Hi, all! Here’s a question I hope somebody can help with. Does anyone
have a good (cleaner) substitute for the traditional pitch for chasing
and repousse? Someone suggested (not on Orchid) that I try thermoset
plastic pellets such as Jet Set, and keep them warm, but this doesn’t
sound very practical to me. Any info would be appreciated–I don’t
know much about chasing, but my students seem to have great faith that
I can “pick it up” and teach it to them! Hate to let them down…
Hi, all! Here’s a question I hope somebody can help with. Does anyone
Hi Noel: Hope this doesn’t sound snobbish of me, but what’s wrong with
pitch? If it’s not clean enough for you, perhaps the technique of
chasing and repousse will also not be “aesthetically” clean enough
either. Jet Set will be far less than suitable for chasing and
repousse, and I can’t imagine a more suitable material than a fine
pitch made from a good recipe. You can clean it off easily with
mineral spirits (a.k.a. paint thinner) and it has a pleasant smell in
my opinion. Damn the torpedoes. . .get the pitch and give it a go!
David L. Huffman
I don’t think Jett-Sett will serve your purpose, it’s too stiff when
cold, and too fluid when warm.You could use what the southwestern
Indians use, which is a thick felt pad. See if you can find a supplier
of virgin wool which has been carded, but not spun. Try weaving guilds
or sheep farms.
Virgin carded wool comes in loose plekes. You want long fiber. Take
out a pleke and lay it on a board, pour boiling water over it. Be sure
the pleke is about twice the area you want to wind up with, because
it’s going to shrink considerably. Take a bar of Ivory soap and rub it
over the pleke generously. Add another pleke, water and soap. Continue
with your plekes until about 2" high. Use a rock, or a good-sized
rawhide mallet with lead strips wrapped around the handle just under
the head to add weight. Pound the plekes with a stroking motion,
similar to what you would do if you’re forging down a billet for the
mill. When the pad is firm, let it dry. If the pad isn’t thick enough,
you can add more plekes and pound them into the one you’ve already
The hot water causes the fibers to kink and interlock, and the soap
is similar to a glue. After it’s firmly together and dry, you can
rinse out the soap. This is why wool sweaters shrink if you wash them
in hot water. By the way, if you have a wool sweater, wash it in cool
water with shampoo, followed by conditioner. Squeeze the suds through
the fibers so as to not compact the fibers. Your sweater will be soft
and silky. The reason? Wool is hair.
Ok, to use the felt pad, you nail it to a board. To hold your piece
firmly in place, use something like escutcheon nails (brads) or push
pins which have a shoulder on them to hold the edges of your piece,
and push them directly through the felt into the board underneath.
Indians who do a lot of the same pieces have nails driven in, heads
clipped off and the top bent at a right angle to anchor their pieces.
They just turn the bent part onto the metal, similar to bench dogs in
Traditional punches are hardwood dowels shaped to what you
need–round, teardrop, square, etc. The top part of the dowel has a
groove filed into it about 1/4 down from the top. This is wrapped with
binding wire to prevent it from splitting when struck. The top has a
45 degree bevel on it to keep the mushrooming in check and to help
center the blows.
Yes, it’s very low-tech, but it works amazingly well. Your metal is
stretched, rather than compressed with this method, and you won’t
have nearly as much clean up work. You can work with much thinner
gauges than with metal tools.
K.P. in WY
Dave—Can you a resource for a recipe for pitch. sounds interesting.
I have to agree with David on this, but with one proviso: a lot
depends upon the kind of pitch you are using. The black pitch is truly
a pain to worth with, very toxic when burning, very sticky [bad
burns!], and you need a petroleum based solvent to clean it off your
metal if you don’t want to burn it off. You couldn’t pay me to use
that stuff. On the other hand, there is a fabulous German red chasing
pitch that you can buy in kilo blocks from Allcraft in NYC. It’s
expensive, but a real pleasure to use. There is also the fine medium
chasing pitch from Northwest Pitchworks in Seattle. Here are a couple
of tips to deal with the issues of cost and cleanliness: – Don’t fill
your bowl with pitch. Fill it to about 1.5" of the rim with plaster of
paris. Let the plaster cure for 24-48 hours, then put the pitch in the
bowl. Use very gentle heat, and tap the side of the bowl vigorously
and often to encourage any bubbles to rise and pop. – Use a release
agent on your metal. I use Chapstick, and I have never found anything
better. I coat the back of the metal with a film of it before putting
on the pitch. – Use a heat gun set on low instead of a torch to warm
your pitch. It takes a little longer, but you don’t risk overheating
the pitch, which will make it less flexible. When you are removing
metal from the pitch, use as little heat as you can, gently warming
the metal and then prying up the edges with a spoon handle or
tweezers. You’ll be surprised how little heat it takes to get the
metal to lift. Using less heat will also keep the pitch from clinging
to the metal. I can lift a large piece with almost no pitch sticking
to it. That means that I never have to burn off pitch. It does take a
little practice, but it sure saves on hassle and mess. – Use Goo-Gone
or some other citrus oil based cleaner [there are lots of good ones in
auto supply stores] to clean your metal. It will remove small
quantities of pitch and any remaining release agent without the smell
and hazards of lacquer thinner. Then you can anneal clean metal
without the worry of fumes and smoke.
