Wednesday 8 March 2017

Coopering Progress

My actual project raised my curiosity so much that I have started to investigate deeper into the trade of the coopers.

But beside of all research I found time to complete the bucket a bit more.

I have tried to find more material and as cooper is an apprenticeship in Germany there should exist a curriculum. But I could not find one. There have been some in the past, but no luck. Something to hunt for this flea market season.

Anyway, I found out some facts which might be interesting.

In the comments of the last posts I was asked about the grain orientation respectively how the staves were cut. To be honest I haven't thought a second about it when I started my project. Being in a hurry right after work, I jumped into the big box store and bought some construction lumber with the least knots.
Having cut that stuff and shot the ends showed up that I have bought some quarter sawn stock.
Now the question came up if quarter sawn stock is ideal for coopering. The answer is "yes it is".
I have found a nice book about coopering. The author is Ken Kilby and the title of the book is "Coopers and Coopering".
The chapter about the timber used for building casks and barrels is saying that always quartered wood came to task. That make sense if you think about it for a while. If there is one thing to avoid, then it is cupping. That would make a cask leaky.

Beside of this I found out that in Germany there is an own trade for producing this timber. The trade is called "stave hewer" (Daubenhauer in German)

What is a stave hewer?
The stave hewer is specialized in the making of quarter-split wooden staves. These staves meet the specific needs of barrel building. The stave hewer works with the coopers and had always been found in the forrest regions of Germany.

That is the second indicator so that I'm quite sure that the timber for wooden casks or buckets has to be quartered.

Back to the Project

As I have got all parts dry assembled now I have clamped the parts with lashing straps. That went well so far. Apart from one little issue. There was a gap between my first and second stave.
Two possible reasons for that. The holes or the dowels are somehow out, or the bevel isn't right.
I have disassembled the parts and a quick check with the protractor showed that the bevel of one stave was slightly off. So back to the shooting board, two light swipes with the plane and job was done.

A small gap

As I had the parts already disassembled I've tried something else. As seen in the video and as an assumption on the base of the traditional tools of a cooper, the insides of a cask or bucket are scooped out.
I couldn't do that extensively because my grooves for the bottom are not very deep, but I wanted to smooth the transitions.
Luckily I had bought a half round plane at one of my countless flea market visits. Frankly spoken I haven't cared about the plane until now. It went straight into the plane drawer. But now I took it out, sharpened the iron (respectively what is left of it) quickly and brought it to task.
Luckily the rounding fits in the transition and it was taken away with the first two strokes.

Scooping out the transition

The two longer staves received a hole for a handle. No science here. I just eyeballed the position and drilled the holes.

Drilling the holes for the handle

The last job to be done was to round the ends of the longer staves. In the picture above you already can see the layout line. I have sawn that with the coping saw and rounded the end over with a rasp and finally a file.

The bucket dry assembled

The most tasks are done now, but it is as always. I'm hesitating to do the final assembly and glue up.
When the thing is glued up I will round over the whole outside so that the bucket will become roundish.

Two topics are open. First, a handle. I will do one from rope. I just have to figure out how to make some loops. Secondly, I really want to try out making a metal ring for the bucket. I'm not very experienced with metal work and I'm not sure how to rivet that ring. And is it good enough to use some aluminum?

What Else?

There were some more things going on this week. I have overhauled another wooden plane. This time a wooden smoother. I have spent a lot of time with the blade this time. This made me think about it. I'm often spending my precious shop time with grinding. I have to solve this.
Nevertheless it was worth the effort. The result is a nice wooden smoother which will be given away to a friend.

Finally, this bucket stuff is really fun. I think I will spend some more time into it.

Stay tuned!


  1. Hi Stefan,
    I'm basically ignorant on coopering, but I thought that they weren't glued? The staves were allowed to swell and the metal bands kept everything together. Is this going to be a decorative object and not for liquid use?

    1. Hi Ralph,
      in general you are right. The staves are usually hold by the bands. Nevertheless in the video about Swiss coopering it was shown that the bucket was glued with a bit of glue close to the end of the staves.
      Anyway, my bucket will be just for decorative purposes and I'm not sure if I can make some bands which really will hold everything tight together. So I think a drop of glue does not hurt.

  2. Very informative, Stefan. Good info on the grain orientation.

    1. Thanks Matt,
      that was an interesting question too. It made me thinking about it for a while.

  3. Thanks Stefan,

    I'm not sure I will try to make a bucket but....interesting project.


    1. Hi Ken,
      thanks for reading.
      What a pity!

  4. Looking good, and good info. Never knew there was such a trade as a stave maker, cool

    Bob, scratching Rudy's ears

    1. Hi Bob,
      thanks for the kind words.