Monday, 2 May 2016

Barrels stands and first fill.

These barrels have become something of a fixation over the past week, as I wanted to get them into a state fit for long term storage, it several senses of the word. First, I needed to build stands to store them on, and preferably be able to move them around once filled, as I don't have a fixed home for them just yet. Luckily, materials are usually not a problem, as I don't like throwing our old timber, as long as they are not worm-eaten at least.

For the first one, i used some old 10x12cm roof beams to make a very simple construction, but perhaps unnecessarily complicated when it came to carving our the curve of the barrel.

The whole thing waseasily put together with 12 large screws, so it ain't going to fall apart any time soon.

But chopping out the curve across a 10cm wide block was not as precise as I would have liked. It took several rounds of adjustment, and going a bit deeper, till I got a nice, even fit and support all round.

And the barrel fits well. The only possible issue is that as the barrels are oval, the centre of gravity is quite high, so there is a tipping point, if it tilts too far in one direction. I figured then when filled, it will weigh the guts of 180kg, so should be resistant to moving too much, but some day, I'll line the curves with rubber, to give extra resistance.

For the second one, i went with a slightly simpler design in terms of work, at least, though the construction was a little more complicated. In this case, I used 3cm thick oak boards that came from the old cow stalls, and the 10x12 roof beams.

I carefully measured the curve of the barrel, using a spirit level, a try square and a ruler, and marked this on the board. I then set the angle of the barrel base on a jigsaw and simply cut it out. There were some minor adjustments to be made, again with the jigsaw, but this was much quicker than hacking stuff out with a semi-blunt chisel. With a bit of rudimentary joint work, the pieces were ready to assemble, but they just needed a bit of cleaning.

Cue one of my favourite tools, the Makita brush sander, without which, the old beams in the house would not be so pretty. It's a great tool for cleaning wood, without removing too much material, as can be seen in the before and after shots below.

And it was done. A little help with a mallet, and the pieces are tight and stable, and it feels like the deeper curves hold the barrel better.

All that was missing were the wheels, which were duly purchased and fitted the next day. Each can support 60kg, so I thought that should be ok.

The next step, which I couldn't wait for, was to seal the doors and fill the barrels with a solution of Potassium Metabisulphite and Citric Acid. Sounds dangerous...

When I got the barrels, there was a greasy substance all over the doors that I later figured was a paraffin-based sealant called, appropriately enough, Fasstürdichte, or barrel door sealant. I bought a new block of this online, along with the campden and citric acid, which are both used in wine-making, so it was a one-stop shop. The doors themselves were in fairly good condition, with the exception o little cover blocks, that served to act as a lid for the brass T-piece that goes through the door, allowing a nut to pull the door into the hole, thus giving a tight seal. The blocks were a but tired-looking, and the brass pieces dull, with a little green in places, so I gae them all a good going over. Although i was tempted to make new blocks from pieced of oak I have in store, i was unsure if this would be introducing something "foreign" to the barrels, so stayed with what they came with.

First, a light sanding spruced the blocks up.

The insides of the doors also got a light sanding, to remove the old sealant too, and ensure an even surface before screwing the cover blocks on again.

The brass T-pieces also got a bit of a polishing with fine sandpaper, so they looked almost new...


 The next morning, after getting the wheels and attaching them, it was time to close the doors. I hadn't google about how to do this, so based the process completely on what I had seen when taking the things apart.

First, I cheated a little and used a section of silicone hose to  act as a seal between the brass threaded rod and the door itself. One was a little loose in the hole, so this worked well, and I felt it was better than using insulation tape, which was previously wrapped around the rod.

Then is was out with the Fasstürdichte, like a lump of bog butter.

I was pretty generous, using a scraper to fill the recess for the T-piece, then tightening the bolt to pull it tight, so that the sealant was well bedded, and squeezed out around the piece.

And then filled the remaining space. I forgot to take a photo of the stage after, but basically, the wooden caps were screwed over this, to prevent the T-piece being pushed back into the barrel. I used stainless steel screws, which i felt were better than the corroded brass screws previously used.

So far, so good, I felt. The door openings then got a smear of sealant around the inside edge, as I reasoned that as the door pushes into the opening from the inside, it would push the sealant out, and give a good seal.

And then it was time to fill. I hammered home wooden bungs that came with the barrels, using a little sealant as an insurance measure. I then half filled each barrel, then mixed a solution of 2g potassium metabisulpite and 1g citric acid per litre, as per instructions, poured that into each barrel and finally filled the barrels to the brim. The seals held perfectly.

There was only a couple of seepage sites, one at a hairline crack above the door, but 24 hours later, this had closed itself off, as the wood expanded, and I was a very happy bunny. Two water tight, clean barrels, one self-built stands, ready for whatever I want to put in them later this year.

So far, so fantastic, and the rest of the day was spent enjoying the Maibaumaufstellen, right at the end of our street.

But it doesn't end there...

I have zero experience with wooden barrels, and today I learned a small lesson when, at lunchtime, I spotted a puddle outside the barn. The wooden bung on one of the barrels had popped out, probably early in the morning. I think using the sealant on the bungs was a mistake, as it probably acted more like a lubricant when the angle of the bung isn't making it wedge into the hole with pressure from the inside, like the door does. With 135 litres pushing against it, it clearly just slid out. Lesson learned. I've cleaned the hole and bung, and hammered it in tight, but for the longer term, I'm considering fitting a stainless steel tap permanently to the barrel, with a nut on the inside to make sure this won't ever happen when it is filled with booze!

Today, I refilled it, and the bung is quite secure, with no sealant!

It might seem I've put a lot of effort into these two barrels, but I feel that they're worth it. They're probably older than me, and probably in better condition, and I think it'd be a shame to see them turned into some sort of decorative feature, when they can still fulfill the purpose for which they were built. I hope I can do them that honour at least.

But now, they need to wait, and I'll probably return to plastering the second vaulted cellar. Who knows, maybe these two beauties will find a permanent home in there,

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