Author Topic: BIRCH TAR WATERPROOFING  (Read 10611 times)

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Offline wolfy

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BIRCH TAR WATERPROOFING
« on: April 14, 2013, 03:55:19 PM »
I wasn't real sure where to put this, but I guess this is as good as any. :shrug:

I was reminded of this by Hunter63's thread on wet-moulding leather.  I knew a cordwainer on the rendezvous-circuit some years ago who did some exceptional work in moulding, stitching, and waterproofing all manner of leather bottles and containers.  He was steeped in the knowledge and history of his craft, so I have no reason to doubt the veracity of some of the methods he employed.  He said he used "birch tar" which he made himself, to waterproof the insides of his leather vessels.  He wouldn't tell me how he made it, but it looked glossy and black from what I could see of it, inside the necks of the leather bottles.

Since we don't have any birch trees around here, I never pursued the process of making any.  I always used beeswax because it's easily obtainable and it smells good. 8).  It does have it's limitations, though, as I have discovered through my own experiments.

Today, I ran across this webpage and thought that some of you, that have access to birch trees, might want to give this stuff a try.  Are ya' listenin', MnSportsman? ;D.   Anyway, here it is....

http://www.practicalprimitive.com/skillofthemonth/birchtar.html
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Offline Old Philosopher

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Re: BIRCH TAR WATERPROOFING
« Reply #1 on: April 14, 2013, 04:06:23 PM »
Excellent, Wolfy! Thanks!  Lots of birch around here.
RM strikes again, huh?  ;)
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Offline Barbarossa Bushman

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Re: BIRCH TAR WATERPROOFING
« Reply #2 on: April 14, 2013, 04:08:22 PM »
Great site and thanks for sharing wolfy. Birch tar is supposed to be great at waterproofing almost anything I hear but have never used it myself. Here's a good vid of Lonnie doing some. I enjoy this guys channel.

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Offline wolfy

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Re: BIRCH TAR WATERPROOFING
« Reply #3 on: April 14, 2013, 04:15:19 PM »
Thanks for adding the video to the mix, BB! :thumbsup:
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Offline upthecreek

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Re: BIRCH TAR WATERPROOFING
« Reply #4 on: April 16, 2013, 04:43:07 AM »
That is cool. Wish we had some birches around here. Great reason to start a fire if nothing else. Very good info.

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Offline Old Philosopher

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Re: BIRCH TAR WATERPROOFING
« Reply #5 on: April 16, 2013, 09:24:09 AM »
With a technique so simple, I wonder what other high resin trees might be used, and what quality 'tar' could be produced? I know what fir bark does to a stove chimney. Wonder how good Duggy Fir 'tar' would be?
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Offline wolfy

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Re: BIRCH TAR WATERPROOFING
« Reply #6 on: April 16, 2013, 09:58:08 AM »
With a technique so simple, I wonder what other high resin trees might be used, and what quality 'tar' could be produced? I know what fir bark does to a stove chimney. Wonder how good Duggy Fir 'tar' would be?

Yeah, I wonder, too. ???   We used to smear commercially bottled 'pine tar' on baby chickens that had gotten 'picked' by their siblings.
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Offline Old Philosopher

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Re: BIRCH TAR WATERPROOFING
« Reply #7 on: April 16, 2013, 10:14:47 AM »
A little research was quite interesting.
Birch-tar gained the nickname "Russian Oil" in ancient times. Birch-tar is also an effective repellant for slugs and snails in your garden. It was also used as an adhesive as far back as the Paleolithic period for arrow fletching and axe heads.
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Offline wsdstan

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Re: BIRCH TAR WATERPROOFING
« Reply #8 on: April 16, 2013, 01:36:38 PM »
If you remember that canoe maker I posted a video about a few months ago (Cesar Newashish).
There is a segment in the video where he went and gathered sap off of the Spruce trees and boiled it.  When it was like chewing gum he used it to waterproof the seams on the birch bark canoe.

I would think that any sap from a tree would work, some just better than others.
 
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Offline Bryan Breeden

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Re: BIRCH TAR WATERPROOFING
« Reply #9 on: April 16, 2013, 03:12:05 PM »
Thanks for sharing that link, wofly.
We have birch trees in the parks here in town and if for some reason one get cut or damaged I will
keep this in mind to try.

