Rob Gorrell - Folk Artist

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Let's make a coopered washtub.

Coopering, Folk Art, Traditional woodworkingRob Gorrell2 Comments

The other day I finished up the cedar coopered buckets that I had been working on. They actually hold water after a short soak in the sink.  I have read that using dried cattail pith is the preferred leak sealer for coopers. But finding good cattail to use is a bit difficult around here at the end of January.  I will need to gather a crop of it in the spring to store away for future coopering.  It seems that the cattail pith will absorb water and swell in the gap until the wood staves have time to swell and seal tight.  So anyway. We have been talking about needing a new washtub to use in our colonial camp setup this year.  I decided to try to make a wooden tub similar in size to the navy tubs mentioned in Kenneth Kilby's book "The Cooper and His Trade."  My goal was to hit something near 20" in diameter at the top and 19" in diameter at the bottom, with a height of 8".  The book lists the bottom at 18", but it turns out that a taper of much more than an inch or so is difficult for a beginner to achieve. I found this out in the process of making two buckets with a 2" difference in top and bottom diameters.

The biggest difference I noticed between making this larger container and a 12" bucket was that the temporary bands did not hold the staves in a perfectly rigid fashion. The staves were pulled into a slightly oval-shaped when raised up and tightened with the hoops.  This led to a bit of a problem with the bottom.  I ended up putting a thin layer of colored caulking in the croze to help seal up the bottom since it did not fit the slightly out of round slot just right. This is where the cattails will come in handy in the future.

Here are a couple of shots of the staves being fitted to the temporary bands.

wooden coopered wash tub staves

 

hand made coopered tub staves

After a lot of fitting and shaving staves I ended up with a tub that will hold water without soaking.  Granted, that would not be true if I had not cheated a little on the bottom.  But it is a definite improvement over my previous stave fitting attempts.hand-made coopered wooden wash tub

I still need to make handles for the wash tub. A better design would have left two opposing staves taller to have hand holes cut into them. The problem was that I was running out of good cedar and did not have anything long enough to make the handles with.  The plan is to forge some side handles to make carrying the tub easier at events.

My arms are sore from all this coopering work. I think I am going to switch over to some tinware projects for a while so I can heal up.