How Kywhiskeybarrelgoods Went From Welding To Barrel Furniture-Making
By Richard Thomas
The bourbon boom has brought with it more than just sales of bottles filled with amber liquor made by the giants of the whiskey trade, even beyond the burgeoning micro-distillery movement. For example, the micro-distillers have stimulated the emergence of several new still-makers, as well as those engaged in making accessories such as glassware.
Another growing side-sector is that of the barrel furniture maker, with workshops springing up all over the country. Yet nowhere does the idea of having a side table made from staves and a barrel head than Kentucky, and that is where Cody Angel mastered carpentry and turned it into a small business.
“I started KyWhiskeyBarrelGoods three years ago,” said Angel, who had a handy background as a welder, but no formal training in carpentry or furniture-making. His first barrel job was a straightforward task, refinishing a pair of Buffalo Trace barrels as an odd job. The barrels regrettably found themselves as legs for a crackle pink table, but Angel loved working with the old bourbon barrels and wanted to work with them some more.
“I had tons of plans in my head and my girlfriend Lindsay,” explained Angel, “and I searched for barrels online. That month we had an extra paycheck and purchased our first barrel. We did not own a single tool. We bought some here and there.”
The furniture-making skills took time to master, even with Angel’s practical base of skills. “The first table was a coffee table, and it took about three months to build. I can now build two in one day. I left the vet clinic last year and build furniture full time.”
From those initial projects, Angel’s KyWhiskeyBarrelGoods has taken off, with customers both big and small, and spread about the country. Last summer he fabricated 22 tables for the Commonwealth Stadium renovation, and earlier this year he delivered a four-piece set to an upscale barber shop in New Orleans.
As for his designs, Angel said “My original designs have been some of our most popular, but they certainly weren’t all my ideas. The best ones come from customers. A customer who was ordering a coffee table asked if I could add a barrel head instead of the stave cross members to create a shelf on the table. We have sold more of that table than anything else on our shop.”
The business of building furniture from old bourbon barrels is not without its hiccups, however. Whereas once there were plenty of barrels to go around, and people in Kentucky could often acquire them cheaply to use as planters, now they are pricey commodities, and this despite the bourbon industry releasing hundreds of thousands of barrels each year.
“Shortly after we got started there was a big increase in what we paid for barrels,” said Angel. “We often pay three times what we paid for our first barrel. Most of the major distilleries have their barrels under contract, and many of them are shipped overseas or sold to craft breweries. The order we did for the University of Kentucky opened lots of doors for us as well. We made lots of great contacts with distilleries when we reached out to them for the order.