Life in a Dol house
2018  -  Week 18

Roll out the barrel

Doesn't time fly when you are enjoying yourself! 

We've had a holiday week this week. 

May Day is celebrated throughout Europe and because it fell on a Tuesday, Monday was a school holiday and a lot of people took the day off. Combine it with the weekend and you have the recipe for a party or three. 

But I'm getting ahead of myself....

Having brought my motorcycle back from the UK after it was stolen and subsequently recovered, I have been going over it, to see what needs to be replaced. 

Not knowing what has happened to it whilst it was out of my control, I am concerned about its mechanicals and decided I would change the engine oil and flush the lubrication system at the same time. 

From the documents I have, it seems to have done only 90 miles since 2013, but there are a couple of thousand miles adrift between the last MOT certificate I can find of mine, from when I last used it and the 2013 MOT. 

Sunday, being a quiet day, I decided I would do it, in the comfort of the courtyard.

As soon as I opened the sump drain, the colour of the oil concerned me, a greasy greenish grey, very cloudy and as I held the collection bottle up to the sun, I could see debris in the oil. Not a good sign, and my justification for changing it.

When I removed the sump plug, the wire gauze filter that is attached was fractured, at which point I gave up on the idea of changing the oil. 

There is no earthly point in doing it until I have a replacement filter, which I ordered from eBay. 

I did a couple of other small jobs and had a look at the wiring.

​Because the original wiring had power for things like the radio, lights and horns, some of it has been left in place, and some cut off. 

Whilst the outside looks very nice, where things are out of sight, they have been bodged. Looks like a case of "out of sight - out of mind". 

There is a standard guide for automotive wiring (at least in Europe there is) which helps and even as far back as the 1960's when the bike was built, Triumph were using the same colours. 

I know how to read circuit block diagrams, but only the basic diagrams are available from 50 years ago, so I am drawing up my own.

Most of the nuts and bolts are Whitworth thread

This is a standard for nuts and bolts which was developed and in use by 1850 in the British Empire, but was superseded by the introduction of Metric threads in the early 1970's. 

It means you need a completely different set of spanners and sockets. When you don't have the right tools, this is the result.

I had difficulty removing one drive bolt because the securing nut had been rounded. The metal being soft, when attacked by a modern hardened steel metric socket, it is rounded. There is not sufficient metal left to even try and square the faces with a file. 

Who ever did it, would have known that they had damaged the hexagonal head. That well known  British company, Bodge it, Dodge it and Scarper comes to mind again! 

I have taken the opportunity to order a number of small things I need I need to replace, all at the same time. They will come out in the next box from the UK.

I've started one of those jobs that has been hanging around for a long time, but has never made it onto the "to do" list. 

Repairing an old wooden wine cask. 

When you move into a somewhere which has been lived in before you, it is sometimes fun to see what the previous owners have left behind. 

Accepting that occasionally, there will be some unpleasant surprises, there will also be the odd find. 

In one of my Konobas I found that there were two half barrels tucked away in a very dark corner.

​In times past these would have been used in the wine making process. 

The colour of the wooden staves attests to the wood having been soaked and the tannin from the grape juice seeping into and colouring the wood. 

I have wanted somewhere to grow strawberries, and this week I have been re purposing one of these old barrels.

Wood expands and contracts with the amount of moisture in the atmosphere, and with the heat of summer, so the largest and best preserved of the two has some staves which have become displaced due to the atmospheric conditions and the length of time it has been left unused.

This will be a permanent home for strawberries, so I want to preserve it as best I can for the future. 

The ancient skill of Cooperage requires red hot bands of steel to be dropped over the wooden staves. The heat makes the metal band expand. The moment it is cooled with water, it shrinks and locks the staves in place making the barrel liquid tight. 

There are many YouTube videos on the craft of cooperage.

Barrel making was once widespread, but with advent of stainless steel vats, now it is almost a lost art. 

In Croatia many barrels, of different sizes, were made oval instead of round.

They can be found being used now as garden sheds and summer houses, complete with electric lighting.

Together it was the fusion of the skill of the carpenter/stave maker and the blacksmith which produced my half rounds. 

There is a whole language around Cooperage.

