved the pitch to that area to cool down. You can work material in this pitch at a slightly warmer temperature than normal. I still use the back of my fingers to feel how warm the metal is before I begin my work.
This picture shows one of my cuffs that is ready for chasing. Also note that because this is not a normal pitch bowl, you have to use something to act as a ‘damper’ for the bowl to sit on. The material the bowl is sitting on is some left over rubber shelf liner. I experimented with a couple of things before I found this works pretty well.
The convenience of using this green pitch is great. I can use my heat gun rather than my torch when I prepare it for use or just re-heat it once it’s too cool. It liquifies quicker than the red or the black; again that is just with the use of my heat gun, not the torch. It does have a lovely pine scent. It is pretty easy to remove from your metal; I find with each new pitch I have a learning curve on how to correctly work with it. I just gotta say, I am super impressed with this pitch and I highly recommend it.
To order the green pitch, you can find it at Chasers-Pitch. I did get Debra’s eBook with my first order and have thoroughly enjoyed it.
A Couple of Tips.
> Something I read recently was to apply a light coating of PAM to the surface of your metal that will be placed in the pitch. This helps to prevent the pitch from adhering to your piece once you heat it to remove it from the pitch. I find it works quite well, but go light with the spray! I have just applied it to a paper towel and then rubbed that across the metal; you don’t want to use too much.
> Again, let me state that with proper care, your pitch can last a long time….maybe a lifetime. What is proper care?
- Don’t overheat your pitch to the point where it smokes and starts to burn. That will cause bad pitch segments and affect the outcome of your chasing and repousse work.
- When not in use, keep your pitch covered to prevent contamination by dust, animal dander and such.
Thanks for joining me for this segment of Talkin’ Tools. I hope you enjoyed the read and more importantly, I hope I have given you some good information about the various pitches I use.
Until next time, aspire to be more as an artist and a person.