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Whisky barrels – How to make a whisky barrel cabinet


Of the many videos I watched on Youtube etc., with DIY enthusiasts and professionals alike sharing their tips and secrets on how to achieve the best results, I concluded I would use little tips from some, but ultimately go my own route as I did have ideas of my own. Now having refurbished at least 10 Whisky Barrels, I feel I have devised a method that is fast and efficient, and one that produces great results.

The barrel in my opinion needs to be stored and dried for at least six months if going indoors and four weeks will be fine for outdoors or colder environments such as garage home bars etc.

Step 1.Top tip! Get the barrel up to waist height, laying flat and preferably on a wheeled table or trolley, so it can easily be turned and spun around.

Step 2. With a wire brush attachment on an angle grinder. Clean up the metal hoops while they are still on the barrel.

Step 3 Using a chalk line with a hooked end. Ping a line down the centre of each stave while going over the steel band. After this is complete, use a black sharpie pen and place a dot on the hoop where it intersects in “its” centre, even better use a steel centre punch and make a pop mark. After this is complete. Using a large hammer and steel bolster chisel. Knock the hoops off the barrel and number in relevant order. Top, mid top, mid bottom, and bottom. Mark as such with a black marker.

Step 4. Drill through the black sharpie dots on a drill press, using a 6mm steel bit. Using beeswax front and back, liberally coat the hoops and buff to a shine. This will stop the hoops rusting. Store these hoops for now. If going outdoors use varnish for this stage.

Step 5. With an electric wood planer, the smaller the better. Set to a fine cut. Start at the top of the barrel and go across the wood grain, while rotating. Complete this until you have most of the real heavy discoloration off the oak. Note; be careful at this point not to go too deep. You are never going to get a perfectly clean oak finish. 90- 95 percent yes. But the deeper you go the more likely you are going to make the hoops fall too low on the barrel. This is best described as having a pair of jeans too big that drop off your waist. Should this happen, it is overcome by grinding off the rivet that attaches the hoops together and riveting it in a new position. Again using the jeans analogy, go in a notch on your belt as if you have lost weight.
IMPORTANT NOTE: if you are not confident, or are concerned you might take off too much stock (shavings) step 4 could be left until the barrel is cleaned up. Then reattach the hoops to see how they sit on the barrel. If they look ok and haven’t dropped more than 1cm you should be fine. So continue the hoop marking and drilling process. The reason for this is simple. If you did need to tighten the hoop ( belt) the holes you marked would not be centralised on the barrel stave.

Step 6. Repeat in the same fashion, with a Belt sander, this time start going cross grain on the first rotation. Then one rotation along the grain. Completing with 80 grit. At this point there will be no scratches left that go across the grain.

Step 7. Sand with an orbital sander. 120 grit, this will remove all visible scratches. Again deep defects in the barrel have to be accepted as patina.

Step 8. Still on the rollers. Wipe the surface with white spirit. Then apply a wood stain, or dye of your choice. I used Rustins Medium oak. After this is applied. Remove from the rollers as you will have roller marks showing on the oak. Wipe these clear whilst standing on the floor. After this stain is dry. Apply a top coat of your choice. I used Osmo Door oil and Beez Wax. Further applications will be needed later. But these early coats act as sealer coats.

Step 9. Slide the hoops back into position on the barrel. Using a brick bolster chisel, knock them down the barrel. Working around the circumference with even pressure whilst doing so. A tight snug fit into the oak should be achieved with this method. Now with either stainless steel round headed screws for outdoors. Or steel screws for indoors (less expensive option) you can pilot drill through the ready made holes in the hoops,and screw tight the bands to the barrel.

Step 10. Mark out the door aperture on the barrel. There are no set proportions for this. It is what you think looks right and is in unison with where the hoops are situated. Cut this aperture with a jigsaw. Using an angle grinder to cut through the hoops.

Step 11. The mucky part. PPE from head to toe for this…… with a wire brush attachment on the grinder again. Clean the inside of the barrel. I have seen some people pressure wash the inside, but be warned that the soot will come through the gaps in the oak staves and stain your lovely cleaned down oak barrel on the outside.

Step 12. The doors will need to be supported with a steel hoop (section of) to mirror the front hoops already attached to the door/s. I recommend a local engineer make these from at least 3mm steel. Basically they will roll some steel to a similar curve to that of the existing
barrel hoop. You can take a hoop to the engineer for the curve to be copied. This is critical as the doors will spring away from their natural curves over time if this step is overlooked. There is natural tension that needs to be stabilised.

Step 13. Hinge up the doors and add any ornamentation you desire. Knobs, handles, glass shelves etc. Your imagination is your only limitation here. I made shelves from timber, and scorched them with a blow torch. This gives the same effect to the existing internals of the barrel. Ref Youtube “Shou Sugi Ban”

Step 14. Apply the final coat of oil, or if varnish was your choice to the barrel. A yacht varnish would be a suggestion for outdoors.