Cooper's Tools Alive in Pennsylvania
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Ken also uses a treadle lathe for woodworking. Rope-driven, it was made from cast iron by Eagle in the 1880s. He made his own shaving horse based on models that go back more than 300 years. The shaving horse is used to hold wood strips in place as the cooper shapes them with a drawknife in the first steps of barrel construction.
"I made this horse from seven woods," he says. "There's maple, elm, oak, ash, walnut, pine and locust."
The cooper sits on the shaver bench, with the stave held in place by a pedal-operated jaw that leaves both hands free to manipulate the drawknife. This process establishes the exact curve and thickness of the stave in relation to the proposed barrel or other container. Standard measurements for barrel staves include a firkin, which is 21 inches, and a kilderkin, which is 25 inches. The most common wood used for barrel-making in the eastern U.S. is white oak.
Ken says that finding cooper's tools from the past is becoming harder as time goes by.
"You must travel and you must advertise," he says. "I've been all over the East Coast and to international tool shows. There's David Stanley tool auctions on the internet. There's the Bud Brown international tool auction. Some of the tools in my collection have been bought in England."
Ken and his wife, Susan, have other interests besides cooper's tools. They regularly attend gas engine shows and antique auto shows. Susan also has an interest in textiles.
But the man who has spent his life working with tools and who gives cooperage demonstrations at shows, schools and museums, is obviously dedicated to preserving the skills of times past and sharing them with today's generations. The protection of American heritage is of profound importance to him.
"Without our history, we have no future," he says. "We must know where we came from." FC
For more information: Contact Ken March by email at email@example.com.
Jill Teunis is a freelance writer in Damascus, Md.
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