Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Collecting Spruce Roots

A single long spruce root
Collecting spruce roots is one of those fun jobs that is over all too quickly.  Spruce trees have long networks of straight roots shooting out in all directions from their bases.  These roots are just below the surface and easy to access.  Some are quite large but the ones with diameters between a pencil and a sharpie make good, durable lashing materials.  I need a few feet of spruce root lashing to sew a reproduction Beothuk birch bark quiver together.

You can see the muddy path
where the root came out of
the ground and dozens of
smaller criss-crossing roots
The easiest place to collect spruce roots are in clearings in the woods where there aren't a lot of low lying shrubs or small trees between the spruce trees.  A bit of moss and forest litter is no problem.  Sometimes you can see places where the roots are peeking above the ground, but I usually just pick a soft looking piece of ground in the middle of the clearing and kick the dirt off until I start to see reddish-orange roots.  The roots are everywhere, so it doesn't take long to find one.  Pick one that is more-or-less the right diameter and start pulling it up.  You can tug fairly hard on them, but if you feel like you might break it, you can always do a little digging to loosen the ground above it.  While you are pulling up one root, you'll probably expose dozens of others and two or three of them will be about the size you are looking for.  It becomes a game of trying to find the longest, straightest root, with the least forks in it.

It only took 10 or 15 minutes to collect this bundle of roots.  Once the bark is stripped and split there should be 100 feet or so of good lashing material.

Strip off the outer layer
You can use them right out of the ground as lashing if you are building something outdoors, like a lean-to or emergency shelter, but for smaller projects, you'll probably want to clean and split them.  Cleaning the outer bark of the roots is a little tedious, but its not too difficult.  If you are very careful you can use a knife to scrape through the reddish-orange outer layer.  Once the light coloured inside is exposed, you can peel off the outer rind in strips.  A sharp edged stick is a smart alternative to using a knife.  It is just as easy, a little safer, and less likely to inadvertently damage the root.  After the outer bark is stripped, the root will be a pale blond colour.

Don't let the split run away from you,
keep pressure on both sides to keep
the split travelling down the middle
of the root.
Splitting the root down the middle will make it more flexible and less likely to kink as you use it.  To split the root, all you need to do is carefully cut a small slit in one end and start pulling the root apart into two equal halves.  Straighter roots without branches or forks are the easiest to split.  Once the split starts it is very quick and easy to make it grow the length of the root.  You want the split to run right down the middle of the root, so pull it apart slowly and if you see that it is starting to get a little thicker on one side, pull that side a little harder to coax the split back towards the middle.  Its hard to explain, but your fingers will know what to do.

Different diameter roots
give different sized
I don't want the roots to dry out too much before I use them over the next week or so, so I'm going to keep them in a cool dark place.  Which is easy to find in Newfoundland in September.

Photo Credits: Tim Rast

No comments:

Post a Comment

Related Posts with Thumbnails