What Tools Did the Colonial Cooper Use?

Colonial coopers used an abundance of carpentry tools to cut and shape wood. These included a variety of saws, knives, pincers and tongs, bladed tools such as the adze, billhook and froe, as well as augurs and mallets. To support or shape the wood, they used blocks, a jointer, a shaving horse, windlass, slings and tackles.

Coopers make staved vessels out of wood bound with hoops, such as barrels, buckets, casks and tubs. Coopers often use hand, crescent and whip saws in their work, and they carve and shave the wood though the use of a planing tool, as well as with knives such as the drawknife and cleaving knife.

Colonial coopers specialized in various types of containers. Dry or slack coopers made vessels to contain dry goods such as tobacco, fruit, vegetables, cereals and nails. Tight coopers made containers designed to keep out moisture for more sensitive products such as flour and gunpowder. White coopers made straight containers meant to be used in households but not shipped, such as butter churns, washtubs and buckets. Wet coopers crafted casks for transportation and storage of liquids such as beer, wine, rum, cider and molasses.

In colonial times, the craft of coopering was learned during an apprenticeship of seven years. During this time, the apprentice would normally sleep in the workshop, called a cooperage, and learn by example of the master craftsman. In some parts of colonial America, there were more coopers than practitioners of any other profession. One of the first exports from the colonies were barrels made by coopers. Casks and barrels were in such a high demand that many plantations had slaves who had learned how to be coopers. Farmers would earn extra money by clearing their land and supplying coopers with wood fit for barrel staves.