Whiskey Barrel Furniture


Bourbon Whiskey Barrels – What they are and how they are made

Bourbon Whiskey Barrels are made from quarter sawn American White Oak. This wood is very strong and hard, while highly rot resistant. The pieces that create the barrels are called staves and they come in a few different sizes. There are usually about 30-34 staves that make up a barrel. The barrel’s top and bottom are called barrel heads. This is where you will often see the cooperage or distillery markings. Before the heads go into place, the barrel goes through a burning process where the inside is charred completely black. This burnt oak is what gives bourbon whiskey its great taste, aromas and color. After the charring process is finished, the coopers insert the barrel heads into their place and hammer on the steel bands. (Hoops or Rings, which ever name you prefer.) Most of this work is done by machines these days but the process is still the same.

One of the most important, and often over looked concepts, is that the barrels are not held together by anything other than the steel bands. No nails, screws or glue. A fresh new barrel will still have a high moisture content from the steaming which helps keep the barrel solid until it is filled. Once they are filled, they can go without leaking for several decades. The liquid content will keep the wood swollen and barrel bands will hold the everything together. Later when the barrels are emptied, they will start to dry out and they will eventually fall apart. This breaking down process can take a while, but it all depends on what environment you live in. In humid parts of the country the barrels will stay together longer. You can also hose them down or keep them out in the rain to extend their life span. Keep in mind, even if you put them indoors, the wood will still eventually dry out and shrink – it will just happen at a much slower rate. The good news – right around this time, when the barrel begins to break down, the oak is at its finest state, and ready to be used for our handcrafted bourbon barrel furniture!

Bourbon Barrel Furniture – Features and Characteristics 

As I mentioned earlier, the insides of the barrels are charred, which means the furniture will be black on one side. The outside of the barrel wood has darker colors as well as colors that range from browns, greens and black. Before each project, the staves are cleaned, rounded, and sanded to perfection without removing too much of the material patinas. Leaving only a smooth and clean finish. You may also notice some cracks, splits and chips in the wood from the years of ware and tare. Not to worry, larger cosmetic cracks will be filled in with a clear epoxy. The steel bands are wire brushed clean and covered with a satin clear coat. This keeps the barrels from further rusting and gives them a polished look. The metal bands are used to make our brackets, which help keep our furniture solid. Bourbon Barrels provide a lot of great material and we try to use as much as possible.

Distillery Brands – Stamping and Markings

This subject is one of the most frequently asked about, so I want to make sure I thoroughly cover each aspect. Most distilleries will only stamp one side of the barrel. And as far as specific whiskey brands go, it is very important to know that most large distilleries make many different whiskeys. For instance, the Buffalo Trace Distillery also makes Eagle Rare, Blanton’s, W.L. Weller, Van Winkle and a few other popular ones. Unfortunately, they don’t brand these barrels with their actual names – the barrels will simply have the Buffalo Trace logo with dates, batch numbers, and maybe the smaller brand’s initials. At Hungarian Workshop we frequently receive requests for Jack Daniel’s barrels. Unfortunately, they do not burn the big Jack logo into all their barrels. They have over a million barrels down in Tennessee, it would take far too long for them to brand each barrel. The ones you see branded on the side and top are rare, and meant mainly for showrooms, bars, tasting rooms, and for other marketing campaigns. On a related note, Jack Daniel’s isn’t bourbon. There are a number of rules and laws that need to be followed in order for a whiskey to qualify as bourbon, and this is true for Scotch as well. To learn a more on this subject please click here.