Yesterday, Centsational Girl (who Wendy and I are both very jealous of due to her proximity to California's wine country) wrote a post about decorating using the all too important aspect of wine production -- the wine barrel. This resonated with us because we constructed our very own wine barrel candle holders just last year, and made several more as gifts for friends and relatives. The candle holders turned out so nicely that we want to share the step-by-step instructions with you so that you can make one for yourself.
Wendy and I absolutely love Napa Valley, CA. We love the atmosphere, we love the wine, we love the food, we love the scenery, we love the pace of life, and more than anything, we love going there because it just puts us at ease. We've made the trip out to the Bay Area and Napa Valley every year for the last six years. Did I mention, we really love it out there? We're wine country fans.
Through all of our trips, we've seen tons of wine barrel decorations for sale in the various shops all around the Napa Valley and Sonoma area. People use the individual pieces of wood from wine barrels, called barrel staves, to construct everything from cheese boards to rocking chairs. It's a charming and efficient use of spent barrels that turns them into a conversation piece and reminder of wine country.
During our 2010 trip, while strolling the main street shops in St. Helena, California, we wandered into a shop that had several very nicely prepared barrel stave candle holders. Wendy picked one up, looked at the price, and set it down immediately. Shocked, she turned her head, looked at me, and quietly mouthed the words "$85, can you believe that?" I responded with a somewhat unsure, "I think I can make that for you." And with those words, my personal challenge was accepted and thus began our wine barrel stave candle holder adventure.
When I say my challenge was accepted, I mean it was really accepted. I started working on it while still in the store. I took out my iPhone and hit my first stop for this project, eBay. We always use eBay when we need to find an odd, random, and rare item that would be difficult to find otherwise. I do feel "wine barrel staves" tend to uniquely qualify in at least two of those descriptions.
Surprisingly, I was able to quickly find an auction item with a low "buy it now" price for six barrel staves. I believe the total cost was $24, including shipping, for the six staves. Because of the great deal we found, we decided that we would seize this opportunity to also make several gifts for friends and family, so we bought the six and made a real project out of it.
If you're interested, there are usually a couple of active auctions going at any given time. You can usually get five to seven staves for about $15 + shipping.
We won the auction while still in the store in St. Helena, so the staves arrived at our house only a day or two after we returned home from the trip. When they arrived, they were quite dirty, still smelled of wine, and had a great patina on each one. Oliver wasn't sure about them, but they were just what we had hoped for.
The first thing we needed to do was to prep the staves for the work by cleaning them up a little bit. Since I wanted to keep the patina, and really only wanted to lose the splinters and dirt, I used the random orbit sander with 220 grit sand paper to just give every surface on each board a light once over. I was careful not to push too hard or linger too long on any one spot for fear of losing all of the great character on the wood. The barrel strap marks, wine seepage outlines, and rich color form the interior of the barrels was just too good to lose.
Once the staves were cleaned up, we were able to measure the width and determine the number and location of glass candle holders that would be placed on each stave. We decided on five candles per stave, and found a place to order the 25 glass votive holders that we would need. We only needed enough for five boards because one of the boards was too thin to make a good candle holder. We decided upon votives from KitKraft that would work well and look good, but there are obviously many different styles that you could choose for your project.
One of the staves of the bunch was apparently from a white wine barrel, and didn't have much of that patina. It was just clean and crisp looking. So I started working on that one just in case I made a mistake. I carefully measured to find the center point of the stave, both length and width, and pencil marked the center with an X. That determined the location for the center candle holder. I then measured out of the center and divided the length into 1/3rds. I then made similar pencil marks at each 1/3 point away from the center. This gave a balanced and level location to each votive holder. I then repeated this process on each stave.
Once the center points of each candle were marked on the staves, I took the staves to the basement for an appointment with my drill press. I wanted to drill shallow pilot holes at each pencil mark, but because the barrel staves are curved, and I wanted the candle to sit perpendicular to the surface the stave would sit on, I had to make a small platform jig to make sure the stave sat in the correct position. I did this by attaching a board to the drill press platform that was long enough to support the entire width of the barrel stave while I was drilling it. I sunk each pilot hole only about 1/4 of the way into the stave. I just wanted the holes as a simple guide, and I didn't want to go all of the way through.
With the pilot holes drilled, I had a good point of reference to begin making the larger holes for the candle holders. I chose a 2 1/2" forstner hole bit to roughly match the base of the candle holders. Using the same jig, plus a little bit of support under the stave to account for the flex in the stave each time I lowered the bit into the wood. I kept cutting away little bits of wood until I was about 1/4"-1/2" deep for each hole, then moved to the next spot.
Remember, wine barrels are typically made of oak, and oak is a very hard wood. I had to really get into repeatedly lowering the bit with a fair amount of pressure just to make a little bit of progress with each one. Oak chips were flying everywhere, saw dust was in the air, and the friction of the bit on oak soaked with wine made the whole basement smell like a camp fire and vineyard all rolled into one. It was actually quite a nice smell, and a good change of pace from my normal stinky projects.
Once the holes were drilled, I knocked down the sharp edges with some 120 grit sandpaper, then gave the top of each stave one more light hand sanding with 220 grit paper.
To finish them, since they had the great patina I mentioned, having all been cut from deep and rich oak trees, I decided to just use some low luster shellac rather than adding any stain. To keep the sheen down, we used one coat of shellac. (We tried one with two coats and it looked a little too shiny.) You can see how the color really came out once we put the finish on, and the difference in the clean white wine barrel versus the patina'd red wine staves.
We allowed them to try for a couple of days, then placed our candle holders and tea lights for a rather stunning and unique end result.
After all was said and done, including purchasing and shipping of the staves and candle holders, the project ended up costing about $25 per stave. Not too bad, and all of the friends and family who we gave these to as gifts seemed to really enjoy them. Nothing says you care like a hand made, original gift.
Have you made anything cool from a wine barrel or barrel stave? Perhaps you, like me, are still finding wood chips all over the place several months after the project is finished? If so, let us know, we'd love to see how you used them.