Repurposed wine barrels raise money for group

Friends of the Carpenter turns them into furniture

By Tom Vogt, Columbian science, military & history reporter

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Wine Barrel Furniture

Friends of the Carpenter church makes chairs and tables out of old wine barrels.

Friends of the Carpenter church makes chairs and tables out of old wine barrels.

In a Vancouver workshop, Craig Cluff is creating some brand-new furniture with a vintage twist.

His wood is salvaged from old wine barrels.

Cluff volunteers at Friends of the Carpenter, a local nonprofit that is partnering with Confluence Winery on a fundraising project.

Greg and Jae Webber, who own the Ridgefield winery, have headed the effort to donate about 75 used barrels to Friends of the Carpenter.

Cluff, the lead woodworker on the project, is turning individual staves into chairs and using the round barrel ends for table tops. The white oak wood comes prestained — on the inside of the staves, anyway — in a light purple.

“It’s been stained by several thousands of dollars worth of wine,” said Duane Sich, executive director of Friends of the Carpenter.

Proceeds from the wine barrels will help the ministry assist a clientele that includes homeless people and recovering alcoholics.

To which Sich says: “Isn’t that ironic?”

After taking the barrels apart, Cluff has some work to do before he can turn the staves into furniture. Because of the geometry of a barrel — “Lots of curves and radiuses,” he said — the staves are curved as well as tapered, or slightly wider in the middle, and the edges aren’t quite square.

He slices each stave into two matching pieces of wood, each just over an inch wide, and uses a router to smooth the sharp edges.

One barrel can produce about 2½ chairs, Cluff said.

Cluff is one of many volunteers who use the shop to turn donated materials into woodworking artistry. Some people mistakenly think the agency trains homeless people to be woodworkers.

The nonprofit helps people with day-to-day needs, particularly things that might help in employment. A recent donation will help a man buy a permit to harvest mushrooms. The Friends also helped a man buy a car so he could get to work.

Cluff said he brings 29 years of professional experience to his volunteer work. He worked for an architectural company that specialized in performing arts centers.

He spent more than a year in New York City, Cluff said, remodeling the performing arts center at The Juilliard School.

He is looking to expand his product line beyond chairs and tables. He sliced the front third off a barrel and used the remaining two-thirds as the basis of a cabinet to store wine bottles and stemware. That design still is a work in progress, he said.

But it’s another wine-related function for old barrels that have outlived their usefulness in winemaking.

Oak barrels help flavor and age the wine, Jae Webber said, but only for a few years.

“The larger wineries, where money is not an issue, use them once,” she said.

A new barrel costs about $1,200, she said, so smaller wineries often buy nearly new barrels from the large-scale operations and get a couple of more years out of them.

Each 58- to 60-gallon barrel holds about 300 bottles of wines, she said.

Eventually, every barrel has to be replaced.

“It’s such beautiful wood,” she said. “To see them cut in half and turned into planters is kind of sad.”

The Webbers are enthusiastic recyclers, Jae said, which includes giving old wine bottles new lives as glassware.

“We’d seen a lot of barrel furniture,” she said, and a mutual acquaintance connected the Webbers with Friends of the Carpenter a few months ago.

The Friends’ wine barrel furniture will be among the craft items for sale this weekend when Confluence Winery holds its second annual “Artists in the Vineyard” event. About a dozen vendors will participate from noon to 6 p.m. Saturday and Sunday, and there also will be wine tastings and entertainment at Confluence Winery, 1911 N.W. 67th Ave. in Ridgefield.

The wine barrel furniture also will be on sale, along with other items created by volunteer woodworkers, when Friends of the Carpenter holds its annual fundraising event on Oct. 8.