There are times when using barrels or wooden casks in your beer program will require you to remove the “head” of the barrel. It could be for something as simple as removing large whole fruit that won’t easily drain out through the bung hole, to remove Potassium Bitartrate / Wine Crystals or for repair purposes. As the saying goes “There is more than 1 way to skin a cat” so this post is just some of my observations and techniques that I have used.
First a barrel has 12 different parts of anatomy. Here is a picture courtesy of Wine Maps that shows the different parts and proper names.
The main parts we will deal with are the: Head Hoop, Quarter Hoop, Bilge Hoop, Head, and Croze.
Equipment can be very basic. You could use a workshop hammer and a screwdriver, however I would not recommend using those tools. If you have invested in a barrel and a barrel program then please purchase tools that can help you get the job done safely and correctly.
Most professional Coopers’ barrel tools are a heavy hammer and a “hoop driver”. You can purchase both of these from multiple outlets on the internet. At Yazoo I have a few items that could easily be purchased at Harbor Freight or any big box construction retailer. Most of the tools I already had from other projects or we use them occasionally for brewery related improvements. These items are pictured below:
- 3lb Wood Drilling Hammer
- 20oz Rip Hammer
- 10″ Brick Chisel
- 4″ Brick Chisel
- 7″ Pry Bar
- Padded Gloves and Safety Glasses
Assuming most people already own a claw hammer, you probably won’t need all these tools. At a minimum I would suggest a 3lb Hammer and wide brick chisel. On the inexpensive side this should cost around 15 bucks for both.
Now that you have the tools removing a barrel head is pretty simple.
First check to see if that hoops have been secured with brads or nails. These “T” type are pretty common.
They can easily be removed with a claw hammer or by tapping a pry bar into place. Make sure you save these to re-install!
Stand the barrel on it’s head and draw a small line from the Chime to the Cant. This will help you align the head back when you re-install.
The next step is removing the hoops. I like to start with the Quarter hoop. Position the chisel or hoop driver at an upward angle and give a few solid taps to knock the hoop loose. (Pic shows a re-install angle, just hit the hoop on the other side and upwards). Now is a good time to say why I like using a masonry brick chisel. See the red rubber square? It is going to save your hand from the inevitable hammer miss hand hit. Trust me, some of these barrel hoops are not going to pop off very easy and you will need to use a good hammer swing. You will miss at some point.
After you remove the Quarter hoop use the same process to tap the Head hoop up until it is loose enough to remove.
In my experience many times the Head can be removed by just popping the Quarter and Head hoops off. At this point there should be a gap between the Croze and Chime. You can use the small Pry bar or a Cooper’s “Key” to get between the Croze and Chime and hook the Head to keep it from galling inside the barrel…if there is enough space. Don’t hammer either of tools in between, this can damage the groove. Sometimes you will need to remove the Bilge Hoop. It’s not uncommon, but I’d certainly try to remove the head before loosening the Bilge Hoop. Before you completely remove the Bilge Hoop try tapping it up 1/2″, this might be just enough pressure release to save to you from removing the Bilge Hoop completely.
Most of the time having enough of a gap between the staves for a credit card to fit through is what you need to remove the Head.
Once the head of the barrel has been popped out be careful to not set the inside barrel side on the dirty ground.
To reinstall after cleaning or repairing it is sometimes helpful to use a ratchet strap to slightly tighten the staves back up. This can aid in hoop re-install, but I would caution to not over tighten the strap. The staves can be seriously damaged or even turned out of position enough to cause leakage problems.
Putting the barrel back together is simple but usually takes just a bit longer than taking it apart. Some brewers will coat the edge of the barrel head with beeswax so when it is re-installed there is a nice seal into the Croze. This is optional.
Loosely put the Quarter Hoop back on the barrel with some slight pressure against the staves. Then using the pry bar or barrel key to assist, position the head back into position using the small mark you made earlier for alignment. While holding the Head in it’s proper position tap down on the Quarter Hoop. This should begin to close the staves back up enough to set the Head Hoop back on. Tap the Head Hoop down about a 1/4″ using 12 o’clock, 6 o’clock, 3 o’clock and 9 o’clock hits to evenly apply stave closure pressure. I would suggest using a 2×4 or some other piece of wood and not hit the Head hoop directly. Using the Brick Chisel or Hoop Driver repeat the above tapping order on the Quarter hoop until it is back into it’s original position, then repeat for the Head Hoop.
Once you have leak tested the barrel then hammer the “T” brad/nails back in.
There you go, pretty simple process but it is understandably a bit daunting the first few times. Once you do this a few times you will find your own groove and what works best for you. For more info on barrel care check out these to posts: