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Barrel Making, Two Heads Are Better Than None

For centuries, the biggest challenge facing coopers was this…


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How do you cap both ends of the barrel so that it holds water, beer, spirits or any other liquid?

Wooden buckets, with a cap on one end, are 5,000 years old. But they leaked and were only good for carrying grain and other dry goods.

It wasn’t until 350BC that the Celts of Central Europe figured it out. Humans were coming out of the Iron Age and finally had tools that were sharp enough and precise enough to make this one all-important cut.

Measuring the croze, a groove on the inside of a barrel that holds the heads in place.
Measuring the croze, a groove on the inside of a barrel that holds the heads in place.

That groove you see inside the barrel was the technological breakthrough we’d been waiting for. Today we call it a croze.

The croze allows the cooper to loosen one end of the barrel, slip in a round piece of wood called the head, and tighten everything back together. Do this on both ends and you’ve got a barrel. Precision is critical. The head and the croze must fit perfectly or the barrel will leak.

The Crozer

Rolling Thunder cooper Nate Lindquist lifts a barrel into the crozer.
Rolling Thunder cooper Nate Lindquist lifts a barrel into the crozer.

The tool that makes this crucial cut is called a crozer. Trust us, you’ve never seen anything like it. One end holds the barrel in place, while the other end has monster-sized spinning blades that make the cuts.

The inner blade cut the croze, or groove, while the outer blade trims the staves.
The inner blade cut the croze, or groove, while the outer blade trims the staves.
Nate watches the crozer and adjusts the blades throughout the cuts. Everything has to be just right.
Nate watches the crozer and adjusts the blades throughout the cuts. Everything has to be just right.

But the croze is only half of the answer.

The Head

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We make our heads with the same wood we use to make the staves, Oregon White Oak harvested from the Coast Range, about an hour’s drive from Rolling Thunder Barrel Works.

Nate cuts a groove one side of the planks, then a tongue on the other side. They fit together tongue and groove style like flooring. Then he cuts them into circles with a band saw.

But the round pieces you see above are too crude to fit into the croze. The edges must be trimmed and beveled so they fit as accurately as possible. Nate makes that cut with the rounding saw.

The rounding saw. Those arms you see hold the head in place while blades trim the edges.
The rounding saw. Those arms you see hold the head in place while blades trim the edges.
Afterward, Nate measures everything again to make sure it was done right.
Afterward, Nate measures everything again to make sure it was done right.

When he’s satisfied, he slips the heads into the croze and tightens both ends with the hoop press.

Another strange looking contraption, Nate uses the head press several times during barrel making.
Another strange looking contraption, Nate uses the head press several times during barrel making.
Now we’ve got something we can proudly call a Rolling Thunder Barrel.
Now we’ve got something we can proudly call a Rolling Thunder Barrel.

Astute readers will notice that there’s no way to fill these barrels with beer or spirits. We’ll show you how we solve that dilemma in our next story. Meanwhile, here’s a hint…

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More About Rolling Thunder

The Nearly Lost Art Of Barrel Making

The Heart Of Coopering, Playing With Fire

The Bunghole

Rolling Thunder Barrel Works is the tree to table cooperage at the Rogue World Headquarters in Newport, Oregon. We make our barrels the old- fashioned way, one at a time and crafted by hand. Nate custom toasts and chars each barrel to match the beer or spirit that will age inside of it. We have that kind of quality control over our barrel aging because we craft our own barrels.

Come visit and join us as we grow the DIY Revolution!

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