Coopering is divided into three branches: wet, dry and white. Wet coopers make casks such as barrels for liquids; dry coopers make flour barrels and nail kegs; and white coopers make household items including buckets, butter churns, piggins, and butter carriers.
A tree is cut into desired lengths and split with wedges and froe to form stave blanks. These blanks are stacked and allowed to air dry for several months.
Shaping the Staves
The staves are rough cut to length and then tapered with a side hatchet. White coopered containers have straight sides but one end of the stave is wider than the other end.
Planing the Edges
The edges of the staves must be planed straight but at the correct
angle and taper. The angle changes with the diameter of the container.
Raising the Staves
The staves are now ready to be “raised” into a container. A sack full of shavings hold the staves in place while they are formed into a circle.
Fitting the bottom
A groove (croze) is cut around the inside of the container for the bottom. The bottom is tapered to fit into the croze and form a water tight fit.
Fitting the hoops
Hoops are split from a freshly cut white oak tree four to eight inches in diameter. The hoop is shaved down to size and the latch is cut. Steaming is needed for the smaller diameter hoops. The hoops are put on and pegged if necessary.
The container is ready for final smoothing using a spokeshave, plane, rasp, or sandpaper. If it is to hold water, swelling will seal up any leaks.