I had always wanted to see if I could learn to make a wooden bucket. Our Millbrook Village Cooper quit volunteering this year so a local source of knowledge went away and at the same time gave me some incentive to do something about it. Looking around the internet, I was lucky to come across Tillers International in Scotts, Michigan for the instruction source. Tillers presents a most interesting curriculum in the coopering trade. The first two days are spent making the necessary coopering tools and then in the next two days use those tools to make a piggin or a water bucket.
First a word about Tiller's International. Tillers is a non-profit organization with the goal of helping international farmers develop their production and communities. To this end they strive to bring in international interns to work their 460 acre farm and learn the skills of using draft animals for power, best practices farming methods, and basic necessary craft skills such as woodworking and blacksmithing. These skills are then useful back in the home country where highly mechanized agriculture is not the norm. In absence of international interns Tillers trains others who have chosen to become "farm missionaries". Tillers has done international training in Uganda, Nicaragua, Tanzania and Madagascar. Tillers is a national and international treasure. You can see their web site at http://www.wmich.edu/tillers/ Making classes available to historical re-enactors such as myself and others is a way of raising revenue to keep the whole organization going although donations are the biggest money raiser.
I left on the morning of election day November 2, 2004 for the 680 mile drive to Scotts Michigan. Not wanting to listen to the election day hoopla I brought along books on tape to keep me amused during the ride. I don't think I could have tolerated another "This is Kerry/Bush and I approve this message". I did not drive all the way thru on this day but stopped a little west of Sandusky, Ohio. It was a miserable day to drive as it started to rain heavily when I got into western Pennsylvania. In the morning of November 3 the rain was gone and before continuing west I visited the Marblehead Lighthouse on Lake Erie. It is a pretty spot overlooking Sandusky from Rocky Point in Marblehead, Ohio. I arrived in Scotts around 1:00 PM and spent the afternoon wandering around the farm and taking some pictures.
On Thursday, November 4 we started with the class. There were approximately 8 of us taking the tool making classes. The object was to make gauges, inshave, coopers curved drawknife, construction hoops and a croze. The croze is the tool which cuts the groove in the bottom of the bucket to receive the bottom. Making the inshave and drawknife involved taking flat steel, scribing the desired shape from cold rolled steel, preliminary grinding of the cutting surface and then using a forge to heat the metal for bending and tempering. The whole procedure was led by Chuck Andrews our talented teacher. Chuck is an accomplished cooper and blacksmith and his work can be seen at http://www.prairieworkshops.com The making of the croze mainly involved woodwork which didn't throw me. We did cut out the blade from steel, sharpen it and then set the teeth to operate as a saw. At the end of the first day we had made the gauges for the proper angles, finished the croze, heated and shaped construction bands, and cut out the inshave and drawknife blanks. The second day was spent bending the blanks into the finished tool, tempering the steel using vegetable oil as the cooling medium, putting on the handles and then going thru the drudgery of putting on a sharp edge. I have never been good at sharpening and in this case I experienced a lot of frustration in getting the right sharpness on the steel.
On Saturday, November 6 we started with the bucket making process. For raw material we used red cedar split out with a froe from fence posts. The red cedar is split in quarter sawn fashion and shaped on a shaving horse to get the two surfaces approximately parallel. A 1/4 inch taper is desired to provide a taper to the bucket and then using the angle gauges for the desired size of the bucket, the sides of the bucket are jointed on a stationary plane. This is a most important step - get the angles correct and the bucket staves will join into a tight fit. With the excellent guidance of our instructors I was able to make an acceptable bucket. After fitting the staves to final configuration, the bottom and top is cut off to form a level bucket, the bottom opening is shaved with the inshave to make a circle, the croze is then used to cut the groove, the bottom dimension is measured in the grove using a pair of dividers. The radius of the bottom is equal to the length that divides the inside of the croze into six equal arcs. After developing this radius, the radius is scribed on a 3/4 or half inch planed board, the edge of the bottom disk is shaved to taper down to the width of the croze and the bottom is then fitted into the bucket by removing the bottom construction band and hoping that the bucket doesn't explode in the process. Once the bottom is fitted, the final bands are measured and made up for riveting. Since the bucket is tapered, the edge of the band that is to be longer than the other edge is hammered on edge to expand the band into a banana shape. In between all this the inside of the bucket is shaped with the inshave and the outside is rounded off with a spokeshave.
It was a very interesting 4 days at Tillers. The food was excellent and the people, students and instructors were excellent. As far as the staff at Tillers is concerned, I have never met a kinder, gentler group of individuals in my life.