a birchbark canoe


the canoe ready to gumNow I had a canoe that looked pretty good (to me anyway) but it would not float until I sealed it with spruce gum. Spruce gum is spread carefully over each seam, crack and hole in the bark to waterproof it. On the boy and stern I laid a strip of canvas soaked in gum to protect and seal the ends of the canoe.

I got some of my raw gum and heated it up on the stove in an old pot from the second hand store. Don't use your good pots because you will spruce gum on the stovenever get the gum out. It's pretty lumpy and gross to start - see the picture on the left. Once the gum has liquefied, you have to strain it through an old sheet or cheesecloth to get out the sticks, bugs and bark. Then you have to add some fat to make it less brittle. I used lard, starting with about a tablespoon.

spruce gum ready for sealingThe first time I prepared my gum it was way too soft and would not harden. It was also kind of milky looking. I eventually scraped this layer of gum off and tried again. It seems like the more you cook the gum the better it gets. Perhaps my gum had a lot of water in it or something but the more I cooked it the better it got. The picture on the right shows the gum ready for the canoe. It is a thick amber liquid and very sticky!

gumming the canoe pressing the gum onto the barkTo gum a canoe, you heat the gum up until it is liquid, but not too runny. Use a stick and gather a bit of gum on the end. Blob the gum over the seam or hole you want to seal. Lick or spit on your finger and press the gum into the seam. If you don't wet your finger it will stick to the gum. It's hard to get gum off your hands, clothes, cat, neighbours and so on. I gummed my canoe on the front lawn of my house so everyone wanted to join in, especially the neighbourhood kids. We all had fun.

Now, finally, it was time to see if my canoe floated!

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© Judy Kavanagh 2001