Wednesday 22 February 2017

What Do You Know About Coopering?

Various events brought me to a new project idea.

And this has to do with coopering.

To explain the new project I have to reach out a bit. I love to read and to soak up information.
A few weeks ago I read Mr. Schwartz blog post about one of his upcoming projects - a dust pan.
Reading the post I thought that this of course is a fun project. And if you will read the article attentive you will recognize that Chris wrote that he will look out for other plastic objects in his environment to make out of wood. Exactly he mentioned a water bucket. And I thought "yeah, a wooden bucket would fit nicely to the wooden dust pan". The thought was gone as quickly as it came to my mind.
A few days later I had received volume 3 of the "Hayward Years".
In the evening I started to read in the book while drinking a good cuppa. It was getting later and I had to speed up a bit and so it came that I've started to flip the pages and was just browsing through the book.
But wait wait, what was that? On page XX Mr. Hayward describes how to make a cylinder out of wooden staves. Hmm....if I would enlarge that a bit then it would be a bucket, or?

All that said I started to investigate how wooden buckets are made. Guys, that's a lot of hand tool wood working.
There is a lot of stuff out there in the internet. Just google for it. But if there is one video you should have seen about making wooden buckets then it is the following one: Swiss Cooperage.
At the end I find it an inspiring video, even if he is not talking much in that video. But the bucket he is making is really great. An if you will watch it attentive you can learn a little bit about this craft.

So, I'm not a cooper. But making a nice wooden bucket sounds like fun. And as I'm missing some experience in this craft I will try to find out if I can do my own "design" with some working methods which will work for me.

Long story short, join me on this roadtrip.

The Construction

You all know it. A circle is just a polygon with a tremendous amount of corners. From what I have seen during my research wooden buckets are often made by at least 16 staves. The greater the perimeter will be the more staves are used.
As my bucket shall have a perimeter just about 220 mm I have to decided to go with 12 staves.
That means I have to construct a dodecagon. 

Dodecagon construction

You can find detailed descriptions in the internet how to construct one. Roughly draw a cross, draw a circle around it, set the tip of your compass to the end points of the lines (A - D in the pic) a draw half circles.
Connect the intersection points and you are done.
I have chosen the dodecagon due to two reasons. First the construction is pretty simple and secondly the resulting dimension for the staves looked very handy.


The construction done I had an idea about the dimensions and the needed stock. As it is going to be a bucket and not a piece of furniture I decided to go the cheap way and to buy some construction lumber (24mm x 74mm).
I cut 10 equal pieces and two longer one's. 

Prepared stock

Now I have done some preparation which is perhaps not very cooper like.
I have established a reference face and edge and then shot the ends square. I haven't done this for a nice look and precision but to ease the further building process.

Another preparation I have done is a small jig for the shooting board. All the staves have to have a bevel on both outside edges. In case of a dodecagon it has to be 15°. So I made a 15° wedge which makes the planing hopefully an easy process.

15° shooting board jig

The first test came out like this......

Established 15° bevel at the long side

Let's Begin To Work

Before I will establish the bevel on all edges I decided to make a groove for the bottom.
A cooper is having a special plane for this task (don't know the right term, but it is more or less a rounded plough plane). Missing such a tool (flea market season is kinda close) I have made a groove in every single stave.

Ploughing a groove

Keep in mind that is a cross grain groove. Therefore I have scribed deep knife lines first.

Scribe deep knife lines

And the key of success is sharpness. So I have touched the stone before starting planing.
Man, look how nice the shavings came out.

Cross grain shaving

I've touched the stones a second time after half of the pieces were done.

Fine shavings

I'm usually not aiming for the most beautiful looking shavings. But for this task it was important to have a sharp blade to avoid tear out and splittings. Secondly I have to mention it because I think I have reached a new level of sharpening. But that's another story.

All grooves done

So, all groves done now. All ends are square. Time to move on and establish the bevels.
That will take a moment. I would suggest that I will fulfill that task and then we are coming back together.

Stay Tuned!


  1. Wow, nice quarter sawn construction lumber!

    Jim B

    1. Hi Jim,
      yes. Isn't it? To be honest found it by accident.
      I have just browsed through the wood pile until I had found the piece with the least knots.


  2. Sounds like fun and a good challenge. Looks like a little blowout at the ends of some grooves (dadoes). Maybe the bevel will remove them. Looking forward to next entry.

    1. Hi Matt,
      yeah. I really like this project.
      You are right there are some blowouts. But it doesn't matter due to two reasons.
      1) It is the rough cut edge which has to be prepared
      2) If I will establish the bevel I will go away. That's why I have decided to do the grooves first.


  3. If that is typical construction lumber i am very impressed!! Quartersawn no less, perfect stock for your need.

    Bob, with Rudy on his lap

    1. Hi Bob,
      as already mentioned the luck was shining on me.
      I just have searched for the least knots. That the piece I have found are quarter sawn, I recognized not until I shot the ends.
      Till now it's great to work with and it is not doing stupid tricks.


  4. Stefan,

    I will stay tuned. Interesting project, small size but with new skills.


    1. Hi Ken,
      not the biggest and most complicated project.
      But has got some challenges regarding techniques and finding alternative tools.


  5. Great idea, Stefan. Thanks for the video. That's the longest plane I've ever seen. And I had no idea how useful a knife can be.

  6. Hi Jeff,
    thanks a lot. I was impressed by the plane too.
    And I was surprised how it was used. I have tried to adapt this within the further progress of this project.