We are independent & ad-supported. We may earn a commission for purchases made through our links.

Advertiser Disclosure

Our website is an independent, advertising-supported platform. We provide our content free of charge to our readers, and to keep it that way, we rely on revenue generated through advertisements and affiliate partnerships. This means that when you click on certain links on our site and make a purchase, we may earn a commission. Learn more.

How We Make Money

We sustain our operations through affiliate commissions and advertising. If you click on an affiliate link and make a purchase, we may receive a commission from the merchant at no additional cost to you. We also display advertisements on our website, which help generate revenue to support our work and keep our content free for readers. Our editorial team operates independently from our advertising and affiliate partnerships to ensure that our content remains unbiased and focused on providing you with the best information and recommendations based on thorough research and honest evaluations. To remain transparent, we’ve provided a list of our current affiliate partners here.

What is Oakum?

Malcolm Tatum
By
Updated May 17, 2024
Our promise to you
About Mechanics is dedicated to creating trustworthy, high-quality content that always prioritizes transparency, integrity, and inclusivity above all else. Our ensure that our content creation and review process includes rigorous fact-checking, evidence-based, and continual updates to ensure accuracy and reliability.

Our Promise to you

Founded in 2002, our company has been a trusted resource for readers seeking informative and engaging content. Our dedication to quality remains unwavering—and will never change. We follow a strict editorial policy, ensuring that our content is authored by highly qualified professionals and edited by subject matter experts. This guarantees that everything we publish is objective, accurate, and trustworthy.

Over the years, we've refined our approach to cover a wide range of topics, providing readers with reliable and practical advice to enhance their knowledge and skills. That's why millions of readers turn to us each year. Join us in celebrating the joy of learning, guided by standards you can trust.

Editorial Standards

At About Mechanics, we are committed to creating content that you can trust. Our editorial process is designed to ensure that every piece of content we publish is accurate, reliable, and informative.

Our team of experienced writers and editors follows a strict set of guidelines to ensure the highest quality content. We conduct thorough research, fact-check all information, and rely on credible sources to back up our claims. Our content is reviewed by subject matter experts to ensure accuracy and clarity.

We believe in transparency and maintain editorial independence from our advertisers. Our team does not receive direct compensation from advertisers, allowing us to create unbiased content that prioritizes your interests.

Oakum is a tarred fiber that has a long and distinguished history for use in shipbuilding and the repair of various sea-going vessels. Essentially, it is a blend of fibers that are coated with tar and can be used to fill in small cracks in various types of structures. In centuries past, tarred oakum was often prepared by persons serving time in prisons, as well as people who were forced to labor in workhouses in order to work off outstanding debts.

There is more than one form of oakum available for use. In addition to the tarred version that is made by using the jute or hemp fibers of old ropes, there is also white oakum. This is created with the use of hemp fibers that have not been woven into ropes and is not impregnated with the pine tar that was used in many instances to make the fibers resistant to water and the elements.

In usage, oakum was extremely helpful around the shipyard. The substance served as an ideal packing material that could be used as a means of caulking or sealing the small spaces between the joints of ships made completely of wood. As ships that were primarily constructed of metal became more common, oakum was still used as a means to provide caulking and stability to the wooden deck planking that often was used to outfit the metal body of the ship.

Over time, oakum also found use in various projects on land as well. Before the advent of plastics, it was often used to provide caulking and sealing around the joints on drainpipes and other forms of piping in the home. With a relatively low cost, it was possible to use the material for patching drainpipes over time, thus delaying the need to replace the entire length of pipe. This was usually accomplished by packing the joint with the oakum, then applying a small amount of molten lead to the area. The lead would cause the fibers to swell and create an effective seal around the joint.

While the use of oakum is rare today, the material is still utilized by shipbuilders who seek to create a vessel that is a replica of the sailing vessels of years gone by. However, it normally serves more of a decorative use today rather than a practical one.

About Mechanics is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Malcolm Tatum
By Malcolm Tatum , Writer
Malcolm Tatum, a former teleconferencing industry professional, followed his passion for trivia, research, and writing to become a full-time freelance writer. He has contributed articles to a variety of print and online publications, including About Mechanics, and his work has also been featured in poetry collections, devotional anthologies, and newspapers. When not writing, Malcolm enjoys collecting vinyl records, following minor league baseball, and cycling.

Discussion Comments

By anon295290 — On Oct 05, 2012

This was also used by pioneers to caulk between the logs of frontier cabins and homes.

By anon109284 — On Sep 06, 2010

Can Oakum be used to seal spots bats may be getting into attic?

By anon106346 — On Aug 25, 2010

Very informative. Was charged $500 by a plumber to replace Oakum and lead joint. Is this a relatively low cost?

By anon22869 — On Dec 11, 2008

Dear WiseGeek: Nice article, very informative. But please note the use of the past tense is not necessary. Oakum is still used in tradition tallships. Sincerely, Tallship Geek

Malcolm Tatum

Malcolm Tatum

Writer

Malcolm Tatum, a former teleconferencing industry professional, followed his passion for trivia, research, and writing...
Learn more
About Mechanics, in your inbox

Our latest articles, guides, and more, delivered daily.

About Mechanics, in your inbox

Our latest articles, guides, and more, delivered daily.