In college I had a ‘cool’ history professor. This guy wasn’t cool in the way he’d turn around a chair and sit down to ‘rap’ with us. No, he was cool in that old-style laid-back way. He wore turtlenecks and had a beard. That sort of cool.
Anyway, I took something like three history classes with him and in each of them he showed us videos – he was a believer in videos. Which was also cool. Anyway, in the American history class he showed us various videos from Colonial Williamsburg on gun making, and other ye olde crafts. Particularly imprinting upon me was The Cooper’s Craft, which was about a barrel maker in Williamsburg, and the process of making a barrel from tree to finished product. I particularly enjoyed the video, probably because there is something satisfying in seeing a craftsman do their job well. It’s probably why these sorts of ‘build’ videos have high view counts on Youtube. Either way, I actually ordered my own copy of The Cooper’s Craft on DVD a few years ago, and added several others thereafter on the printing press, gun making, silversmithing, etc.
But The Cooper’s Craft was always my favorite and as I got more into woodworking over the last several years – I traded in my wish to be a novelist for a different sort of creative endeavor – I always had the desire in the back on my head to make a barrel. Fortunately, there is a non-profit near my house that teaches olde timey techniques for building, blacksmithing, and woodworking. They do offer a barrel making workshop, but first you gotta do the bucket making workshop. Which is how my son and I wound up making a bucket out of cedar over a weekend.
First, building a bucket by hand is both harder than you’d think and easier. It’s easier in that it truly isn’t all that difficult once you have the tools and supplies for it, and at least the minimum know-how on the angles to cut and the dimensions. It’s harder, though, because turning straight pieces of wood into something round, that will hold water, is always going to be a tricky endeavor. After all, despite all the time we took putting these together, and the care and all that, my son’s bucket apparently won’t hold water, and I’m not quite ready to try mine out to see if I failed or not.
I suppose that, in the end, it doesn’t matter if the bucket is water tight or not. These are cedar buckets – cedar is easier to get in a very straight grain, and is soft, which is ideal for somebody coming to buckets the first time – which means you’re not going to put water in them and have that water come out tasting like it wasn’t in a cedar bucket. Which means these are ultimately decorative items. So, whether it holds water or not doesn’t matter, and while I still need to do some sanding on mine, and finesse the handle a bit, this is effectively a bucket that will hold things. Which is what it was meant to be.