Cutting a barrel stave

I have looked for this on the internet and cant seem to find anything. When cutting a stave for a barrel I am struggling to figure out how you handle the tapers where they meet in the middle of the barrel. Bringing them to a gradual point just doesn’t seem right. I am thinking maybe bring them to a point and then round of the point but that doesn’t seem like it would join right. Lots of info on barrel construction but nothing specific on shaping the staves. I plan to cut some test boards out of cheap lumber anyway but for some reason that transition has me baffled. I am wondering if the staves are just not cut on a very large radius of some measurement?

I changed my search to barrel dimensions and found directions for a stave. Looks like the middle 25% is a radius and then straightens out to the ends.

Is your barrel expected to hold liquid or is this going to be a decorative barrel? It’s kinda tough to make a good barrel, I’m guessing.


Try some sort of search using variations of “re-enactor” or “historic” in the searches. I know a few people in the Living History community who practice cooper-work but none well enough to hook you into as a source of knowledge. Now if you ever want to try tinsmithing, there I know someone.

Ironically, I was just telling some fellows at the coffee shop yesterday that there are 2 things that I’ve wanted to see for a long time:

1 The making of a barrel.

2 The making of a wagon wheel.

It seems like such feats would have been near impossible back in the 1700s. Since the barrel is bigger in the middle, then the angle cut on the sides would gradually change from the center to the ends. Even a 1-degree error in a stave would likely cause the barrel to fail. Especially if it was required to be tight enough to hold Bourbon whiskey!

I heard about a tool & die maker many years ago who was attempting to make a machine that would cut barrel staves accurately. That’d be something to see!

And about the wagon wheel - the spokes are square at the hub and are oval at the tire. How the heck did they make a whole set of them alike that wouldn’t fall apart? I can see why they called those craftsmen “wheelwrights.” Again, it looks like the technology of the 1600s - 1700s would preclude any successful attempts at such a task! Amazing!

Colonial Williamsburg is probably your best bet. I’ve been there many times to see wheels, guns, barrels, and other similar items made “from scratch.” It’s actually a lot simpler than you might think. These guys weren’t idiots. They had gauges, templates, and other specialized tools to make the process as easy as possible. But it still required a lot of skill and experience.

If I was going to make a bunch of them I could have a cutter made for a shaper and a jig to feed it through that would make short work. I saw a barrel stave saw that was actually a loop band and would hollow cut the inside and convex cut the outside of each stave.

Barrel makers would usually make a few different sized barrels repeatedly, a single stave from each could be their only template. There’s a PBS series on old crafts and trades that had an episode on a wooden bucket maker, almost like making half a barrel but no curving of the staves. The guy started pretty much from scratch and spent years developing the technique to become one of the premier modern wooden bucket makers. Doesn’t look all that difficult to do but you can tell how much of a knack is required and the need for all that experience.

Hectorik, I believe there’s an old episode of the Woodwright’s Shop from PBS that shows the process of making wagon wheels. I remember clearly the part about fitting the iron rim on a wheel by heating it and letting it compress around the wheel as it cools. Being a show about woodworking I imagine the initial process of making the wooden wheel is shown. There may even be an episode on barrel making.

In this old episode of “This Old House” set in the Napa Valley, Norm learns how to make wine barrels. A lot of it is just experience, IIRC.

Barrel making used to be a HUGE occupation.

In 1884, the Minneapolis flour mills reached their peak, producing 7 million barrels of flour. Almost all of which was shipped in actual wooden barrels. There were several coopers guilds in Minneapolis and a bunch of independents - producing millions of wooden barrels per year. Staves were produced and sold in lots of 1,000, so you had dedicated people whose job it was to produce staves for the coopers.

A barrel for holding liquid has to have the right orientation of the grain in a stave else it will leak. They have to be flat sawn with the rings laid out in a barrel just as they would be in a tree, 1/4 sawn and the liquid will seep right through the grain.