Posted by: Michael Keller Woodcarving | November 2, 2012

Carving a Wine Barrel

Recently, I took on a project for the Chamber of Commerce for a fund raiser in support of a local charity organization.  The project… carving a wine barrel.  The project was offered to members of the Lake Chelan Artist Alliance as well as a few non-member local artists.  The instructions allowed us to do anything to a wine barrel that we wanted to.  Most are being painted.  One was even cut up and a piece of furniture was made from it.  Mine, of course, was carved.  The barrels will be used and displayed for a period of time and then auctioned off.  Initially, the auction was to be at approximately the time of a local wine and chocolate event around Valentines Day.

When I picked up my barrel, I quickly discovered how very heavy they are.  I mean seriously heavy.  With help, I managed to get it loaded in my truck and off I went.  With the obvious link to both Chelan’s wine industry and Valentines Day, I proceeded to lay out a design that I believed would fit the occasion.  After my project was well underway the date of the auction was moved forward so my Valentine’s theme became just “Love Wine.”

First a word about oak.  Oak is hard, heavy and grainy. Oak wine barrel staves are about an inch thick.  Oak would not be my first choice to carve.  It is difficult.   Then, couple that with this barrel being an older, used barrel, I am sure it got harder and heavier.  Ha!  Oak is also a wood that produces lethal slivers.  Slivers that seem to hurt more than any other wood and they seem to be prone to infecting well more than other woods.

Then, there is the barrel shape.  It is a shape that is not easy to position for carving nor is it easy to work on.  I ended up laying mine on its side on the floor in a cradle of sand bags.  I carved 90% of it by sitting on it.  But barrel oak is slick and the closer my fanny got to the barrel ends, the easier I would begin to slide off.  Next time, I will use one of those carpet pads to sit on.  And, if I were to do very many more barrels, I would build a cradle that allowed me to position the barrel on a 45 degree (or so) angle and raise it to be off the floor about a foot to 18 inches.

All in all, it was a fun project but it was not without it’s challenges as noted above.

Since oak is hard, one must give your gouges a serious whopping with a mallet to cut very deeply… and then the whopping needs to be repeated a couple of more times to achieve the depth needed for lettering.  Once all the carving was roughed in and looking reasonable, I applied Howard Feed’n Wax… which I put on everything.  In addition to helping with the finish and appearance, the orange oil in the product permeated the wood and I could go back and more easily tidy up my cuts with hand work (little or no mallet).

So, here’s my barrel.  You can double and triple click on images for a closer look.

Wine Barrel – Full

A wine barrel stands to be just over 3 feet.  It is about 28 inches in diameter at the widest point.

Wine Barrel Center

My wine barrel had a red stain from a wine which ended up being just about where my wine glass was positioned.  The vines and the “Love Wine” were roughed out with a Auto-mach carver and then finished with palm gouges and knives.  “Love Wine” are 2 1/2″ letters.

Wine Barrel Upper Portion

Wine Barrel Top Detail

The ” Discover Great Wines” are 1 1/2″ letters.  They are quite deep as I wanted them to stand out well.  As a result, they took a lot of mallet work.  Once roughed in, I went back with No. 2 palm sized gouges and knives to clean up the corners.

Wine Barrel Left Detail

Wine Barrel Right Detail

The only finishes on the barrel are Howard Feed’n Wax on the carved areas and the entire barrel was then sealed with Daly’s SeaFin to give it lasting weather resistance.

Thanks for reading.  Please visit my web site at .

Stay sharp and happy carving!

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