Last year my spouse did something completely insane for my birthday: She bought me something I asked for (but I really should not have).
It was a used bourbon barrel – white oak, banded in steel hoops and charred on on the inside. With a nice big bung hole. My dream was to have one of these barrels as my garbage can at the end of my vise. No more plastic for me. Just a giant gaping black maw of charred oak with some sweet bourbon redolence mixed in.
That was June 2009.
The barrel arrived via truck. No box. Just a label and a barrel. Still, I was excited as Hello Kitty on mini-crayon day. I rolled the barrel back to my shop. But before I wrangled it down the stairs I had a bad thought. What if it wouldn’t fit under my workbench?
A quick check with my tape measure confirmed the drunken obvious: The barrel was actually taller than my bench. So I’d be ramming my handplanes into it. Dejected, I rolled it next to my Karmann-Ghia, where it has sat for 13 months.
After seeing some of the barrels at the Maker’s Mark distillery this May, I became inspired to revisit my personal cask of shame. I decided to cut it down. Give it a flattop. Remove more than 6″ of material and not have the staves fall apart on me.
Here’s what I did. I “borrowed” a silver Crayola from my daughter and used a 1″-thick scrap to mark a line that was 1″ offset below one of the hoops. Then I took a 5/8″ drill and bored a hole adjacent to the wax line. Then it was less than three minutes of work with a jigsaw, cutting around the barrel until the top fell off. Inside were four bungs. Four?
The inside was as black as I’d imagined. I stuck my head in to inhale the sweet smell of aged bourbon.
It smelled like a wet bonfire.
Oh well. I rolled the barrel to my shop. It fit perfectly beneath the bench. I put my plastic garbage can out at the street. Good riddance. And what about the top of the barrel? Don’t know. I rolled it next to the Karmann-Ghia. Maybe next year I’ll deal with it.
— Christopher Schwarz