Summer Camp Crafts with our Bruers: Cesar’s Upcycled Wine Barrel Cheese Board

At The Bruery we go through a lot of barrels. For just one blend, we typically go through 30 to 100 barrels! People always ask me, “What happens to all the barrels that once you’re through with them?” My usual answer is, “Nothing.” Once the barrels have been used for clean beer purposes we actually can’t use them use them again because they are no longer lean and have too many buggies from their previous use. So, once we’re done using them, we stick them in a yard to wait for the next owner to make something creative out of them.

The modern day oak barrel is actually not very modern at all. Coopers have been making practically the same barrels that we use today for nearly 2000 years. So really, it’s a shame to see barrels that someone worked on so hard go to waste. While working in the barrel warehouse I see the beauty in the wood and in the design, so I thought I should take a stab at reincarnating a barrel into another long lasting beautiful tool.

We now make tap handles out of the very barrel staves that used to house our imperial and sour beers. While taking apart some barrels for this purpose, I came across a barrel head (the flat top on a barrel) that had a vivid violet color and still smelled of the Fess Parker Port that it housed years before. I immediately thought it would make a fantastic cheese board or serving platter and figures it would not require much effort to transform. Luckily for you (and for me) I was right!

Here’s what you’ll need to make your very own wine barrel cheese board:

  • Wine barrel head
  • Wood glue
  • Hand or belt sander with 60-80 grit paper
  • 100-120 grit sandpaper
  • Furniture clamps
  • Wood chisel
  • Mineral oil
  • Low lint cloths, like cheese cloth

You can make a full board, which is pretty huge  at nearly 2 feet across, or go halfsies for a more manageable size. Either way, the process is exactly the same.

You want to start by carefully pulling apart the barrel head. Barrels that contain wine, beer, spirits, or really anything that will be consumed will never be constructed with glue, making them pretty easy to pry apart. You still want to be careful not to damage the head staves that will soon become your cheese board.

Once you’ve pulled apart the staves, you’re going to want to start lightly sanding down the staves all around their surface, paying special attention to the area between the staves. Don’t worry about sanding off every single splinter on the board, because that will come later. Just concentrate on making sure in between the staves are roughed up so the glue can adhere well to the boards. Once sanded, add glue on the insides of the staves, then assemble back together.

At this point, lightly tap the staves back together until glue starts coming out from in between the staves. Take your furniture clamps and tighten around the middle of the board to further help the staves bind together (if glue expels from the cracks, that’s okay. You’ll chisel it off later).

You’ll have to get a little creative to tighten the rounded edges of the board. You can either create a mold that will kind of cup the edges, or simply use wadded cloth and hope it stays, like I did. Remember, barrels are not perfectly lined up and are extremely uneven so dont stress over the imperfections (it’s called “rustic”). Leave the clamps on overnight to let the glue cure.

The next day, remove the clamps and use your wood chisel to remove any glue that seeped out and hardened on both sides of the board. I don’t own a hand or belt sander so I used a chisel to even out the board as much as I could before using a block sander and good ‘ol elbow grease to even it out even more.

This is the time where you need to remove as many of the splinters and rough spots as you can on both sides. A hand/ belt sander with 60-80 grit sandpaper should make the process much easier than my experience doing it by hand. If you are using a machine be sure not to oversand and lose all the beautiful color that is naturally in the board. Also be sure to use proper personal protection equipment to keep yourself safe.

Once the board has been thoroughly sanded, remove any excess debris and dust from the board and begin to oil it up. You want to use mineral oil because it is food safe and pretty easy to use. The oil will leave a shine on the board but not leave a lacquer layer that has the possibility of the flaking off, getting in your food, and making you sick. I picked up a 12 oz bottle at the local hardware store which is more than enough.

Start by applying a generous amount of oil all over the top of the board and let the oil soak in to the board. Repeat this step over and over again over the course of 12- 24 hours. The oil should start to soak through and saturate the oak.

Once you’ve reached that stage use the finer grit sandpaper (100-120) to work the oil into the wood while at the same time removing any final rough spots. Repeat this step until the board has been smoothed enough to your liking. Again, this is a wine barrel, not the lens of the Hubble Space Telescope, so “texture” = “character”. It’s also considered vintage, I guess.

Once you have the surface as smooth as you’d like, remove any excess oil with a nearly lint-free cloth. I simply used an old t-shirt. As time goes on the board will dull and lose its sheen. That’s when you take more mineral oil and just buff it up. You wont need to use nearly as much for touch ups.

You’re done! Now load that board up with good eats, invite some friends and look fly.

Post written by Cesar Alfaro, one of our packaging team members turned Barrel Whisperer. Cesar is a talented homebrewer and cheesemonger who also goes to lots of epic music shows where he unleashes his glorious flowing locks of El Salvadorian hair.

Make some more summertime crafts with our Bruers. Check out our Pinterest board and these related blogposts:

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