The tools of the cooper through the ages
The profession of a cooper is one of the oldest crafts still taught in Germany. This old guild still works today with models, tools and techniques like their predecessor generations did 100 years ago.
For example, the textbook that is still used today as the standard work for training coopers was first published in 1937 and has hardly been changed to this day.
So it is not surprising that the tools a cooper needs have also survived the decades. Today, we still work with a setter, hammer and anvil. Theoretically, we and our coopers would easily have been able to build a barrel without the need for electricity.
So let’s compare the original methods with today’s:
A splitting axe was used to split the oak wood along its natural growth into quarters, which were then used to saw the staves of the barrel. Today, the wood is often still split, but by machine. In our sawmill today the wood for our staves is prepared on the saw in the mirror cut.
The next step in the creation of a wooden barrel is the drying of the wood. In the past, drying was done exclusively in the air to take advantage of the effects of weather and seasons. Today we additionally use the modern functionality of a vacuum drying chamber. This is mainly used to homogenize the different stave polder, i.e. to equalize different moisture contents.
Afterwards, the staves were planed in order to bring them into the desired shape by means of a model. The work with model and plane is still learned by the coopers today. We can proudly call ourselves owners of a huge CNC milling machine, on which the staves are milled according to our programming.
The resulting “bulbous” staves were then assembled in a circle in the working hoop. The barrel staves were then heated over oak fires to bend them. This process has also not changed over the past few decades. We do use a winch, but it too is operated by hand for optimal control of the contraction.
The sheaf was brought into the barrel with a special planer. Today, there are electric milling machines for this purpose, although it must be said that these are hardly ever manufactured today either. Thus, our gargel milling machine dates back to the 60s.
The toasting process is also unchanged. Flavors are tickled out of the wood by oak fires to release them into the wine, beer or distillate. There are large industrial cooperages that control and monitor the oak fire with computer assistance, but we in Bad Dürkheim prefer to rely on manual work and experience.
Another tool that must never break, please, because I would not know how to get it again is the opener. This iron cone is used to burn the bunghole to protect the barrel and its contents from bacteria and undesirables.
If you want to have a look at the old tools, feel free to visit us in Bad Dürkheim, we have a lot of them in a small exhibition for you!