Waatabiig: Spruce Roots

Knotless spruce roots, split into long (c. 5-16 foot) lengths, and smoothed into flat, even form, are used to sew the various parts of the canoe together. Wayne looks for trees that are growing a little apart from other trees, in good workable soil. By working the soil near the base of the trunk, he locates the start of roots of sufficient width (about an inch wide). Using a digging tool like a pick axe, he carefully unearths the root as it runs through the soil away from the tree. Ideally, the root will run in a straight line, but it may also fork or dive downward or veer to avoid stones, etc. The work of pullling up a root must be done with patience and care, otherwise it will break and the resulting piece may be too short to be of any use. Naturally, roots get narrower the farther one follows them away from a trunk. The best roots are long and straight, whose girth narrows slowly over long distances.

Once the roots are harvested, they must be processed. The red outer bark must be stripped from them. Large roots are split in two lengths and their outer bark and heartwood (their inner core) cut away. The resulting root section is light colored, flexible, and smooth. These can be allowed to dry out, but when it is time to sew with them, they must be rehydrated through soaking or boiling. Only then will they become pliable enough to use for the sewing process.

Watch Wayne Valliere show Tom Loeser how roots are split and skinned:

Watch Tim Frandy explain to Tom Loeser how to split a spruce root into halves:

Click on the pictures for more details!


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