Coopering means to do the work of a cooper. A cooper makes or repairs casks, which is a skill that takes many years to learn.

An apprenticeship would last four to five years, although you would have a hard job becoming a coopers apprentice these days. Apprentices usually started at the age of fourteen and then worked as a cooper for the rest of there lives.

A cooper would work in a cooperage. In the cooperage the cooper would use many different traditional tools including:

Dowelling stock, side-axe, bick iron, round shave, Topping plane, chive, Croze, bung-hole borer, hammer, driver, flagging iron, adze, diagonals, heading knife, jigger, hollowing knife, buzz, swift, downright and a inside shave.

Many of the tools were short handled to enable accurate one handed use, the other hand is free to support the cask.

Pin - 4.5 gallons
Firkin - 9 gallons
Kilderkin - 18 gallons
Barrel - 36 gallons
Hogshead - 54 gallons
Puncheon - 72 gallons
Butt - 108 gallons

If the cooper was making a larger cask, like the 108 gallon Butt, it would be difficult to hold the staves together by hand. In these circumstances the cooper would use a windlass. A windlass would have hemp ropes and would be operated by hand.

Oak casks breath, allowing an exchange between the air outside and the contents. This results in some of the contents being lost but this also allows the contents to mature. In the UK whisky has to mature for at least three years.

Both the top and the bottom of a cask is called a head. The heads are made from boards that have been dowelled together, cut out with a bow saw and then shaved smooth.

You may find the wood and furniture guides via the craft guides a useful resource.

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The staves are created by cleaving from a tree trunk. A cooper cleaves rather than saws the trunk in order too utilize the ribs of strength that run out from the heart of the tree to the bark. In order to make the staves liquid-proof the cooper has to keep the medullary rays unbroken.

Components of a cask

Stave - the boards making up the sides of the cask
Bung hole - the hole used to both fill and empty the cask
Bilge - the bulge in the middle of the cask
Chime hoop - hoops at the heads of the cask
Quarter hoop - the hoops between the Chime and Bulge hoops
Bulge hoop - the central hoops after the Quarter hoops
Rivet - used to attack the hoops to the cask
Heads - both the top and the bottom of the cask
Middle - the middle section of the Head
Cant - the section either side of the Middle
Quarter - the sections after the Cant
Chime -the extensions of the staves beyond the head
Croze - the cut where the heads are fitted
Stave joint - the joint between the staves

Dowelling Stock, Side-axe, Bick Iron, Round Stave, Bung-hole Borer, Chive, Topping Plane, Hammer, Flagging Iron, Driver, Adze, Diagonals, Croze, Inside Shave, Swift, Downright, Buzz, Heading Knife, Jigger and hollowing Knife.

As well a casks coopers would also make, Piggins, Buckets, Domestic Kegs, Butter Churns, Ale Vessels and Coal Scuttles.