Swiss Alpine Cooperage


With Carl Swensson.

Coopering is the ancient craft of making tapered cylindrical containers that utilize edge-joined staves that are held in place with circumferential hooping. The craft is divided into two basic categories: single bottom and double bottom. Double bottom coopering is the making of barrels and casks used for storage and transporting of liquids. Single bottom coopering includes all of the various tubs, buckets and other open-ended stave vessels that were commonly used before mass-produced, factory made containers became available.

This course will focus on a style of single bottom coopering that was highly developed in the Swiss Alps where the rural economy was based on small dairies that produced cheese and butter. One unique feature is that the wooden hooping utilizes a sophisticated inter-locking construction at the connected hoop ends. The class project will be a sch¸ssel, a bowl about 10-inches in diameter and 4 to 6-inches in height. Similar, but larger vessels were traditionally used for overnight storage of milk, feeding calves and even laundry tubs. Our smaller version serves as a unique salad bowl or table ornament.

The course follows the traditional approach for this craft, but with some contemporary innovations that result in easier or more reliable construction. Shaping the staves will begin with drawknife work, then move on to edge joining with an inverted long plane. The inner stave surfaces are roughly shaped with a hollowing drawknife, and then refined with a small convex hand plane. A spokeshave is then used to smooth the exterior. Then a croze (a special marking gage like tool) is used to cut the groove for the rounded bottom board, which is also shaped with a drawknife. The last – and most challenging – step is making and fitting the interlocked hooping.

To learn more about the process, we recommend viewing the Country Workshops video “Swiss Cooperage: Two Days in the Workshop of Ruedi Kohler.” This was recorded in 1988 when kufermeister Ruedi Kohler was 87 years old, and still at work making high quality tubs and buckets. Available from the Country Workshops Store.

Class size is limited to four students. Tuition for this 6-day course is $1500. This includes materials, accommodations and meals. Course participants will be asked to bring basic tools; the more specialized tools are provided.

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