From Planters to Wall Art: 7 Cool Uses for Wooden Whiskey Barrels

Repurposing wooden whiskey barrels for use in your home or garden is not only a great way to upcycle, but these projects hit the DIY trifecta: useful, beautiful and unique.

Whiskey barrels and wine barrels are not the same thing. Whiskey barrels typically hold 53 gallons (200 liters) of liquid, while wine barrels will vary in size. If you’re collecting whiskey barrels for a home and garden project, this uniformity is good news; if you secure barrels from a variety of sources, you can be confident that they will be a standard size.

While whiskey barrels are nearly always made of oak, wine barrels could be made of oak, maple, hickory or walnut. Each specific type of wood helps winemakers impart a specific flavor. And, unlike wine barrels, the wood that comprises whiskey barrels is often charred on the interior of the barrel. When the wood is burned, it builds up a layer of charcoal. This charcoal inside the barrel essentially becomes a filter that removes impurities from the batch of whiskey stored inside of it.

Whiskey barrels, both half-barrels and full-size barrels, can be purchased from many sources, including specialty barrel distributors and most big box home improvement and garden stores.

Here are seven great uses for whiskey barrels:

1. Whiskey Barrel Garden Pond

There’s nothing like a water feature to add interest to a garden — and making one in the form of a whiskey barrel-turned-container-pond is one of the most satisfying ways to do it. Container ponds are an ideal way to attract birds and are the perfect spot for a few aquatic plants.

To make a whiskey barrel into a container pond for your garden, find a used whiskey barrel that’s already been cut in half. Alternatively, source a full-size whiskey barrel and have it cut in half.

The barrels are usually already sealed (they were built to hold whiskey, after all), but if the barrel has sat empty for some time and deteriorated, add a thick plastic lining to prevent leaks. From there, eitherwait for the whiskey barrel to fill with rainwater or use a garden hose to top it off. Add a few oxygenating water plants, such as hornwort or spiked water-milfoil, and you’ll find the water will stay filtered without having to install a water pump. Most whiskey barrel garden ponds are low maintenance and will last for years, adding beauty to any outdoor space.

2. Whiskey Barrel Lazy Susan

Transforming a whiskey barrel into a lazy Susan is one way to put your recycling skills to use. Plus, the top of a whiskey barrel is exactly the right shape and dimension for a lazy Susan, which is a round disc that rotates on a set of bearings located underneath. The hardware kits to transform a round piece of wood into a lazy Susan are readily available, and by cutting off the top of a whiskey barrel, you can complete the project. The end result will be a beautiful and practical serving tray that can double as storage.

3. Whiskey Barrels as Wall Decor

Whiskey barrels don’t need to stay intact to be useful. In fact, dismantling whiskey barrels into 6,000 different pieces was the inspiration behind the design of the Laizhou Bar, which serves whiskey from its namesake distillery, in Shanghai, China. The space, designed by Roomoo Design Studio features recycled whiskey barrels that were taken apart and then classified according to the length, width, grain and curvature of each piece. Then the designers installed the grouped pieces in various parts of the bar, ranging from the façade to the ceiling dome to the entrance to the tasting area. The effect is not only visually stunning but is in keeping with the distillery’s environmentally friendly production methods.

If you’d like to tackle similar design work with dismantled whiskey barrels, consider using old barrel tops to create abstract wall art or tacking individual whiskey barrel boards to a wall. When placed horizontally on a wall, the wood planks that form the sides of a whiskey barrel (known as whiskey staves) create a unique woven look that will serve not only as decoration, but as a conversation piece as well.

4. Whiskey Barrel Trash Can

Corral the garbage at your next cookout by transforming a whiskey barrel into a trash can. A gorgeous oak whiskey barrel is a charming way to keep trash at bay and — even better — is one of those “done in a day” projects that pays off for years to come.

Start by finding an empty whiskey barrel and applying waterproof sealer to the exterior. From there, you’ll want to cut the top and add a hinge so that it is easily opened for trash disposal. You could add a custom-cut false bottom to make trash removal easier, and don’t forget to line it with a heavy-duty trash bag.

5. Whiskey Barrel End Table

If you like the rustic look of a whiskey barrel and are looking for some front porch inspiration, then creating a whiskey barrel patio table or an end table to use next to a sofa is an easy project that will spruce up your space in no time.

For starters, all you need is a whiskey barrel that has been cut in half horizontally. Either the top half of the barrel or the bottom half of the barrel will work as a petite patio table. Simply turn the half-barrel so that the solid end is upward and the opening is resting on the porch, deck or patio. And that’s it! You’ve just created a patio table that can be used as a place to set cold drinks or summer plants.

6. Swap Whiskey for Rain

Once a whiskey barrel has been emptied of its spirits, it’s ready for a new lease on life. And what better way to upcycle a whiskey barrel than with rainwater? With their stately oak planks held in place by rustic hoops, whiskey barrels are not only a practical way to collect and store rain water, but they are beautiful as well.

If the whiskey barrel you are using is relatively new, it is most likely still watertight. However, if the barrel has been out of use for a significant period of time, test it first for leaks. Minor leaks can be repaired by adjusting the hoops or filling in gaps with wax or wood shims. The whiskey barrel will need to be positioned so that a gutter flows into the top, and there are conversion kits that come with spigots, drains and covers.

Once the whiskey barrel is operational as rain storage, you’ll have gallons of water for watering plants, filling birdbaths — or topping off the container pond you make from a half-size whiskey barrel.

7. Whiskey Barrel Coffee Table

Transforming a used whiskey barrel into a coffee table definitely takes some woodworking expertise, but with the right tools and materials, the end result is sure to be a show-stopper.

In general,to make a coffee table from a whiskey barrel, clean the barrel and cut it in half vertically. Then, attach it to a base and top with a hinged wood slab. Full instructions can be found here. The interior can be used for storage, or in some cases, it could be sealed and used as a clever cooler for drinks.

Did you know that oak whiskey barrels aren’t “one and done”? If properly made and cared for, an oak whiskey barrel can be used to age spirits for more than a century.

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