Whether you are a Prepper, Survivalist, or an Outdoors-man, Birch tar is a powerful survival item, and should always be an item you have with you. It is a powerful multi-purpose item that takes up very little space. But first lets talk briefly about what is Birch tar.
Birch tar is distilled from Birch bark and comes in different consistencies, there are three main types:
- Birch Oil – As is from the bark with no refining, can contain up to 20% water. There is oil distilled from the bark and oil distilled from buds of White or Silver Birch, oil from buds is usually distilled using steam and is not black like oil from the bark. Leather, wood, and steel (waterproofing, staining, rust prevention), skin treatment (astringent used for many skin problems, eczema). Also used for some internal sickness but have not found enough reliable information on that to post about it.
- Birch Tar – Refined version of the oil, much thicker consistency. Gel like at body temperature and near liquid at 50 degrees Celsius. Used for everything listed above but is a much stronger waterproofing substance then the oil. Still used today in Finland to spice drinks and food, in Scandinavian traditional sod roof construction, and by traditional Finnish bladesmiths for treating Birch handles on the Puukko knife, to name a few.
- Birch Pitch – The most refined version of Birch tar. Birch tar can be refined down to many different consistencies based on personal preference / need. Here at Otzis Pouch we offer three different types; soft, medium, and hard. Soft and medium can be used for gluing, sealing seams, plugging holes, weapon and lure crafting. The hardest type is an extremely strong glue and can be used for something like attaching heads to weapons, or anything else you need a strong hard glue for. The hard and medium varieties require a little heat to become workable and set fast once heat is removed. Birch pitch does not become brittle at cold temperatures and fibers such as straw or even grass can be added to increase strength and flexibility. though not required, the pitch is extremely tough as is.
Compact versatility as you know is a big plus when adding anything to your pack or person, space and weight is at a premium. Here is a list of uses this one simple item can be used for.
- Fire starter assist – Does not take a spark but if you have a small flame to feed it, it will burn long and hard which helps you get a fire going with wet materials
- Topical treatment – Can be used to fight and remedy skin ailments such as jungle rot, rashes, used to treat cuts and abrasions, and even seal a wound
- Insect repellent – Used to repel insect from yourself and your gear (it works somewhat but is definitely not comparable to a real repellent, but in a pinch helps some)
- Crafting weapons, tools, fishing lures, etc – As a glue very strong, flexible, and completely waterproof, sky is the limit for uses
- Waterproofing – Use it for anything from fixing a leak in your leather boots, or pack to fixing a hole in a boat or roof
- Metal and wood treatment – Instantly seal and waterproof wood items, can be used as well to stop metal from rusting such as a knife or gun. I would not use it on internal mechanisms of a gun
- Fungus prevention – Fights and prevents fungus, handy in a wet environment where fungus can cause havoc with gear and skin
As you can see Birch tar truly is a powerful survival item, with great flexibility, one ounce which only takes up a couple of inches in a pocket or bag provides you with a great many uses in different situations.
Note: I have not tried Birch tar for sealing wounds, treating jungle rot, etc. I hope I don’t have occasion to, this information comes from many hours of research into its historical uses.
If you do not have Birch in your area, or you are not interested in trying to make your own (time and labor intensive) you can buy some here: Buy Birch Tar
For those that prefer to make their own I am working on a guide which I will put here when done. In a pinch should you need to make some in the bush you can do this by making a small pit with something like river-rock and burning Birch bark in it, make sure the flames constantly lick the stones and it takes a large amount of bark and time with this method. Also it will not produce tar but pitch.
If you have tar and need pitch I ship the tar in a metal container with a screw top lid, this needs to be warmed until the tar starts to bubble. It does not take much heat and keep open flame away from it as the vapors / smoke produced is flammable and a flame could light the container on fire. Keep a cool rock handy and test the consistency often by dripping a drop on the rock. The tar can go from tar to pitch to carbon quickly so keep an eye on it!
You can add a bit of charcoal to the harder pitch in order to increase its bond strength.