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Cooper Can Make Wooden Barrels With Eyes Closed – VIDEO

Making of Wooden Barrels

Nestled among the rolling foothills of the Carpathian Mountains in Muntenia, the Coșești commune is made up of seven villages like seven gems along the Doamnei River Valley: Coșești, Jupânești, Lăpușani, Leicești, Păcioiu, Petrești, and Priseaca. Opportunities in agriculture were limited in these beautiful hilllands. Therefore, locals sought to make the most of their available resources, turning to barrel making and pottery for a living. With an increasing generational knowledge in the making of wooden barrels, and their ever-growing understanding and skills, today Coșești is the undisputed “coopering village” of Romania. 

On a fine day at the onset of the summer season, while the dew is still on the grass, master Cooper Enescu Ioan wakes up very early to the sounds of crowing roosters, hens clucking, and birds perched on the fruit trees. He walks outside, past the passageway between the front and back garden, over to a heap of cattail reeds. He grabbed a handful of reeds and scattered the leaves, inspecting the softness of it.

“For centuries, cattail leaves have been used to caulk barrels, thus preventing any leakage. I keep it outside to stay moist and workable,” he says.

At the bottom of the garden, among thousands of stave bolts in drying stacks, he picks up an oak log, cuts it to stave length then splits it lengthwise to make it into barrel staves. Before being shaped, these staves are seasoned outdoors for two to three years.

“There isn’t a fixed number of staves contained in a barrel. Depending on their width, the number of staves may vary between 28 and 33.”

His workshop consists of two rooms, both with external access, an open room like a shed with access to the back garden, and the other to the passageway between the front and the back garden. Infused with scents of wood and aged wooden barrels, his workshop is a journey into the mystery of forests and trees. Cooper’s tools of the trade, hand saws, adzes, draw knives, sun planes, croze, and manual drills are neatly displayed on the entryway wall.

Wood particles shimmer in the beam of sunlight that passes through the roof, creating a fairy tale scene. Bundles of galvanized hoop irons are stored on the right wall. In front of the window on the left stands a planer, where the cooper shapes the staves to the desired form: tapered at the ends, and wide in the middle, to create the center bulge of the barrel.

Temporary hoops are then buckled around the barrel to hold the staves together. Wider staves are laid out next to narrower staves in a perfectly pieced-together puzzle. The barrel is heated over an open fire, for the staves to be bent without cracking.

“A fire is built. The staves are heated up to soften the wood, allowing it to be bent into shape until the top and the bottom have the same circumference. We’ll leave it about 30 minutes to heat up. As they are heating up, the staves are tightened until the open end of the cask is drawn in,” explains Mr. Enescu trying to catch his breath while operating a mechanical bending machine to force the barrel into shape.

After toasting, the inside ends of the staves are each beveled with the drawknife, straightened up with a machine, and grooved with a crozer to fit the headpieces. Then comes the most exciting part: to prevent any leaking stave joint, he jams cattail reeds in between each stave before installing six permanent steel hoops. Finally, a bunghole is built in the middle of the cask to remove contents. The hole is capped with a bung.

Mr. Enescu is a sturdy craftsman with both physical strength and technical skills. Above his skill set, he has a great knowledge of how to sell his products, because he, as much as the rest of the coopers there, did spend a great amount of time on marketing themselves. They often had to stack up and travel far and long to fairs and markets all over the country.

His deep understanding of wooden barrels’ craft and precision exemplify the heights of his craftsmanship. With attention to every detail, he has perfected his works to such an extent that truly flawless barrels arise out of this labor of love.

Location: Village of Coșești, Argeș, Romania
Contact Enescu Ioan: 004 0757 053 954

For English, dial 004 0744 486 681

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