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It was an old article about ‘nightmare plumbing’ when remodeling a bathroom.
You said: The joints are what they call lead and oakum caulking. The lead is kept from seeping into the pipe by the oakum, a tarry fiber string material they wrapped around the joint first. I’m not sure if the lead was melted into the joint with a torch, or hammered in place, or both, but the lead never actually comes in contact with the water in the pipe. It is just a cement.
I can assure you from experience as a child playing and watching while my uncle plumbed using this technique. He had a plumber’s blow torch which burned kerosene and held a cast iron pot with a spring wire handle. The lead was melted in the pot and poured as a liquid into the joint. The oakum was packed into the joint first to keep the molten lead from flowing through the joint being made. The oakum wasn’t so much tarry as it was oily. I still have a few pieces of it lying around. The tarry look probably comes from years of waste water in contact with it.
Any joints that faced horizontally had to be made-up with the pipe laying down and the joint face-up. After these sub-assemblies were fabricated the pipes were placed into position and final facing-up pours made to finish the job.
Plumbers at that time had to know what they were doing and exactly how and where everything went before even starting.
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