Cheap oak barrels may be wrought with defects like wide joint gaps. The wood may be charred as a result of prolonged toasting during the manufacturing process. The stave and head joints could be too wide or loose, and the hoops may not fasten properly. Additionally, the bung hole may be cracked, which could cause wine spoilage and improper oxidation.
Store new oak barrels in a 55 degree Fahrenheit climate with 65 to 70 percent humidity to prevent the widening of head joint gaps. Guard them from the infestation and growth of organisms that will spoil future batches of wine by burning sulfur inside the barrel. Place sulfur sticks or discs inside a sulfur bung to protect the barrel from sulfur droppings that, when left behind, will spoil wine. Allow it to burn for a few minutes, remove, and insert the wooden bung to keep the sulfur gas inside. Smell the inside of the barrel at least once a month to ensure the sulfur gas remains; repeat the burning process if no smell is present.
Used oak barrels should be stored in the same conditions. If they are stored empty, rinse several times, drain, and complete the sulfur burning process. While empty storage is acceptable, it eventually causes the wood to shrink. To avoid this, fill the barrel with sulfur-citric solution during storage.