What Is Oakum?

What Is Oakum?

May 24, 2023 Off By Juliet D'cruz

Are you curious to know what is oakum? You have come to the right place as I am going to tell you everything about oakum in a very simple explanation. Without further discussion let’s begin to know what is oakum?

Oakum is a material made of loose fiber, usually hemp or jute, that has been impregnated with tar or pitch. It is commonly used in traditional shipbuilding and maintenance as caulking material to seal gaps and leaks in wooden vessels. In this blog, we will explore what oakum is, its historical significance, and how it is used today.

What Is Oakum?

Oakum is made by twisting or rolling hemp or jute fibers together into long, thin strands. The fibers are then impregnated with a waterproofing substance, usually tar or pitch, to make them more resistant to water and decay. The resulting material is dense and pliable and can be easily stuffed into gaps and seams in wooden boats to create a watertight seal.

Historical Significance Of Oakum

Oakum has been used for centuries as a caulking material in traditional shipbuilding. It was a vital component in the construction and maintenance of wooden vessels, where it was used to seal joints between planks, decks, and other wooden structures. Oakum was also used to repair damaged vessels, such as patching leaks or filling cracks and gaps.

The use of oakum declined in the 20th century with the rise of metal and composite materials in shipbuilding, but it is still used today in some traditional boat building and restoration projects.

How Is Oakum Used Today?

While the use of oakum has declined in modern shipbuilding, it is still used today in some traditional boat-building and restoration projects. In these applications, oakum is used to maintain the authenticity and historical accuracy of the vessel.

Oakum is also used in other applications, such as in the construction of concrete structures. In this application, oakum is used as a compressible sealant to prevent the flow of water through the joints between concrete sections.


Oakum is a traditional caulking material made of hemp or jute fibers that have been impregnated with tar or pitch. It has a long history in shipbuilding and maintenance, where it was used to create watertight seals in wooden vessels. While the use of oakum has declined in modern shipbuilding, it is still used today in some traditional boat building and restoration projects, as well as in other applications such as the construction of concrete structures. Its historical significance and unique properties make it a valuable material in traditional craftsmanship and restoration.

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What Is Oakum Made Out Of?

Traditional Oakum Caulking is made from twisted jute fibre and is used for caulking, sealing, and packing different types of joints, and voids in the traditional building, log home, marine, equestrian, plumbing, and modern construction industries. Before modern chemical sealants, oakum was the original caulking.

Does Oakum Contain Asbestos?

Oakum present in cast iron bell/spigot joints may also contain asbestos. Today, modern methods, such as rubber seals (for example, gaskets or o-rings), are more common.

What Is The Point Of Oakum Picking?

Picking oakum was used as a punishment in workhouses and prisons as a form of hard labour. Heavy rope, cut up into lengths was hit with a hammer to remove the hard tar that coated it.

How Does Oakum Work?

To seal pipe penetrations, resin saturated oakum can be sprayed with water or dropped into a pail of water to start the activation process. The reactive oakum is now packed into joints and around leaky pipe penetrations where it creates a watertight seal between the outside of the pipe and the wall of the structure.

Is Oakum Still Used In Plumbing?

Oakum is still used in traditional cast iron pipe / bell joint connections.


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