Saturday, February 4, 2017

Making a small barrel.

The other day we received some stores for our main engines. The stores were delivered on a single use pallet.
On this pallet the two lower stretchers were made out of oak. The top of the pallet was some other type of hardwood that I haven't been able to identify yet.

Not surprisingly, I disassembled the pallet to save the wood.
The problem with the oak is that the nails had penetrated rather deeply into the wood.
There was something like 8" between the nail holes, so I tried to think of a small thing that could be made out of short pieces of oak.
There are of course many things that would fit in this category, but I decided that a small barrel similar to those depicted around the neck of a saint Bernard dog would be interesting to make.
Bertha will end up having the same size as a saint Bernard, so I see no reason why she shouldn't be able to have a small barrel of brandy fixed to her collar for taking a photo.

I have never tried my hands out on coopering, so this will be a journey into the unknown in that respect.
The diameter of the barrel will be such that I can make the ends from the oak as well, I am able to make a circular piece of 2.75"" in diameter. The barrel will be 7.25" in length and probably end up having a diameter on the middle of 3.75" That is if everything goes as planned.

I have read somewhere that if you split the wood for the staves, you can reduce the risk of the barrel starting to leak. This makes sense if you use some sort of ring porous wood. I think that oak is ring porous, so I am going to try to follow that advice.

After sawing my piece of oak into the lengths between the nail holes, I split the pieces using an axe.

After splitting I used my plane to flatten the individual staves a bit on the outside.
My first idea was to make them exactly the same thickness from the start, but I changed the approach and only flattened the outside and then I marked out the shape and used a hack saw to make the curved shape.

Once all the staves are done I'll try to plane them all to the same thickness.

So far I have experienced that splitting stock is not a guarantee for a flat piece of wood.
It might have something to do with the fact that the grain isn't the straightest on the wood that I have at hand.
Some of the staves that I had split also had cracks running the entire length down the middle, so far from all my staves could be used.
I am also beginning to suspect that there might be a reason for coopers to use special tools for their job, cause a regular smoothing plane with a scrub iron doesn't seem to be the most efficient tool so far for this project. (Not that such a thing has ever held me back)

Split staves before sorting.

Flattish and shaped staves.

The selection of stock.


  1. 'The barrel will be 7.25" in length and probably end up having a diameter on the middle of 3.75"' How in the world are you going to fit enough brandy in that size to get through your winters?

    Seriously, this sounds like a really interesting project. I can't wait to see how it comes out. And how much you learn from it. There's a reason people specialized in cooperage - some very specific skills.


    1. Hi Matt

      Hmm, I didn't think about one barrel lasting the entire winter. More just for a nice cosy walk in the woods. :-)

      I am afraid that I might be in over my head already. For one thing, the stock that I have might not be perfect, and like you say, coopering is a trade of its own. But then again coopers are expected to be able to make both barrels, buckets and bathtubs. I only try to make a small barrel, so I should be fine.

      A thing that has crossed my mind is that it might be a bit easier to start making a slightly larger barrel. And especially if I made it at home with better tools and a real workbench. But on the other hand, it wouldn't be so much of a challenge doing it that way.

      Thanks for commenting

  2. Another great idea, Jonas. Looking forward to seeing how you figure this one out, sounds like fun. I'm glad you have small enough stock that you can plane it without hitting the wall (or bulkhead, whatever you say on a ship).

    1. Hi Jeff

      Glad you like the idea.
      I made something like a sticking board with a planing stop made out of two small screws. I managed to plane into one of them..
      But at least I don't ram my hand into the bulkhead.
      The staves are a little bit curved already, due to the grain not being completely straight. I figured that there was not much point in removing this curve just to try to bend it later on. so the small staves are kind of wobbly on the sticking board. But I'll have to figure out some way to make them more uniform in thickness once I have all the staves ready.

  3. This is really interesting. I've thought about it but I don't know how to make the hoops. I guess a ship probably has the tools and materials to make them.

    1. Hi Andy

      Thanks for commenting.
      I think I'll make the hoops as regular rings, i.e. not flared.
      After I have riveted or soldered them together, I could lightly hammer one side of the hoop. This will stretch the metal and should theoretically make it flared. But so far it is just my theory that it will work.


    2. Not having done any coopering, I'll offer my expert advice: heat your rings up so the metal expands before putting them on. Perhaps they will shrink a bit to tighten everything up.

      A possible downside could be you burn your ship to the water line.

    3. Hi Brian
      Thanks for the advice :-)

      I think that heating up the rings is for making wheels.
      But I'll see how it goes.

      So far I have made 10 staves, so my next task will be to plane the angled part on the sides.


  4. Very neat project you got there, and yah, i figured that was only big enough for a walk in the woods :-)
    Rudy size would be more like a thimble im affraid :-)
    What Brian mentioned is true, not only for wheelwright but for coopers also, the shrinking hoops being driven down, helps keep everything tight and hopefully leak proof. White oak is the wood used for wet cooperage

    Bob, wondering how Rudy could carry a small barrel...

  5. And should have added...Red oak is not leak proof, that is why they used white oak.

    1. Hi Bob

      I have no idea if it is red or white oak that I am using. It is probably the cheapest stuff since it was used for a pallet.
      The barrel is not completely round, and I blame the crappy stock for that.

      Perhaps you could make a small toboggan for Rudy so she could pull a barrel?