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Offline Old Philosopher

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Re: BIRCH TAR WATERPROOFING
« Reply #10 on: April 16, 2013, 03:55:14 PM »
If you remember that canoe maker I posted a video about a few months ago (Cesar Newashish).
There is a segment in the video where he went and gathered sap off of the Spruce trees and boiled it.  When it was like chewing gum he used it to waterproof the seams on the birch bark canoe.

I would think that any sap from a tree would work, some just better than others.

I'm betting that "back in the day" birch bark canoes were actually glued and sealed with birch-tar, and that pine & spruce pitch are a "modern" invention.
Don't bother walking a mile in my shoes. That would be boring. Try spending 30 seconds in my head. That will freak you right out!!

Offline wsdstan

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Re: BIRCH TAR WATERPROOFING
« Reply #11 on: April 16, 2013, 04:24:51 PM »
If you remember that canoe maker I posted a video about a few months ago (Cesar Newashish).
There is a segment in the video where he went and gathered sap off of the Spruce trees and boiled it.  When it was like chewing gum he used it to waterproof the seams on the birch bark canoe.

I would think that any sap from a tree would work, some just better than others.

I'm betting that "back in the day" birch bark canoes were actually glued and sealed with birch-tar, and that pine & spruce pitch are a "modern" invention.

Don't know how far back "back in the day" is but  Newashish was born in 1904 and he lived all his life in the village he was born in.  The film is from 1971 when he was 67.  I doubt that he ever used anything but Spruce gum when waterproofing his canoes.  I also suspect that his ancestors taught him how to build canoes and they learned from their fathers, and so on.  His method of gathering the sap was primitive compared to stripping the bark off of a birch tree.  I would think that methods varied "back in the day" depending on the locale and on the available resources.  At some point after white contacts they may have adapted "new" methods of building canoes and that would have changed materials they used. 
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Offline wolfy

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Re: BIRCH TAR WATERPROOFING
« Reply #12 on: April 16, 2013, 04:40:09 PM »
According to Adney & Chappelle's classic THE BARK CANOES AND SKIN BOATS OF NORTH AMERICA, the sealant most used on birchbark canoes was a cooked mixture of spruce gum, finely ground charcoal and tallow.  That's a tremendous book, BTW.....I think it is even in the public domain now and can be downloaded for FREE from various sources on the Internet!  :shrug:    I bought my very nicely bound copy from the Smithsonian back in the 70's for less than $5.   :banana:
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Offline Old Philosopher

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Re: BIRCH TAR WATERPROOFING
« Reply #13 on: April 16, 2013, 08:40:35 PM »
Interesting. They must have found spruce gum/pitch superior. I would imagine they'd know about birch-tar. Maybe the birch was more difficult for them to make, needing dry distillation. The spruce gum they could just scrape off the trees, right?
Don't bother walking a mile in my shoes. That would be boring. Try spending 30 seconds in my head. That will freak you right out!!

Offline Barbarossa Bushman

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Re: BIRCH TAR WATERPROOFING
« Reply #14 on: April 16, 2013, 08:52:23 PM »
According to Adney & Chappelle's classic THE BARK CANOES AND SKIN BOATS OF NORTH AMERICA, the sealant most used on birchbark canoes was a cooked mixture of spruce gum, finely ground charcoal and tallow.  That's a tremendous book, BTW.....I think it is even in the public domain now and can be downloaded for FREE from various sources on the Internet!  :shrug:    I bought my very nicely bound copy from the Smithsonian back in the 70's for less than $5.   :banana:

I bought that book last year and still haven't read it from cover to cover but thanks for reminding me I dug it out.
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Offline wsdstan

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Re: BIRCH TAR WATERPROOFING
« Reply #15 on: April 16, 2013, 11:01:30 PM »
Interesting. They must have found spruce gum/pitch superior. I would imagine they'd know about birch-tar. Maybe the birch was more difficult for them to make, needing dry distillation. The spruce gum they could just scrape off the trees, right?

That is what Newashish does in the video about him.
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Offline wolfy

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Re: BIRCH TAR WATERPROOFING
« Reply #16 on: April 16, 2013, 11:14:24 PM »
Interesting. They must have found spruce gum/pitch superior. I would imagine they'd know about birch-tar. Maybe the birch was more difficult for them to make, needing dry distillation. The spruce gum they could just scrape off the trees, right?