I have used Aquaplast and JettSett for really large scale items like
trays and masks. They will work, but not really well. I am very
intrigued by Katherine’s suggestion of felt. I think I will
definitely try that next time I have an object that won’t fit on a
Just to let you know in case anyone wants to take repousse, we are
down two people which leaves six for the class.
Annie, would you happen to have the addresses for both of those
companies? When you say expensive for the red pitch how much is
expensive? I hope to do alot of Reposse in the futrure as I did like
that project in class, so the red might be what I want in the long
run. My teacher suggested useing the pitch form Northwest but has
failed to bring in the address, I appreciate any help you can give me,
Noel, For many years I have been using a rubber pad as a back-up to
chase and repousse into. It won’t do everything but for low relief it
works quite well once you understand its limitations. The piece I
have is about half an inch thick. It is quite dense rubber but has a
definite give to it. It was cast off material that I salvaged so I
don’t have a source where you can purchase it. I think that it
originally was sheet material that you put on cement floors to ease
tired feet. I have another piece of rubber intended for the same use
but it doesn’t work for repousse because it has no give to it. I
think that the rubber sheet that I use works much the same way rubber
back-up pads work in hydraulic die forming. As I push the metal into
the pad it provides resistance and expands into adjacent areas
conforming to the back of the metal providing support. As I work the
metal sheet into the rubber backing it does tend to curl and I do have
to flatten it occasionally. David Luck
Dave---Can you a resource for a recipe for pitch. sounds interesting. Dolores
I can’t find the recipes that Phillip Fike and I developed so many
years ago. I’ll have to see if any of his other old students have
them. I probably have them somewhere, but I’m still using the stuff
I made 25 years ago, believe it or not. Our recipe was a mixture of
"K-resin", which is a lot like violin rosin, a product of the pitch
pine tree mixed with flint powder and a little tallow. We had
several mixtures for different applications and variations for summer
and winter use.
Check the archives and see what you can find, I know this topic came
up before and there was some excellent supplied by our
forum. I think Phillip Morton’s book has some formulae. Meanwhile,
from one of our most highly regarded chasing and repousse masters who
reads and posts on this forum, the following:
Another VERY GOOD pitch, especially for chasing/repousse is the Red German pitch, currently available through Allcraft in New York. It is hard enough to support the metal while you do chasing, and soft enough for repousse. For deeper rpousse work you should definitely use the medium, or soft grade of the Seattle pitch. STAY AWAY from the black stuff. It is very toxic, a poor heat conductor and burns your skin severely in contact. Valentin Yotkov
Heretofore, I would recommend you to this man for advise, as he no
doubt knows the world of this art far better than I and I would bet
that he has considerable resources for materials and I
hear great things about his classes too, which you will see
advertised in Metalsmith magazine. . . .but I am always flattered
when someone seeks my advice. Thank you.
David L. Huffman
Where to get the pitch, a bowl, and supporting ring, as well as
instructions to prepare the pitch can be found at
I know 'cause I just put them there last night.
Christine in Littleton, MA, USA, where it seems to be a foggy morning; or
maybe it’s just me.
Thank you for the wonderfull description ! I just love low-tech, and
make do. Here in Australia the feed and horse stores cary red pich.It
is called Stockholm tar.I belive traditional wooden boat builders allso
use this type of pich .Regards from Australia. Bela Beke
Hello, I can try to translate my receipe of pitch, it is not
complicated, I don’t think it’s toxic. I’m using it since 2 years, I
have a “soft” and a “hard” one (one for summer, the other for winter).
It’s very very easy to do and very useful, very unexpensive. If you
are interessed, I can broadcast it trhough Orchid, or off line, but
you have to give me 1 week time to translate! I also do my own
punches, it’s easy too, I “sweet” and harden the iron, not very
Warm regards for everyone,
Hello, I can try to translate my receipe of pitch, it is not complicated, I don't think it's toxic. I'm using it since 2 years, I have a "soft" and a "hard" one (one for summer, the other for winter).
Hi Camila, Please do translate your recipe and “broadcast” it on
Orchid. I’m currently using the Allcraft red pitch. I like it a lot,
but it is very expensive. I paid $40.00 for a kilo and that was the
special student discount price because I was taking Valentin Yotkov’s
workshop. Normally, it’s $50 or $55.
A good inexpensive pitch would be very nice, especially if you have
to fill up an entire vessel for chasing.
