How should I treat the inside of my whiskey-barrel planters?
February 25, 2012 2:00 PM   Subscribe

I have two half-whiskey-barrels that I want to use as planters. How can I prevent them from rotting out in a few years?

They came with plastic inserts, but these inserts don't reach all the way to the bottom of barrels so there's a gap of a few inches.

The outside of the barrel (which is oak) has been stained and finished, and I expect I'll need to re-treat it occasionally or just let it weather naturally. The inside of the barrel has been burnt to a more-or-less even layer of charcoal-coating. The barrel will be on an iron stand, 4-5 inches off the ground.

As I want to use these as planters, drainage is a consideration so it's clear that I'll be drilling holes in the plastic insert and the wood.

Even with holes, though, I expect some dampness to accumulate in there.

Am I bean-plating this or is there anything else I can do to prevent the humidity from rotting these things out too quickly? Or just perforate the hell out of the wood so that as little water as possible has a chance to collect?
posted by jquinby to Home & Garden (7 answers total)
Where these really used as whiskey barrels? The charring suggests yes (and will actually serve to make them more durable). White oak is phenomenally rot resistant, while red oak, on the other hand, rots if you look at it funny. If they were really whiskey barrels, they are probably white oak and will last at least a few years with no treatment whatsoever.

If you wanted to to treat them somehow you could apply some sort of poly finish to the inside or treat them with melted paraffin wax, either of which would be pretty inert.
posted by Kid Charlemagne at 2:20 PM on February 25, 2012

I bought them at the Jack Daniels Distillery store, buy they don't smell like they ever contained the real article.

The guides say that the majority of the used barrels get sent abroad (Scotland, mostly) for use by other distillers. If I were a betting man, I'd guess that the ones they sell to the public failed a pressure test or were otherwise considered unsuitable. This'd mean they're white oak, like the rest.

The paraffin is a great idea - I hadn't considered that. Cosmetics don't much matter. I was concerned that the charring would somehow inhibit a spray-on or brushed-on finish (which probably says all you need to know about my woodcraftiness).
posted by jquinby at 2:24 PM on February 25, 2012

Your plan to drill holes for drainage is exactly what I'd do. When I had similar barrels (which I used for outdoor container gardening), there were no issues with rot at all, but when the staves got too dry, they'd shrink enough to allow the hoops to shift and move downward. When I bought the barrels, I was told to water the staves along with the plant, and that this would keep them "plump" enough to hold the hoops in place. When I did that, the barrel stayed in good shape. When I neglected to do it regularly, the hoops shifted and fell. Mine had no coatings and no liner, just an internal char.
posted by quince at 2:34 PM on February 25, 2012

To keep the hoops in place, tack a few nails (3 at least) underneath each band around the staves of the barrel.
posted by wnissen at 4:01 PM on February 25, 2012

I dunno about paraffin. I'd go with tar, myself. Or about nine coats of spray polyurethane (after taking a steel brush to the entire inside).

Problem with paraffin is that it's not very hard, it isn't at all flexible, and it isn't sticky. It would be really easy to dislodge when you're filling it with soil and putting in your plants. Any place on any stave where that happens, you're no longer protected.
posted by Chocolate Pickle at 4:26 PM on February 25, 2012

I bought some water garden inserts (from Lowes) for our 1/2 whiskey barrels. I use one as a water garden, and drilled drainage holes in the other for annual plantings. Been that way for 10 years (and the barrels are way older than that) and there's no noticeable rot in either.
We're in Zone 5 Iowa.
posted by ducktape at 7:47 AM on February 26, 2012

This is all great feedback. Doesn't look like I need to worry too much. Best answers for all!
posted by jquinby at 10:46 AM on February 26, 2012

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