The Adventures of Finding a Wine Barrel Bathtub

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It’s wonderful having great friends, isn’t it? I have one friend in particular that I grew up with named Holly. (You may remember her from the subfloor disaster.) About seven years ago she moved away and now lives a state away from me. Luckily her family still lives in the area, so she’s able to come visit from time to time. Fate must have aligned for her to come back to town for a visit a couple weekends ago…

Let me back up a bit. As we have been doing for what feels like forever now, Drew and I have been researching plumbing. Part of that has been trying to determine what we want to use for a bathtub/shower stall. We’ve been looking into multiple options: ofuro tubs, which are wooden tubs (highly expensive), horse troughs (galvanized steel, which is coated in zinc and could be toxic to bathe in), and fiberglass, which could break on the road and isn’t a very green material. Another option we learned about were wine barrel bathtubs. The interior is food safe, plus we’d be reusing a material that would otherwise be discarded.

The great thing about wine barrels is that they don’t need any sealants, so you’re basically just bathing in wood. You may be asking yourself “but wouldn’t a wine barrel leak? It’s not a solid piece of wood!” This is a good question. We called a few wine barrel sellers and manufacturers with this question and their answers were basically the same: all new wine barrels will leak for a little while, but because they are made of wood which is always swelling and expanding, the unsealed wooden staves will swell and seal the gaps between boards when you fill them with liquid and keep them humid/wet. Thus the barrel becomes watertight. There are still a bunch of factors to consider, like how much tension the boards are under from the steel straps, and how much humidity the wood should be exposed to in ideal conditions. To better control these variables, we got creative. We bought some stainless steel cable to hold the staves together at the top of the barrel (where it was cut) to reapply some of the lost tension from the top half of the barrel. We are also looking into buying some kind of metal pan for the barrel to sit on top of so if it ever does leak, we can catch the water without much incident.

This all sounds great until you look at the size of the most common types of used wine barrels. They hold about 59 gallons, and are kinda small, about 22″ at the base and 27″ at the top. That doesn’t make for a very comfortable shower, and because we wanted to be able to use our barrel as a deep soaking tub, we searched around to see if we could find a larger one.

It turns out there are a bunch of different sizes of wine barrels. The kind we were looking for was a puncheon barrel, which is 34″ wide at the bulge. Our shower stall area is about 36″ wide max, so we thought that would fit nicely. So we set out to searching for a barrel.

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We decided to write a bunch of local wineries. And by bunch, I mean at least 20, and by local, I mean within a three hour drive of here. Although the wineries didn’t have anything themselves, they all were really supportive. Some wineries referred us to other wineries, while one referred us to a website that sells them online. Many wished us the best of luck and said they’d like to see the house if they’re ever in town. Pretty cool! Unfortunately it all led to dead ends… None of the wineries we asked had anything that big, and the ones we found through that website were very far from here and very expensive to ship (more than the cost of the barrel itself in some cases).

Meanwhile, I’d been emailing Holly back and forth figuring out our plans for when she was back in town. Since she has experience welding, we’d been asking her for advice on how to weld a deck together (more on that in some future post). As an afterthought, I also asked her if she had any ideas as to where to get a wine barrel. You never know, right?

She sent me a couple Craigslist ads from this area, but they weren’t the size we were looking for. I did one final Craigslist search and found a man who sells them that looked promising. I found his Facebook page and lo and behold, he had two available that were 34″ wide! Jackpot!

The problem was, he was about 7-8 hours away.

….

Conveniently on Holly’s way back to town.

……….

It’s a good thing we have a strong friendship.

The next several hours turned into Drew and I writing both Holly and the guy trying to figure out if if it was even feasible to buy the barrel from him and have Holly lug it down. Holly said it wouldn’t fit in her car, so we asked the guy if we could cut it in half. He said yes, but the price would be the same since he couldn’t use the other half of the barrel. Plus he’d charge us for cutting it. So Holly agreed to cut it in half and bring us both halves, assuming they’d fit. We promised her food, beer, and a parade.

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Holly decided to pick up the barrel a few days early. She later wrote me saying everything went well:

“I can’t see out my review mirror so it’ll be a fun trip home, but my car now smells like fresh cut oak and cognac and it is AMAZING.”

When telling me about her adventure she also mentioned this bit of news: “The next challenge was getting it into the car! Turns out the diameter of the TOP of the barrel was 34″. So, as barrels do, it actually ballooned out to 40″ around the middle where I was cutting it. But between the two of us we were able to successfully wrestle it in there.”

……

What?
The barrel is actually 40″ wide??

Oh crap.
We were planning for a 34″ barrel.
How the heck are we going to fit it in our house??

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Drew and I went to the tiny house and began to draw everything out to see if it would fit. As it is now it would be pushing into the kitchen a bit. After a while we came up with a solution: the edge of the barrel will fit under the kitchen counter, leaving us our counter space and not taking too much extra room from the kitchen. Also, in case you were wondering, we can in fact fit it through our front door if we roll it in on its side.

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With that figured out, we next needed to prepare for Holly’s arrival. The promised food and beer were easy. The parade was the fun part.

Since there were only two of us (Drew and I) to host an entire parade, we decided to make her a banner with streamers, attach it to thin wood boards, and run over her car with it when she arrived. I wish I had pictures of her face when she saw it. It was priceless. Unfortunately we were too busy cheering like idiots to have a camera out.

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So we rolled the half barrel out of her car and up the stairs into the shop. It wreaked of cognac, which was pretty entertaining. Right after we got the barrel inside I went out to the car for a minute, and when I came back the smell was overwhelming. I love our barrel already.

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So now it’s time to work on the barrel and figure out how to fit it into place. It will be a while before we get to this, because we still need to finish the floor and work on plumbing.

Thanks Holly!!

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