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Incendiaries - Douglas Meek

The sling and staff sling where both effective artillery weaponry, firing lead or clay glands, or even plain stones. This was a efficient weapon for killing soldiers, a shot to the head with a lead gland would kill a man easily. If you were on a ship you could kill most of the crew by firing lots of stones at the ship. You could then board and take out the crew cowering below deck with minimal damage to the ship itself. But what if you wanted to sink the whole ship, destroy a whole village with out using lots of solders then you would use something that could catch the whole thing on fire.

I have made and tested a few primitive incendiaries and fired them out of my staff sling. These incendiaries were made from clay that I dug up out of my own back yard, (I live in Ohio lots of clay here, but you may have to buy the stuff). I used pitch, which is this foul smelling substance made from pine trees that burns with a lot of smoke, and a lot of heat. But you could use some kind of oil if you want. Pitch has the advantage of being free and it goes up like napalm. But before you even think of making the incendiary you'll need something to put it in. If you plan on using a pre made jar then skip this part. A baby food jar would make a nice pre made jar.


Step 1:

The first step involves you getting some clay. You can go dig it up if the area you live that has a lot of clay, or you could just go out and buy some. You'll first need to make a base; take a chunk of clay and roll it into a ball, smash it into something. Wax paper works well because the clay won't stick to the wax paper. Turn the clay on its side and roll it to make a round wheel. This will be your base. Don't make it too big or it wont fit in your sling or staff sling.

Now take a big hunk of clay and roll it into a "snake" shape, just a long rope of clay. If the clay is too wet it will break while your rolling it. To dry and it will wont stay together. Once you have your rope, or snake of clay, coil it around the out side of the base. Keep on coiling up, overlapping the coils one on top of the other.
Try to make a ball shape or if your good a foot ball shape. These shapes will fly the best. At the very biggest the pot should be the size of a tennis ball. You can make a nice ball shape by coiling out then once you get to the middle of you pot start coiling back in. Add a neck by coiling straight up from the top of the bottle. You can make a lid the same way you made the base.

Step 2:

Your jar wont look very good with all the coils and even though your going to break the thing it needs to look cool. So get a bucket of water and wet our fingers then with your wet finger smooth out the coil shapes. Don't get so much water on your clay jar that it collapses on you. You can now take and tooth pick or small stick and write in some runes or a cross. The sig rune (victory) looks pretty cool.
Now just let your jar dry in the sun for a few days. You can fire it in a kiln or you can leave it bake on hot coals for 2 or 3 hours. The pot does not need to be fired unless your going to keep something like oil or grease in the jar. Congratulations, you have just made your own jar!


Go find yourself a nice old pine tree. Preferably an old tree that someone has cut some limbs off. The pine tree should be bleeding lots of sap if you want to make a large amount of pitch. There is a way that involves taking pieces of fresh cut pine wood and baking the sap out. I have never tried this. Get yourself a metal coffee can and a old cheap knife and scrape the dried sap off of the tree and into the coffee can.

Once you have a good amount of sap in the can, (it doesn't take too much to fill a jar the size we are using). Place the coffee can near a good source of heat. I have a log that has a depression dug into it, I fill the depression with hot coals and put the can on top this works well for me.

Soon the pitch will turn a yellowish color, (it reminds me of frying butter) and starts to bubble. It will emit a very strong and very bad smell. Let the pitch cool down for a little while, before its cools completely pick out the little chunks of wood or any thing else in there. Re-heat the pitch (if you heat the pitch too much it will turn into turpentine and will be more or less useless). pour it into your clay jar. Pitch also makes a very good glue. So you could turn back now, use the pitch as a natural glue, or you can precede to making a primitive incendiary and risk setting your surroundings, and/or yourself alight .


This is the most important thing: DON'T THROW NEAR ANY THING THAT WILL BURN! When the pitch pot smacks into the ground it will burst spraying flaming pitch every where. A good place to throw is a large parking lot without any cars in it. Have some sand handy in case you do catch something on fire. Water once it hit's the hot burning pitch will fly every in the surrounding area and is not fun to get hit by. It's safer to throw the pitch pot by hand, throwing it like a grenade. That way you wont screw up and hit yourself with the jar or have it fall out of the sling pouch and land near you catching you on fire.

People suggest to me that it would be safer to wear pieces of wet leather that can be torn off quickly and easily. That way if you do get some pitch on you, just tear off the wet leather and dump sand on it.

Despite the dangers you still persist?

To throw the pitch pot just load it into your sling or staff sling. I like to use the staff sling because it can take bigger ammunition. If you are using smaller jars like baby food jars you could use the sling, But I suggest you use a staff sling for the bigger home made pot. You then need to catch the pitch on fire, this is the hard part. It's much easer to light up the pitch if it's in its liquid state. Just drop a match in the pot and it will catch. It's easier if you let the pitch harden and dry. So I'll assume you let it dry out and turn into its solid state. To actually get the pitch to catch on fire you need to melt just a little bit of it, and then light that up. This will rapidly light the whole thing up.

This is harder to do then it sounds. The best way is to have a hot coal or burning stick right there with you but that is hard to do while your out in a large parking lot. I would cheat and put a drop or two of oil or gas on top of the pitch and light that, it should light up the pitch, although some times it takes even more then that. If you still don't have any luck, you could build a small fire and set your pitch pot close to it. Wait until it heats and returns to its liquid state, and then load it into your sling pouch and duck tape the lid on. This will make it so it wont spill on you when you try to throw it. The centripetal force should keep the pitch in, but its better safe then sorry. Duck tape is not period and I don't think that they would tie on a lid but your more then welcome to keep it period. You'll just have period burns.

If you don't have a large parking lot at your disposal then just throw the pitch pot. It's safer then using a sling or staff sling any way.


There are lots of other fuels that you could use instead of pitch. You could use grease, grease fires are next to impossible to put out. I believe cooking oils would work, as would lamp oil, but you would need to fire your pot (i.e. in a kiln) to use oil. We don't know the exact ingredients to Greek fire, but there are lots of substitutes. You could add charcoal (finely ground), sulfur (also finely ground), and saltpeter (also finely ground). This will make a primitive gun powder. Added to pitch, it is supposed to make it burn better and light easer.

- Douglas Meek
- Revised by James Vousden

© 2007