Lee Valley Tools    Woodworking Newsletter
   Vol. 6, Issue 3
   January 2012
   What Is It?

What Is It?

For some, it is almost unbelievable that until 1910 the majority of goods were transported in wooden containers made by coopers. For instance, until 1887 almost all fresh water on Her Majesty's Ships was carried in wooden barrels. The same applies for grog, sugar, meat, flour and fish. Glass, rubber, paper and most certainly plastic were either too rare, too expensive or had not been invented for use in that manner.

Loose or tight, constructed dry or wet, these containers came in a myriad of sizes and shapes (conical, cylindrical, square, rectangular, sealed or open at one end) to suit the product being shipped; the variations were limited only by the method by which they were being transported. The shape of the common wooden beer or wine barrel provided a reasonable method of moving it by rolling while still maintaining the integrity of the container. One of the largest and most famous barrels is the Heidelberg Tun, which holds more than 58,000 gallons.

By now, the reader has figured out that the mystery tool is associated with the cooperage trade, and most specifically was made for tapping barrels containing liquids such as molasses, beer, turpentine or perhaps even oil. A bung is a tap or faucet that pierces the end or the side of a closed vessel. This particular cast-iron piece is commonly called a bung borer, as it is essentially a device not only used to tap a vessel but also to allow for controlled dispensing of the liquid (less waste equals more profit). The method was to bore a hole into the end of the barrel and, with great haste, jam in the bung. Hence the expressions "all bunged (stopped) up" and the contrary idiom "tapping a keg".
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