A New Barrel Role
WOULDN'T YOU think that a fellow who helps make helicopters would find his work fascinating enough? Not so with Ken Snow of Palo Alto, California. Although he relishes his daytime job as liaison engineer at the Hiller helicopter plant, evenings he likes a change of pace to his hobby of woodworking.
Just whacking out any old thing isn't in tune with the engineering mind, so Ken specializes. His specialty is creating serving bars from barrels. The bars are purchased by friends, by friends' friends and by merchants who find them irresistibly appealing to their customers.
Ken's reward for his hobby-time efforts over the last three years have netted him just what he set out for—a garage-shop fully outfitted with modern power and hand tools. And with the tools Ken and his wife Jerry have just completed a cottage in the Santa Cruz mountains valued at $9000—a cozy retreat with fireplace, sliding doors and steel cabinets. If you don't mind puns, you might say that the couple Snowballed a barrel into a house.
LIKE A great many profitable hobbies, Ken's began by his building a bar for his own family's use for indoor and patio parties. He admits that the first model was rather crude, but an embarrassingly large number of visitors to the Snow home insisted on his making one just like it for them.
So Ken became a pretty good customer of his wife's father, who is a San Francisco cooper. Before long he had to acquire a panel truck so he could haul six barrels at a time. The early models of his serving bar were equipped with stationary wheels; later he tried skate wheels, then decided there was no reason why he couldn't put on wooden wheels that roll. When orders started to accumulate, Jerry pitched in to help. Besides aiding Ken in the actual building, she supplied the artistic touch: A merry "Let's roll out the barrel" in white script on the varnished front. Larry, 11, and Laurel, 6, enjoyed helping, too.
Building the cottage was also a family project. It was constructed for Mrs. Snow's parents, but a new home for Ken's family is the next project now on the drawing board.
For the new house and for the continued production of barrel-bars Ken uses the tools he bought from the profits on the bars: A ten-inch tilting arbor saw, six-inch jointer, shaper, six-inch belt sander, jig saw, combination wood and metal band saw, floor model drill press, power hand saw and power hand jointer, with a total value of about $2,000. "For this kind of work you should have nothing less than the best," he says, "and that's what I've got in my shop."
THE SERVING bars are turned out painstakingly—not by production-shop methods. Each requires about eight hours to complete. Cost to make is approximately $20. Gift shops, patio shops, hardware and furniture stores pay Ken, $46 apiece, and they retail at $65 to $75. The financial return on his hobby is about $3 an hour, which he says is as much as anyone can expect.
Here's how Ken went about merchandising his product: Until he got the truck, he'd load a couple of finished bars on a small trailer hitched to his car and on his day off he'd strike out for the communities within a radius of fifty miles or so. Now he's learned to approach only the better-looking stores in middle- and upper-income areas. He asks for the buyer, wheels in a bar and explains its fine points. Typical sales pitch: "These bars can be used either indoors or out, they'll go through any standard doorway, and they occupy very little space although they can serve at least two dozen guests at a time."
Any store that sells patio furniture or barbecue equipment is a prospect. Ken advises against leaving bars out on consignment—the merchants don't seem to give them the same care they do merchandise they've bought. So he insists on cash on the spot. He's also tried sales letters, but with poor results. Personal contact has proved the best way. Ken keeps a written record of where he's called and what the buyer had to say so that he can follow up later.
GETTING DOWN to construction, certain steps can be done on an assembly-line basis. There are fifteen ¼-inch holes in each barrel, so Ken drills six barrels at a time.
Most important step, he points out, is the selection of the barrel. You should be able to get a new fir barrel from a cooper for $8-$10, although a good reconditioned one will sometimes suffice. Oak costs up to $25. Get standard fifty-gallon capacity, with the head left in for temporary support. An ordinary packing barrel won't do because it has wire instead of hoops, the wood is too rough and the thing just isn't attractive looking enough for a good job. When you pick out your barrel, have the cooper give it a rough sanding all over.
Now mark off the staves you're going to remove from the back of the bar. Removing five staves will give you a good-sized opening, which should extend below the bulge. Before sawing the staves, drill and insert two ¼-by-one-inch stove bolts through the metal hoops next to where the opening will be. Cut and knock out the staves for the opening. Cut the hoops clear of the opening, leaving 2½ inches on each side, which is folded back, drilled and secured with the same bolts.
The bar top (see drawing) is made of 5/8-inch plywood cut in a U-shape in a 27½-inch circle, except for some flattening at the sides to allow passage through doorways. The inside of the U is cut in a 5¼-inch arc, which is half the width of that cutout. Edging the top with brass-headed upholstery tacks contributes a rugged appearance. The bar is equipped with two shelves. The upper one (see drawing) of 3/8-inch plywood, curves around to conform to the inside of the barrel and has holes on each side to hold eight nine-ounce bar glasses. This shelf and the top are secured with angle irons. The lower shelf (see drawing), extending forward eleven inches from the rear, is cut from ¼-inch plywood and secured with wood screws through the rear of the barrel. A ¾-by-two-inch leg resting on the bottom supports it.
Wheels are made from two-by-ten redwood with a 13/8-inch dowel (curtain rod) axle. Two three-inch carriage bolts secure the axle to the bottom of the barrel, and pegs on either side of the wheels hold them in place. An eighteen-inch length of strap iron is easily bent to provide a stand.
A neat touch is lent by a pair of three-inch-diameter wrought iron rings on plates screwed to either side of the rear opening, on which to hang towels.
FOLLOWING UP on the cooper's rough sanding job on the outside, Ken uses a medium grade of sandpaper disc on a ¼-inch drill, taking care to sand right up to the hoops. Then comes another sanding with very fine paper.
Now a coat of maple stain is applied with a brush—this seems to go with most interiors—followed by a coat of spar varnish, used because it's alcohol resistant. The bar is then lightly hand-sanded and a final coat of spar varnish applied. Top and beverage shelf are identically finished except that Ken gives them a layer of well-rubbed auto body wax.
As an adjunct to his flourishing bar hobby, Ken makes bar stools from five-gallon nail kegs, with a foam rubber seat covered with sheet plastic held by one of the hoops. Stand is ½-inch wrought iron, bolted to the bottom of the keg, and fitted with rubber crutch tips. Your local fabricating shop can make a suitable stand, which is 15½ inches high and has a circular foot rest thirteen inches in diameter. Legs should be finished black and the stool finished like the barrel. Materials cost is $11 and they retail at $29.50. Approximate time to make and finish: One hour.
Ken Snow, who is 32, has formally christened his woodworking adventure The Wood Shed. Wood-grained cards trimmed in shed-shape describe Ken and Jerry as "Tailors in Wood."
Their plans call for a new line of gun cabinets and glass-fronted pistol cases for local sportsmen and collectors. "Once you get started on a woodworking hobby," grins Ken, "you never know where it will lead."
Note: To account for inflation, multiply prices by 8 to 10.