1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Cooperage

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COOPERAGE (from “cooper,” a maker of casks, derived from such forms as Mid. Dutch cuper, Ger. Küfer, Lat. cuparius; the same root is seen in various Teut. words for a basket, such as Dutch kuip and Eng. “kipe” and “coop,” but cooper is apparently not formed directly from “coop,” which never means a “cask” but always a basket-cage for poultry, &c.), the art of making casks, barrels and other rounded vessels, the sides of which are composed of separate staves, held together by hoops surrounding them. The art is one of great antiquity; Pliny ascribes its invention to the inhabitants of the Alpine valleys. The trade is one in which there are numerous subdivisions, the chief of which are tight or wet and dry or slack cask manufacture. To these may be added white cooperage, a department which embraces the construction of wooden tubs, pails, churns and other even-staved vessels. Of all departments, the manufacture of tight casks or barrels for holding liquids is that which demands the greatest care and skill since, in addition to being perfectly tight when filled with liquid, the vessels must bear the strain of transportation to great distances, and in many cases have to resist considerable internal pressure when they contain fermenting liquors. The staves are best made of well-seasoned oak. Since a cask is a double conoid, usually having its greatest diameter (technically the bulge or belly) at the centre, each stave must be properly curved to form a segment of the whole, and must be so cut as to have a suitable bilge or increase of width from the ends to the middle; it must also have its edges bevelled to such an angle that it will form tight joints with its neighbours. The staves being prepared, the next operation is to set up or raise the barrel. For this purpose as many staves as are necessary are arranged upright in a circular frame, and round their lower halves are fitted truss hoops which serve to keep them together for the permanent hooping. The upper ends are then drawn together by means of a rope which is passed round them and tightened by a windlass, and other truss hoops are dropped over them, the wood being steamed or heated to enable it to bend freely to shape. The two ends of the cask are next finished to receive the heads by forming the chime, or bevel on the extremity of the staves, and the croze or groove into which the heads fit. Finally the heads and permanent hoops are put in place. The heads, when made of two or more pieces, are jointed by wooden dowel pins, and after being cut to size are chamfered or bevelled round the edge to fit into the croze grooves. The hoops are generally of iron. The manufacture of slack casks proceeds on the same general lines, but is simpler in various respects, both because less accurate workmanship is required, and because softer woods, largely fir, may be employed. Machinery of the most elaborate and specialized character has been devised to perform most of the operations in making both slack and tight casks, and though it involves considerable capital outlay it effects so great an economy of time that it has largely superseded hand labour. (For an account of such machinery see L. H. Ransome, “Cask-making Machinery,” Proc. Inst. Civ. Eng. vol. 115; also an article in Engineering, 1908, 85, p. 845.) Barrels without separate staves are made by bending a sheet of wood, sawn from a log in a continuous strip, into the required circular shape, the bulge at the centre being obtained by cutting out V gores from the ends. Barrels are also sometimes made of steel, either of the ordinary bulging form or consisting of straight-sided drums provided near the middle with rings on which they may be rolled. Immense numbers of casks of different shapes and sizes are employed in various industries. Tight barrels are a necessity to the wine and cider maker, brewer and distiller, and are largely used for the transport of oils and liquid chemicals, while slack barrels are utilized by the million for packing cement, alkali, china, fruit, fish and numerous other products.