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History of Coopering 

The art of coopering dates back centuries, and the basic trade has remained unchanged. Coopering requires skill, intelligence, and strength. The tools of the trade are often handed down for generations.

Coopers crafted casks which:

  • Held flour, gunpowder, tobacco, and other commodities

  • Served as shipping containers 

  • Stored liquids from wine and beer to milk 

Today, coopers are often called "barrel makers," but a barrel is only one kind of cask, one made by what was known as a "tight cooper." Other casks included the firkin, kilderkin, hogshead, butt, rundlet, tierce, puncheon, and pipe. The tight cooper assembled clear white oak staves split from the dense center of a tree. He fit the staves one to another, and bound them with iron to make casks for liquids of all sorts. 

A "slack cooper" built containers for such commodities as flour and tobacco. "White" coopering produced pails, churns, tubs, and dippers, often made of cedar or pine.


While plastics, stainless steel, pallets, and corrugated cardboard have replaced most wooden containers and largely made the cooper obsolete, there is still demand for high-quality wooden barrels, and it is thought that the highest-quality barrels are those hand-made by professional coopers.



The Cooper and His Trade
Kenneth Kilby 
Linden Publishing Company, Inc.
Fresno, CA

The Soul of a Tree: A Woodworkers Reflections
George Nakashima
Kodansha International  

Craft Guide to Coopering, 
offers a quick overview of what a cooper does.

Image borrowed from

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