The subect of repousse, my favorite, has really caught my attention in
the recent thread on Orchid…and I would like to commend David
Huffman’s reference to Valentin Yotkov’s advise and expertise on the
subject. We are so lucky in our community to have an Old World
trained master reviving interest and technique in this area. I have
studied with Valentin for the past year and a half and have never in
27 years as a metalsmith been more impressed with a teacher and his
mastery of the technique which is his specialty. I spoke to
Valentin today and he apologizes to fellow Orchidians for not having
participated in this discussion of pitch. He has been so busy that he
has temporarily suspended his receipt of Orchid e-mail. His
recommendations to students are exactly as David Huffman’s quotation
indicates…for general purposes Allcraft’s red German pitch is a
wonderful product…I now use it exclusively. I have also used
Northwest medium pitch and liked it very much, but for my purposes
(smaller jewelry items), the red pitch is great. Never again will I
use the black stuff…I have been burned by it so many times and who
knows what damage it has done to my lungs, when in the past, I burned
off the residue until it turned to white ash. The red pitch is easier
to wipe off and dissolves readily in alcohol. It allows for great
control throughout the whole process of chasing and repousse. Valentin
will soon have a website in which he will present more of his
class/workshop as well as his own work and that of
students. It is such a privilege to study with him…I hope that
more Orchidians will avail themselves of this treasure among us as
soon as they can and be part of the chasing and repousse
Camila: Are you in Argentina? Because I’m in Chile and for me will be
better in spanish the recipe. Adriana
When I studied repousse under Joe Girtner we always filled the pitch
bowl with lead or wheel weights melted in the bowl to within an inch
of the rim. This added stability to the bowl and reduced the amount
of Swest ‘black pitch’. You could add anything of weight to the bowl
but lead is heavy and cheap. Wheel weights might be free from a tire
place. The pitch was mixed a pound to eight ounces of Plaster of
Paris. When thoroughly mixed, we added a tablespoon of cooking lard. A
pound of pitch was more than enough to fill a regular bowl and we only
used a pound and a half to make the Japanese style hemispherical
bowl. My long time ago experience with Northwest Pitch Works was I
could not dome a bowl.
Of my pitch bowls without the plaster mix the pitch will flow off of
the bowl if it is left other than perfectly horizontal. It does get
very hot in my workshop. My Japanese bowl does not cold flow.
I have bowls for winter use (lots of lard added) and stiffer ones for
I cast a big bronze bowl and was going to put it up for larger pieces.
That’s almost a joke. When I started to add lead, it quickly got
to where I could not slide the thing across the floor much less lift
it about (how much does a cubic foot of lead weigh- a bunch) and then
the quantity of pitch to be melted and mixed…easier to set up a
repousse board if I can ever find a big piece of Sycamore wood.
Making bowls was one thing, making tools to Joe Girtners’ standards
was a whole different world. Joe Girtner is a superb instructor and
There is a lot of exciting literature out there about repousse. Look
at Plate 21 in Herbert Maryon’s classic “Metalwork and Enameling”.
That’s my inspiration. What did this artist use for pitch? How did
he make his tools? Or maybe it was she? Look at some of the ancient
Greek gold medallions, breathtaking. Repousse- a whole world of its
Bill in Vista and it is really hot.
Dear Bill in Vista, I guess I wasn’t very clear. I usually fill my
pitchbowls with plaster about 1.5" from the top and then top off with
red pitch. What I was talking about is when you’re filling a vessel
like a tall vase that you’ve raised so you can chase the exterior.
I’ve heard of people placing a thick dowel or some other space taker
in the middle and pouring pitch around it since less pitch would be
used and the space taker wouldn’t be close enough to the walls to
affect the performance of the pitch.
Thanks for your reply.
Bill aren’t you worried about lead poisoning working with lead? Seems
to me that this would be dangerous. Handling lead of any kind is
risky business. Just interested in how you avoid getting contaminated
with the lead. Roxan in Pa. where is it getting colder already.
About the dowel in the pitch, this does work great, and actually it
helps in getting pitch back out of what you are working on. You warm
up the outside of the vessle, to soften the pitch, and you can remove
the dowl, you will find that the pitch that hasn’t warmed up too much
will come out on the dowl. This makes clean up easier and faster, as
you (with THICK GLOVES or a good pair of tongs) heat the vessel,
tilted over your pitch bowl, most of the remaing pitch will pour/drip
into the bowl. I have used this for shaping all sorts of things, and
have found the dowl doubly usefull. See… you can put the dowl in a
vice, and hold your vessel at what ever angle works best for the work
you are doing. I learned this technique over 10 years back, and just
loved it, and really, it makes such a huge difference, and being able
to vice the thing, has made an invaluable asset.
The lead in the bowls is covered with pitch and so only contact
with the lead is in setup.
I use gloves, tongs and a lot of soap and water after. The lead
is melted outdoors with the wind to my back. It is a one time
thing per bowl. I am more afraid of the cigarette residuals I
smoked for 45 years.
My pitch bowls are very heavy and stay put in the bases. The
base are 5 inch square by 3 inch thick carved out wooden blocks.
The Vista Gem and Mineral Society is having their show this
weekend . I will have a case on display with much of my Japanese
metal working equipment on display.
September 30 Saturday 1000 A.M.-5 P.M. October 1 Sunday 1000 A.M.-5 P.M. Brengle Terrace Community Recreation Center 1200 Vale Terrace, Vista, California 92084
A lead block for forming little parts is hard beat (pun).
Bill in Vista where the fall is happening
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