Rob Gorrell - Folk Artist

Get your lanterns now. It will be dark soon.


Making a large wood tankard.

UncategorizedRob Gorrell5 Comments

Each time I make something in my shop I try to improve on a technique that I am learning, and often try to add a new skill along the way. This time I decided to try my hand at making a wooden tankard.  The tankard I made was based on an 1808 example that was found in Denmark.

Right off the bat I could see that adding the handle was going to be a challenge. In most examples I have seen the handle is an integral part of the body, with a stave and handle being made in one piece.  If you are planning on using metal bands this creates a problem as there is not simple way to get the band installed because of the closed loop of the handle.  In this image of the original tankard you can see that the handle is made in two sections which would make the banding much easier.I tried to get in touch with the person who originally posted this image but have not heard back yet.  It would be great to find out more about the original. You can also see that the maker opted for wood banding. But I have not tackled that challenge yet.

I am skipping past splitting and roughing in the staves to show what happens if you read your angle gauge wrong.  When I use this gauge I have to remember that the 10 reading equates to a 10" radius, not a 10" diameter, which is what I wanted. I think I will make a new gauge that is layout in diameter numbering so that I don't make this mistake as often.

After re-jointing all of my staves to the proper angle I was ready to raised the vessel. After raising the sides and making some fine adjustments to the angles I made it to this point. You might notice the adjustable pipe clamps. I end up using these when I don't yet have a proper band the right size handy.  Not something you would do a living history event, but works well when no one is looking. Once all the joints looked good it was time to trim the top and bottoms to get the body of the tankard ready to croze.There was a good bit of scorp and spokeshave work to be done to get the body nice and round and ready for the croze and bottom.  A good cooper would be much closer to a finished shape at this point, but once again it is apparent that I am not a good cooper yet.  It is important that the inside of the bottom be very close to round or the bottom will not fit correctly.

The next photo is of my crozing tool that I made at Tiller's International, and the croze (bottom groove) that was made with the tool.

Up to this point this project moved along reasonably well. Making the handle and lid was, well, interesting.  Maybe in a later post I will do another and show more details.  The high point was that I got to use my newly acquired Stanley 45 to make the groove for the locking mechanism to ride in. The 45 takes some tinkering to get set up and ready, but it sure is fun to use.

From here there was much filing and sanding to get the lid and handle finished.  Numerous "opportunities for future improvements" were found during this project. I ended up with a functional lid, but is not graceful by any means.

But in the end I ended up with a tankard that is fully functional and will be useful at our living history events this fall.  There will definitely be a Tankard 2.0 to build on the  results of this project.  But, as Jethro Bodine is famous for saying, "All great artists must suffer". Except for him that meant skipping breakfast.

The finished tankard.

I tried to make another Piggen.

CooperingRob GorrellComment

Now that I have finished up the washtub and a couple buckets, I wanted to see what else I could make from the pile of odds and ends in the cedar pile.  What is left is pretty scrappy and I ended up throwing about half of it in the woodpile for firewood.  The rest made the piggen described here and will hopefully be enough for a small straight sided cask and a small tub.  The piggen I ended up with is about 8" in diameter and 6 1/2" tall without the handle. The sides raised up pretty good this time. But I ran into problems with the crozing. I think I am cutting the groove too wide. Most of the bottoms I have made so far seem to be a little loose in the groove. You can see it in this image:

Before I start the next project I will change the design of my croze to cut a narrower groove and also try not to get the edges of the bottom tapered to thin.  This piggen looks ok from the outside but is definitely only a dry measure. It might hold syrup on a really cold day.

I also ran into a problem cutting the tops of the staves flat so the top is a bit wonky.  This project was a struggle. The thing fought me all the way and the end result shows the conflict I think.  But I'm still a beginner so I look at it as progress. After we take this piggen to a few events and it gets broken in maybe it will not look so forlorn.  Good thing I am not trying to sell this one.

I am looking forward to spring when I can start using cattail flagging to better seal the bottoms of my coopered buckets, piggens and tubs. 

Also, I just received permission from the publisher to start using a few images from Kenneth Kilby's book The Cooper and His Trade. I am excited to be able to add information and images from this great source to my blog. More about that soon.

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.