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I was gifted a small barrel, maybe a half gallon (guessing) in volume, pictured below.

enter image description here

I let it sit for too long, I guess, and now there are gaps between all the staves. I read somewhere that you just have to soak it to get the slats to swell, so I tried that -- but the hole didn't seal up, and it still leaks. I've since let it dry out again.

Is there anything I can do to restore it and get it to seal again? I'm not that concerned with aesthetics, so I've considered trying to squeeze epoxy or wood glue into the gaps.

Failing that, I guess I could take all the hoops off, plane or sand the edges of each stave so they fit snugly, and put it back together. I have no idea how or where to find or make replacement hoops, though, as I assume the existing ones would be too small once I remove material from the staves.

So my question is:

  1. Can it be repaired or restored without disassembling in a way where it'll still be suitable for aging some whiskey in it?
  2. If I need to disassemble it to restore it, what materials or tools will I need, and what's a good place to get them?
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    I would suggest you get a hold of a Cooperage for advise. barrelbuilders.com/shop-services – Alaska Man Aug 9 at 19:32
  • Knock the barrel bands lower. They're a fixed circumference so the lower they are seated the greater the squeezing force they apply. If this doesn't close up the gaps there's a chance that, as legit as this looks, this isn't actually a barrel but instead a BSO — barrel-shaped object. – Graphus Aug 11 at 5:49
  • That's a pretty cool little barrel. The question I have is: Did it ever seal up water-tight, or are you chasing something that never was? Was it originally full of whiskey? – Greg Nickoloff Aug 11 at 18:44
  • Could you add more detail about your process for soaking it? Asking b/c I was given a 3.5gal bourbon barrel and had the same issue initially, but soaking it for days fully submerged fixed it - my initial soak just wasn't thorough or long enough... – AKA Aug 13 at 13:38
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    @Dathan Did you question your housemates? Maybe it didn't evaporate or leak ;) – Greg Nickoloff Aug 14 at 15:35
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Take it outside and fill with water. It will leak, so you will have to fill it up a few times. It would take a few days, just sprinkling some water will not work. If it still leaks after a 4-3 days a stave has to be replaced (could be rotten or a deep splinter). There's a way to fix a some leaks with a dry typha leave, but it's very improbable that you will find it and all the tools needed for this operation.

If soaking works, please be reminded that once it's completely dry it will leak again and that a few dry-soak cycles may damage the barrel up to the point of replacing many (or all) staves. In other words keep it full with water, whiskey or wine, make sure it's clean, almost sterile inside before putting anything or it will get spoiled.

If you will disassemble it - 99.9% you won't put it back. It requires a considerable skill (e.g. staves have a compound angle along a curved profile and it has to match perfectly with the adjacent one, repeat x number of staves), a lot of experience and physical strength and a set of tools you probably won't find around. Epoxy and glue works only if you want it as a decoration. But I think a good soak would fix your problem, because it doesn't look damaged from the photo.

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