Cooper’s Tools

shaving horse
Shaving horse owned by Clemens DeTalleur. MCHS object 1964-003-0001.

A shaving horse served as a combination workbench and pedal-operated vise for woodworking. The foot lever moves the clamp block to secure a pieces of wood for shaping with a drawknife. The owner of this bench, Clemens DeTalleur, probably used it to make shingles for outbuildings on his farm in Marine. Coopers also used shaving benches to shape the staves for a barrel. After riving the staves from a plank with a froe, the cooper sat at the shaving horse and used his drawknife to shape the staves.

froe and drawknife
Left: Froe (owner unknown), MCHS object 1964-003-0003. Right: Cooper’s drawknife owned by William Sido, MCHS object 2018-034-0006.

Next he jointed the staves on a cooper’s jointer, a long wooden plane set on legs, to ensure a tight fit along the edges. The shaped staves were set on end in an adjustable truss hoop. The cooper bent the free ends of the staves together using a windlass. After achieving the barrel shape, he secured the staves by placing hoops over the top and hammering them into place with a mallet.

The cooper trimmed the free ends of the staves with a hand adz and then smoothed and beveled them using his sun plane and howel.

Cooper’s adz owned by William Sido, MCHS object 2018-034-0003.

Next the cooper cut grooves for receiving the barrel heads were cut with a kerfing saw and croze. He cut and fit the barrel heads. Finally, he drilled and reamed a bunghole in the top and a spyhole in the side with a T-handle auger and made tapered plugs for the holes.

Auger owned by William Sido, MCHS object 2018-034-0004.

People used barrels to store flour, corn meal, molasses, cider, and beer. Coopers also made buckets, washtubs, pails, churns, and gunpowder kegs. The tools featured above belonged to William Sido. He learned the cooper trade from his father, Franz.

Franz Sido immigrated to the United States in 1825 and settled in Belleville. He moved his family to Edwardsville in 1853. There Franz worked at the newly established Ritter Distillery on Cahokia Creek. William Sido and his brother Frederick both became coopers like their father. William and his wife Margaretha (née Holdenritter) raised ten children in Edwardsville.

illustration of coopers
Illustration of coopers at work from The Growth of Industrial Art.


  • Butterworth, Benjamin, arr. The Growth of Industrial Art. Washington: Government Printing Office, 1892. Accessed July 26, 2018.
  • Edwardsville Intelligencer. Madison County centennial edition. 1912. Available at the Madison County Archival Library.
  • Find A Grave. Accessed August 1, 2018.
  • Kalman, Bobbie. Colonial Crafts. New York: Crabtree Publishing Company, 1992. Available at the Madison County Archival Library.
  • Madden, Betty I. Art, Crafts, and Architecture in Early Illinois. Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1974. Available at the Madison County Archival Library.
  • Sloane, Eric. A Museum of Early American Tools. New York: Ballatine Books, 1964. Available at the Madison County Archival Library.
  • Tunis, Edwin. Colonial Craftsmen and the Beginnings of American Industry. New York: Thomas Y. Crowell Company, 1965. Available at the Madison County Archival Library.
  • United States census records.
  • Weber, Austin. “Roll Out the Barrels.” Assembly, May 1, 2004. Accessed August 1, 2018.