A lot can be done with a retired whiskey or wine barrel above and beyond simply throwing it in the yard and calling it a “rustic lawn ornament.” The hoops, staves, and heads can be deconstructed and reconstructed in imaginative ways to create attractive furniture, art, and utilitarian knickknacks.
Barrels themselves are surprisingly easy to obtain. They can be purchased online (such as through Kelvin Cooperage) or bought straight from the source, should you live near wine country or a distillery trail of some kind. Next time you’re out and about imbibing, ask a booze-maker if they have any barrels they’re trying to offload. You may just land a great idea and a fun project.
As Is (Just Clean It First)
With a little TLC, a barrel can just be itself and a woodsy addition to your deck or patio. Just be sure to weatherproof it properly with an application that won’t be hard on the wood. Your local hardware store should be able to point you in the right direction.
Joe Williams works extensively with barrels as winemaker and owner of D’Anu Wines in the Willamette Valley. He spent several years reworking barrels to sell to area wineries and tasting rooms, operating out of his home workshop.
“The beautiful thing about barrel wood is that every barrel is different, from the cooper to its life in the cellar,” Williams says. He’s made wedding signs, clocks, and chalkboards with barrel heads and repurposes the staves as candleholders.
In terms of breaking the thing down, he recommends a flathead screwdriver to loosen the hoops nails and pliers with a rounded head to pull out nails. A leather mallet is great for removing the staves as it doesn’t mar the wood.
Here are a few worthy uses for your newfound vessel:
The barrel was built for booze so it might as well hold on to its main purpose in life. A barrel sitting on its head comes up to about the waist, making it a nice natural height for entertaining. Keep at least the top barrel head on as a tabletop, on which you can mix or pour a drink. Remove staves to create cubbies of sorts on the interior (great for storing bottles or glassware) and utilize the hoops as racks for your favorite bar towel.
Baukol’s Barrels makes the obtaining of a whiskey barrel bar easy. Prices start at $375.
You’ve probably encountered these by way of a sampling tray at any number of craft breweries. The stave tray is popular for a reason – it’s eye-catching. You’ll likely need to carve in some grooves if the tray’s destiny is holding glassware, on account of the arched shape. You can easily find a stave tray, such as this one, on Amazon or other online retailers. Flatter portions of the barrel make great sushi plates as well.
A nice bench or Adirondack-style chair is a great way to reimagine a barrel. The stain from the whisky or wine that inhabited the bottle will add style and the end result is surprisingly comfortable. Stain to your liking and if the furniture is going outdoors, apply some teak oil beforehand.
Oregon outfit RAW Woodworks has some good options you can muse on for inspiration. The natural curves of the staves are practically ergonomic – at least in a barebones kind of way – providing great contours for both the armrests and seats of the chairs.
Barrels make supremely attractive rain or stormwater captures. All you really need is to install a spigot at the base and a hose on top running from your main gutter. This news clip offers a few decent visuals to work with.
Because older barrels are often leakers, test to make sure it’s watertight beforehand. Minor leaks can be fixed with wax or by hammering in toothpicks. Larger leaks will require some extra work – either through steaming or banging on the hoops. The former requires several fills of hot water to expand the wood and seal things up. The latter involves hammering the hoops, or metal rings, down the barrel so as to tighten their grip on the staves. Craft brewery Crux has a nice briefing on this sort of thing. You can also simply buy one from a company such as Rain Barrels and More.