Wednesday, September 7, 2016


Modern technology has given us many easy ways to keep dry. Unfortunately, most of those modern materials are either delicate or difficult to repair, and are very difficult to manufacture without a major facility. Despite this, people have been keeping dry in storms since near the dawn of time  This really hit its heyday with the discovery of oilcloth, which is actually fairly simple to make.

is natural fiber cloth that is saturated with oil to make it waterproof. Usually this cloth is cotton, but hemp and other natural fibers can be made to work as well. Historically, oilcloth was used for everything from tarps to tents to even some types of clothing.

Making Oilcloth
This process can be applied to raw cloth before sewing, but it's usually easier to simply treat the finished product.

When selecting a fabric to treat, select a material with a high thread count and a tight weave; this holds the waterproofing more securely and lasts longer in general. To create tarps and similar flat pieces, flat bedsheets provide good waterproofing while maintaining a lighter weight. For heavier-use items, canvas material will also accept this treatment.

The actual process is quite straightforward. 
  1. Soak your fabric in an equal mixture of boiled linseed oil and mineral spirits (not mineral oil). A 5 gallon bucket is ideal for most items, and you don't need a lot of oil and spirits; just enough to completely cover whatever you're treating. 
  2. While wearing rubber or nitrile gloves to protect your hands, massage the mixture into the cloth until it is completely saturated. 
  3. Wring out any excess linseed oil/mineral spirits mixture, then hang your textile item to dry.
  4. It must hang and dry in a single layer! As the oilcloth treatment dries, it releases quite a bit of heat, and can cause fire if it is folded while drying.
  5. Your oilcloth is dry when it is no longer sticky or tacky to the touch. At this point, it is ready to put to use. 
Actual drying time depends on the weight of the fabric and the ambient temperature and humidity. To clean it, just hose it off like you would a nylon slicker. 

Tarps can be used as makeshift shelters, as well as protecting goods and supplies in inclement weather. Among cowboys and other western hands, the oilcloth duster was the gold standard in weather protection, and is still very highly regarded for that purpose.

Modern materials are great, but don't neglect the simple and effective older methods.


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