A Visit to Kalamazoo Cooperage

A Trip to Kalamazoo Cooperage   Recently I visited Kalamazoo Cooperage and spent a morning with Ben Aldrich and Gerren Young. What an exciting visit this was for me. When I arrived I knew right away this was an unusual place. The mountain of saw dust next to the building was the first clue.  The wisp of smoke on the morning air and the smell of charring white oak barrels really peaked my interest.  I have been coopering for more than 20 years.  Much of that time has been spent teaching coopering at Tillers International.  I love the craft of coopering; I’m always enthusiastic to visit other shops. I first met Ben in one of my coopering classes. He wanted to learn coopering and what a great student he was.  Ben was a natural cooper.  His skills with hand tools are outstanding.  When I asked him about that he explained that for 18 years he was a pipe organ builder.  A trade that required mastery of many tools and techniques.  However, pipe organs are kind of going the same direction as buggy whips; not entirely gone but not in much demand. Another victim of the digital revolution.  However, Ben is still busy before Christmas and Easter each year tuning pipe organs around the area.  For several years Ben made his living as a cabinet maker and finish carpenter. Gerren is equally as interesting. Gerren started out in woodworking making wooden drums.  What a great introduction to coopering.  His drums are fantastic, with amazing woods and incredible tight joints.  They are usually turned on a large wood lathe that he has.  I first met Gerren at our woodworking club meeting.  He learned about my shop [...]

How Many Lathes Do You Need?

When I was maybe 12 or 13, with my Dad’s help, I built a wood lathe.  The bed was made from a 2 by 6 and the ways were two parallel three quarter inch black pipe.  The head and tail stock were stacked pieces of three quarter inch plywood.  I got the plans from a magazine, probably Popular Mechanics.  Strangely, I remember making the lathe with my Dad more then I remember using it.  I have no idea what happened to that lathe. After I left home and started working I saw an ad for a used Shopsmith.  I had just bought my first house and wanted to do some wood working.   Over the years I have used the Shopsmith lathe option a lot.  It has a nice variable speed drive.  It’s very flexible and easy to set up.  The big problems with it are a poorly designed tool rest and its lack of rigidity.  I have always wanted a better lathe.  After I built my new shop I had room to get a better lathe. Somehow I have ended up with six.  You guessed it, I still usually use the Shopsmith for most of my wood turning.  Let’s look at some of the lathes; they aren’t your usual lathes. Rockwell 11 inch metal lathe – Sometime in the 50’s or 60’s Rockwell decided that they wanted to compete in the metal working arena.  For a few years they made a really great metal lathe.  I spotted mine in an abandoned corner of a manufacturing plant during a tour. After several months of negotiation I got it home and of course it had a major problem.  The carriage was seized up.  Some help from [...]

A Really Big Band Saw

I spotted it in the corner of the carriage maker’s shop.  It was big, I mean really big, a 36 inch band saw.  For some strange reason I have always wanted a large band saw to re-saw and stack cut pieces and here it was.   After a short negotiation, my friend Harley Chandler sold me the saw.  See more about Harley and his work at (  It took seven men to load it.  A heavy casting with a high center of gravity made for a difficult load. When my wife Sharon and I got home, it was only the two of us to unload.  What a job.  It was more of a controlled fall.  We hooked several cargo straps to the side boards and slowly ratcheted the saw down the ramp.  When it struck terra firma we were relieved.  After that we used pipes to roll it into position.  There it sat for several years, collecting dust from my shop. The saw is made by J.T. Towsely Mfg. Co. of Cincinnati, Ohio.  The saw was likely made in the 1920’s. A catalog found on the site lists the weight of the saw at 1275 pounds. This winter I got serious about re-storing it to service.  The first step was to construct a motor mount.  My friend Don had a metal base from an old conveyer motor and we used it with several hinges.  This worked really great. Next came mounting new band saw tyres.  A call to Woodworkers’ Tool Works ( supply in Wisconsin fixed me up with the tyres.  A set of old instructions from Robert Vahn from a previous band saw restoration saved the day.  Putting these large tires on can be [...]

Wheelwrighting At The Indiana State Fair

Like Brigadoon of yore, each year at the Indiana State Fair a magical thing happens.  A wagon wheel shop appears on the fair grounds and for the next two weeks wheels of all sorts are repaired, mended, re-tyred and fixed.  We come from Michigan, Kentucky and Indiana to practice and learn this craft.  I have been involved with this group for over 10 years and each August I trek to Indianapolis. The Purdue agricultural alumni association sponsors and supports a museum on the state fair grounds.  During the fair the museum becomes a living history show with a late 1800 – early 1900 theme.  Musicians, wood carvers, quilters, blacksmiths and tractor collectors converge and share their interests.  Did I mention they have wheelwrights there too. Seven wheels that we repaired.  I'm holding the un-painted Spanish American War cannon wheel   Each year we complete between 6-12 wheels.  The wheels  are usually from wagons and farm implements that belong to the museum. Each year the fair elects a queen from one of the counties in Indiana.  Pictured here are Richard Cole, the state fair queen and I, hanging out in the wheelwright shop. Here Elsworth has selected the next victim for restoration.  This wheel was rotten and the tyre was loose.  The tyre will be cut off, bad spokes will be re-made, the wood rims will be replaced if required and the tyre re-welded to the correct size.  The tyre is re-set by heating  in a fire.  Painting is the job most of us don’t like. Harley is getting ready to cut the taper on the [...]


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