Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Coopering Tools

I am going to take a look at a group of artifacts in the Annapolis Heritage Society's collections today. I am particularly fond of working artifacts. These are the artifacts which have been used to make or build things. My classification working artifacts includes items like shipbuilding or blacksmithing tools but it could also include sewing machines, farming implements or kitchen paraphernalia. It is not so much the artifacts as their connection with the people who used them which interests me. If you spend enough time thinking about them, you can almost see the craftspeople sitting at their benches. These tools are a tangible link to human knowledge which was passed down from generation to generation.

A few years ago the AHS was given enough coopering tools that I could have gone into the business of making barrels. These tools come from a cooperage owned by the Rafuse family in the eastern part of Annapolis County. I was happy to accept these tools as coopering is a trade that interests me. In the mid nineteenth century, coopers were the most common trade in Canada. Barrels were used for shipping and storing a huge variety of goods. Today. with the advent of plastics, the only places that coopers are found are vineyards and historic village museums. I must admit that it makes me sad to see a skill of this sort passing into history.

I was lucky enough to spend the day with one of the coopers at Ross Farm Museum a few years ago. Even though we were working with pre-cut staves, I was astonished at the number of intricate steps it takes to make a barrel. From gathering the staves and winding the windlass to heating and heading the barrel, this is a complicated process.

I have included images of three artifacts in this post. The first is a croze plane. This plane is used to both ensure that the top of the barrel is level and, when you flip it over, to cut a groove so that the barrel head can be inserted. The second artifact is a hoop driver. As its name suggests, this is the tool used to drive the wooden hoops which support the barrel into place. By looking closely you can see the wearing on the end where the hoop driver has been hammered. The final tool is a cooper's adze. This was the all porpose hammer and adze around the cooperage. Note how short the handle is so the cooper can work inside the barrel.

All for now,
RGS

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