Wine making has always - to put a timescale on always I mean since 350 BC - been an important endeavour here on the island. Ever since the ancient Greeks brought vines and olives when they arrived an settled here, some 2,400 years ago.

At the end of the 19th century, around the time that many of the buildings in Dol were erected, this was following the boom period for wine makers in the region after the near total collapse of the French wine industry

In the mid 1800's, American vines were imported into France, however bio security was an unknown concept and with the vines came Phylloxeria, an aphid which injects venom into the root system and kills the vine.

But for some reason, the vines in this part of Croatia were unaffected, and hence with 50% or more of the traditional wine growing areas of Europe laid waste, growers and wine makers made considerable sums of money. 

This fuelled a development spurt, with many substantial buildings erected and existing buildings extended. At the time, this island was part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire.

These half barrels were locally made of shaped wooden staves, held together by bands of steel, joined with rough steel rivets. Coopering is the name for the trade of barrel maker and not only was it a skilled occupation, but because of the need for storage of wine and olives, it was an occupation that was in demand. 

When I bought my home, even though the wood is stained by the tannins from the grapes and the barrels have been empty for many years, it still breathes, meaning that in summer as the wooden staves dry, they shrink, and in winter when there is higher humidity, they expand as they absorb the moisture. This has meant that one barrel fell apart as the steel hoops fell off when the wood shrunk, and this second one I have held together with clamps, to stop the same thing happening, until I could repair it.

​With two hoops removed, I cleaned the worst of the rust off with a wire brush then using a Power File, wearing out 5 bands, I cleaned the surface of the steel down to bare metal, or as bare and as clean as I could get it.

This was immediately given two coats of a zinc rust proofer.

The next job was to paint the steel hoops with Hammerite. I left them to cure in the warm air of the courtyard for a couple of days, before fitting one to the barrel, drilling it and using stainless steel screws to secure it to the wooden staves.

Wood absorbs moisture, even seasoned hardwood staves made to make barrels, and as the heat of early summer has arrived, so the staves have dried out and contracted. 

Not what you want or need when repairing barrels! 

So with rain forecast for Thursday and Friday, I put the larger of the hoops around the barrel and bouled it out onto the garden path, so it could get a good soaking, far more than I could do with a hosepipe, hoping that it would absorb some of the moisture and expand, closing the gaps between the staves - which it did.

Dropping hoops over a dry barrel, then wetting it or steaming it, is a standard technique, but rain works too and I was able to fix the hoops in place with stainless steel screws. 

I then removed the top chime hoop for refurbishment and a good clean and but the bottom chime hoop was solidly fixed in place, so I cleaned it in situ.

​It was at this point that things started to go wrong. 

My Black and Decker power file started to throw the bands and when I examined it, the bearing on the end roller had collapsed. It is another of those really useful tools that I have had for around 30 years.

But a search on eBay located one, at a very reasonable price, so I bought it for spares. I could have ordered a new model, at three times the price, but I figure that a duplicate for spares will last me a good few years. 

Without the powerfile, I had to finish off the rust cleaning by hand. 

None of this is especially quick, especially letting paint dry thoroughly between coats, but I am well on with the job.

The top chime I think I will leave until the replacement Power File arrives. 

In the meantime, I will be painting the wood with a preservative, so it will withstand staying outside, all year round.

Another job this week has been painting the walls of the old cottage. 

The whole building was rendered last year during the building work but the first job was to seal the render.

I mixed up some Chromos Poliflor sealant and then spent a day covering the outside walls. After being left overnight to dry, I was able then to paint the walls with Jotun exterior paint.

The coverage was OK, but I think I may need to go over the whole building again with another coat, as in places you can see where I have overlapped edges while I was painting. I am generally happy with the result though.

With the arrival of the summer temperatures, I have been up on the roof, installing the full cover for the solar water heating pipes.

Two thirds of the pipes are now covered, which means that the water is no longer boiling and expanding, causing the safety valve to lift. 

What I have done this year though, is to fix plastic corners on the insulation sheets, so that the securing wires do not cut into the edges. My attempt last year to use ratchet fasteners to make the fixing and removal quick failed, because the UV radiation in the summer sun here completely rotted the straps, leaving just some strong threads and the metal fittings.

​I did have lots of help and advice about how to use the hot glue gun, while work was in progress!