That is what Newashish does in the video about him.
Yeah, I remember that, too.  That was a danged good video.......why don't they put that kind of stuff on TV?
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Offline woodsrunner

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Re: BIRCH TAR WATERPROOFING
« Reply #17 on: April 17, 2013, 07:46:25 AM »
awesome thread and links wolfy...thanks
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Offline wsdstan

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Re: BIRCH TAR WATERPROOFING
« Reply #18 on: April 17, 2013, 10:12:08 AM »
Interesting. They must have found spruce gum/pitch superior. I would imagine they'd know about birch-tar. Maybe the birch was more difficult for them to make, needing dry distillation. The spruce gum they could just scrape off the trees, right?

That is what Newashish does in the video about him.
Yeah, I remember that, too.  That was a danged good video.......why don't they put that kind of stuff on TV?
 

Its not on TV because the advertisers want more than five people watching the program when they advertise it.  PBS should do it though, they get a government handout. :)
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Offline WI_Woodsman

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Re: BIRCH TAR WATERPROOFING
« Reply #19 on: April 17, 2013, 11:07:47 PM »
I have a lot of Birch in my woods however I've never extracted Birch tar before...  Defiantly a project for this year!

Offline PetrifiedWood

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Re: BIRCH TAR WATERPROOFING
« Reply #20 on: April 17, 2013, 11:49:59 PM »
That was an interesting read!

I have often found a gummy, tarry substance inside tins after making char cloth. I am sure this is a similar product of heating solid cellulose based fuel in an oxygen deprived environment.

Definitely one to file away for possible future use.

Offline OtzisPouch

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Re: BIRCH TAR WATERPROOFING
« Reply #21 on: August 27, 2019, 05:50:00 AM »
Sorry for the necro had a bit to add to it.

Few fun facts:

- Russia Leather which was a major Russian export 17th and 18th century was famous for its longterm durability and ability to completely repel water for many years with no treatment. This is due to the fact that is was curried with Birch tar and or Birch oil.

- Birch tar as far as I have seen is one of the top leather waterproofing substances out there. It waterproofs as well as wax but does not block the leathers ability to breathe.

- Imparts a great smoky smell on the leather

- In 1786 the "Catharina von Flensburg" a ship carrying a load of Hemp and Russia Leather sank. It remained undisturbed for almost 200 years before divers found it. What they found was the hemp was completely destroyed and the Russia Leather was completely intact. That leather was later used to make all types of high end items like shoes, wallets, purses etc.

- Otzi The Icemans ax-head was fixed using Birch pitch which is simply tar cooked down into a much thicker state.

- As mentioned repels slugs and snails, mix it 2:1 with vaseline and it lasts for months. It also repels some animals such as cats. I have wild cats here that like to do their business in the garden. I put a few random stakes around the garden smeared with tar and they have not done any "business" since.

- Used in the making of traditional Scandinavian green roofs.

- Still used in Finland and Scandinavia to spice drinks and food.

- Anti-fungal and antiseptic qualities

- Finnish bladesmiths that forge Puukko blades use this to tread their Birch handles. Some of them suspend the blade upside down in the tar and let the handle soak in it for up to a year.

I know I am missing a few things, still only on first coffee!

Time consuming and labor intensive to make but not all that difficult, very hard to find the real deal online. I am one of the rare few that produces and sells it, here is a vid where I talk about waterproofing boots with it (I use it exclusively for my boots).

https://otzispouch.ca - Rare and Traditional Birch products.

Offline Spyder1958

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Re: BIRCH TAR WATERPROOFING
« Reply #22 on: September 04, 2019, 05:50:26 PM »
At 30.00 oz. I'll pass
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Offline OtzisPouch

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Re: BIRCH TAR WATERPROOFING
« Reply #23 on: September 04, 2019, 06:14:43 PM »
At 30.00 oz. I'll pass

It is time and labor intensive to make, thus the price. Depending on what you use it for though you get your moneys worth. As an example waterproofing leather boots using wax you need to reapply every couple of months. If you use Birch tar you only need to do it every year, and it takes very little to do a pair of boots.
https://otzispouch.ca - Rare and Traditional Birch products.