From the Middle Ages onward it was customary to store food and drink in barrels of various sorts, which led to the fact that
coopers formed a very large occupational group for centuries. Up to 1930 there was a great demand for barrels and the occupation
was common in Norway. However, new packaging methods caused the usage of barrels, and hence the number of skilled craftsmen,
to fall sharply. Most of the barrel making plants were closed down in the 1960s, and the art of barrel making was omitted
from apprenticeship schemes.
In the far north of Europe, where wine is not produced and barrels or casks no longer made for the beer and fisheries industries,
there are few coopers left. In Norway the only certified coopers still active in their trade are employed by Arcus. Arcus
has at its disposal over 8,500 old sherry barrels that are used for the storage and maturing of aquavit. Further, there is
a considerable number of large oak casks with a capacity of 7,000 litres of spirit. There is a big demand for the maintenance
and restoring of miscellaneous barrels and casks. Accordingly, Arcus took the initiative to have the specialist craft re-introduced
in the mid-1990s.
A cooper must be capable of selecting the appropriate materials, preparing and working the materials for barrel staves and
shaping them in a stave jig. The staves are adapted and fitted, and then tightened, where necessary, with river reed for example.
The barrel hoops are then hammered into place with a large mallet.
In Norway there is an educational program available for this craft, consisting of a 2-year course at college and a 2-year
placement scheme. Currently, Arcus has three skilled coopers at work.