Barrel Making: Assembling

Appears in

Oxford Companion to Wine

Oxford Companion to Wine

By Jancis Robinson

Published 2006

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Once the staves are dry enough, they can be assembled into barrels. Barrel making is made possible by the fact that wood can be bent when it has been heated. If the staves are shaped properly, the result will be a barrel. All edges will meet properly and the barrel will hold liquid without any agent other than the hoops which hold the staves together.

First, the staves are sized and trimmed into oblong lengths that might be called a double taper. Traditionally this work, known as ‘dressing’ the staves, was done by hand. The stave was ‘listed’, that is given the double taper shape, with a cooper’s axe, known as a doloire in French. Then, the inside of the stave was ‘scalloped’ with a two-handled hollowing knife to allow for easier bending. Finally the staves were joined on a jointer, known as a colombe. Here the staves were given their final shape—rounded at the bilge (the middle) and narrowed at the heads (the ends). Nowadays most of this work is done by machines, saving much time and energy.