We have found the following methods to be the most effective way to swell an oak barrel prior to filling:
1. hOT water method
a. Fill the oak barrel with 1/10th its volume in hot water (175° - 180° Fahrenheit is ideal).
b. Insert the bung and roll the barrel back a forth so that the water comes in contact with all of the interior surfaces.
c. Next, stand the barrel on its end and fill the head area (on the outside of the barrel) with hot water and let stand for 15 minutes.
d. Repeat this step on the other end of the barrel.
e. Drain the barrel completely and allow to cool.
f. Fill the barrel with cool water to test for a proper seal. If the barrel seeps slightly, leave the water in the barrel until it seals itself.
2. Cold Water Soak Method 1
a. Fill the barrel 1/3 full of cold water and let it stand for 3 – 4 hours.
b. Next, fill the barrel to 2/3 full and let it stand for another 3 – 4 hours.
c. Finally, fill the barrel and keep it full until the barrel stops seeping and seals itself.
d. This process can take up to 2 – 5 days.
e. Once the barrel is sealed, release the bung and allow to drain completely.
3. Cold Water Soak Method 2
a. Fill the barrel 1/3 full of cold water and let stand on one head for 12 hours.
b. Flip barrel onto its opposite head and let stand for an additional 12 hours.
c. Empty the barrel.
d. Rinse out the barrel with fresh water and allow to drain completely.
4. Steam Method
a. Using a steam generator, fill the barrel with steam at approximately 212° Fahrenheit for approximately 10 minutes or until hoops and staves are tight.
b. Allow the barrel to cool and fill with cold water and inspect for any leaks.
c. If the barrel seeps slightly, leave water in the barrel until it seals itself.
Note: Whichever method you use to swell your barrel, you should never leave the same water in the barrel for more than 2 days. If the soaking period exceeds 2 days, drain the barrel and refill it with fresh water. This is to prevent bacteria and microbes that may begin to form in your barrel.
If swelling the barrel does not completely seal the barrel, some repairs will need to be made. If you find a leak, mark the area with chalk so you can focus on it later. Make sure each barrel is drained and dry on the surface before attempting the following solutions.
a. Barrel Sealant or Wax - Melt directly and drip into the problem area. Alternatively, you can try and work the wax into the problem area by hand.
b. Paraffin Wax - This type of wax is commonly sold at grocery stores and craft stores. This wax is usually stiffer and flakier than barrel wax so always heat prior to application. Melt the wax directly and drip into the problem area.
c. DIY Pastes - The past is made by mixing a 1 to 4 ratio of distilled water and unbleached flour. The desired consistency is similar to a thick drywall paste. Work the paste into the problem area. Once applied, using a blow torch or heat source, lightly go over the mixture to cure and seal it in place.
d. Food Service Caulk/Sealant - There are many sealants that are designated as food grade and used on dishwashers, walk-in coolers, and salad bars. Look for 100% silicone compounds which are sold at most hardware stores. Apply silicone directly into the problem area.
e. Blowtorch - Depending on the sugar content of the product stored in your barrel, you can apply a blowtorch to small leaks. This caramelizes the sugars and seals the defect.
a. Force it - Use a mallet or hammer to tap leaky staves or shift the hoops to tighten the barrel.
b. Barrel Wedges - Once the leak is identified, scrape the area around it to see exactly where the wet area/leak is. Using a chisel and a hammer, make an indentation into the leak. Hammer the wedge into the indentation until tight.