What’s old is new again
Over time, we at Paso Wine Barrels have received many compliments on the beauty and quality of workmanship shown on our Decorative Wine Barrels. These accolades are greatly appreciated. Periodically we receive requests for information on how we handle the make-over of some of the ugliest and most awful looking wine barrels you have ever seen.
Actually, if you are willing to take the time, have the desire and a true “I can do this” attitude, with just average ability and a few tools, you can take that crummy old wine barrel and make it look better than new. Don’t get discouraged, used wine barrels are usually pretty unsightly, but they don’t know it. And note that we had a four part series on recrafting a beat up project barrel – check it out if you want additional information (Recrafting An Old Wine Barrel).
How to do it
An important item in recrafting a wine barrel is the work stand. An empty wine barrel weighs 90 pounds, it is three feet tall and its bottom and top are between 22 and 24 inches in diameter (26 to 27 inches at its widest point), depending on your particular barrel. You don’t want it to tip over on you while working on it. It should stand about a foot and a half off the ground or whatever height is comfortable for you as a good working position.
A suggestion is concrete blocks available at most home and garden centers. They run about a dollar each and a good solid platform can be built for fewer than ten dollars. Another suggestion is a large metal wash tub placed upside down, making sure the diameter gives you about three inches extra all the way around the barrel – so approximately 30 inches in diameter will suffice.
Although it is possible, we do not suggest working on your project without it being elevated. Please keep in mind, that this is hard work and should only be done if you are handy, determined and/or have some woodworking abilities.
The Process – Sanding
With the barrel sitting on its stand, the process can begin. If you prefer natural color bands (hoops) now is the time to clean them up. Depending on how badly they are stained, the easiest and most efficient way to do it is with a “3M rust/paint remover wheel” attached to an electric drill, which are available at most hardware stores. If this method is not available, hand sanding with a heavy grit (80-100) sand paper should meet the necessary requirements of a clean looking hoop band. Be sure to sand the bands in a straight horizontal direction around the barrel, not up and down.
When all the bands have been cleaned they are ready to be removed. Remember to never remove all of the bands at the same time. One band must remain below the center of the barrel and one above center at all times – preferably with nails still in them. This is very important as the hoops hold the barrel staves together at both the top and bottom. Should all of the hoops be removed, the barrel WILL come apart. It’s like a giant Rubik’s cube to try to put back together and can take days. Trust us, we learned the hard way.
Leave the top and bottom bands on the barrel, remove the other bands. It will require the removal of the nails (usually mini-hoop nails with a head shaped like an “L” – see thumbnail pic near bottom of article). Remove them by placing a chisel or screwdriver on the edge of the “L” and give it a tap with a hammer then remove them with pliers or side cutters. If the head breaks off, use a small center punch and just drive the remainder of the nail back into the barrel, the band will then slip over the nail hole upon removal.
After detaching the bands (except top and bottom), you are ready to sand. When the hoops are removed, there will be a line where the bands have spent the last five or six years while the wood has faded around them. For your barrel to come out smooth and beautiful when stained, you must sand out all these lines. For best results a belt sander with an 80 grit belt should be used. Care should be taken while sanding to not push too hard on the area where the band lines show. Just take your time and “feather” this area into the body of the rest of the barrel. Don’t get too close to the upper and bottom bands when sanding as this portion will be done after changing the bands and turning the barrel over.
A finish sanding should be done with 220 grit sandpaper to smooth out the texture and grooves left by the heavier paper on the belt sander. It will take about two 8 x 10 sheets. Cut several 3 x 5 pieces, then with a glove on one hand, sand with up and down strokes staying in line with the grain of the staves. Use the ungloved hand to feel the wood until the finish becomes smooth all around the barrel. Leave about seven to ten inches from the bottom band. This will be sanded when the barrel is turned over.
Now take the bilge band, the closest band to the center, and install it. Make sure it’s tight by using something like a large punch or a small ball peen hammer placed on the edge of the hoop which you will hit with a bigger hammer. Go around the barrel doing this until the band moves down and tightens up. Now, take three small finish nails, driving one partially in on the upper side of the band and bending the nail over. Go around the barrel doing this in at least three places – you will remove these later. When you know it’s tight you may now remove the top band and continue sanding the upper part of the barrel. When finished, get the help of another person to carefully turn the barrel over. By the way, use a tarp underneath where you work – there will be a lot of sanded wood material every which way.
Follow the same procedure on this end as you did on the other and when finished, re-install the top hoop and remove the bilge band. Touch-up with the 220 sanding and now you’re ready for staining. Pick a stain of your choice that preferably includes a sealer. Lowes, Home Depot, Ace or most hardware and paint stores have a myriad of stain colors. To insure sealing and give it a rich tone, at least two coats are required.
Stain sealer and varathane
At Paso Wine Barrels, we go through the same routine for staining as we do for sanding. Remove the bands (except top and bottom), stain the barrel, replace the bands, turn it over to remove the other bands, stain some more, replace the bands, turn the barrel over and finish by permanently affixing the bands.
The next course of action is Varathane or Varnish. We at Paso Wine Barrels prefer Spar Varathane to insure a shiny and professional look. The procedure is best with two to three coats and requires moving the bands around the same as when sanding and stain sealing. An alternative to this would be to mask off the bands with masking tape and just apply the varathane between bands as the last operation when the barrel is finished.
Whether it involves sanding or staining, as the different phases evolve you will find yourself removing bands and re-installing them in order to completely cover the barrel while not removing all the bands. It may sound complicated but once you look at it and see what the barrel needs, it’s really quite simple – hard work but simple. To temporarily re-install each band as you go just use three or four small finish nails, driving them only partially in and bending them over. Before final installation, they will be removed. Each band will be lined up evenly with the bung hole, receive a final tightening and be attached with professional hoop nails.
Hoop nails are not available in stores; however, they can be found on line at www.dwinesupplies.com or Barrel Builders in St. Helena, California at www.barrelbuilders.com. Each band will have a section where it is held together with two rivets. Use this spot to align the bands with the bung hole on the side of the barrel.
Setting a hoop nail with the fingers can be painful so a safe and easy way to hold them is with needle nose pliers. The nails are shaped like an “L.” With the pliers, hold the nail on the very tip of the “L” and place the tip of the nail on the bottom of the band between the rivets using a ball peen or smooth tipped hammer. Go directly across to the other side and drive another nail. Now visually measure the distance across and split the diameter to place the other two nails directly across from each other for a total of four nails. Make sure all bands are tight before nailing. Using this procedure, continue nailing until the “top” bands are secure; then turn the barrel over and repeat the process for the remaining bands. Your beautiful natural band, stained, sealed, varathaned, recrafted wine barrel is complete.
If you prefer painted bands, simply wait until you are finished with the barrel. After at least 24 hours use a good masking tape and with newspaper mask off the entire barrel with exception of the bands. Being very careful with the wood surface directly above and below the bands, paint with your preferable color – a primer coat would be the preferred method. The painted band wine barrel project is complete.
There you have it, an almost furniture like barrel that will certainly be the talk of conversation when anyone sees this beautiful reworked wine barrel. Of course, you know where to go to find a used wine barrel – Paso Wine Barrels. Good luck!