Walk into Norm Pederson's cooper shop, and you'll feel like you've stepped back into the 1850s. Lit by daylight and heated by a woodstove, this mid-19th century building is part of Historic Richmond Town on New York's Staten Island. When not working as one of the island's ferrymen, it is here that Norm plies his craft and educates curious visitors.
Credit: Photo: Michael Springer
Like the farm craftsman he portrays, Norm started making wooden buckets out of necessity: his wife needed them for her role as a laundress in a Civil War re-enactment group. For nearly 15 years now, Norm has been churning out the goods of the white cooper: open-top liquid containers such as buckets, washtubs, scoops known as piggins, and yes, even churns.
Learning cooper's skills came easily to Norm because he grew up using his grandfather's hand tools; his dad did not allow power tools. He makes everything by hand, using tools and technology of the era just before the Civil War. He splits wood with hatchet and froe, crosscuts pieces with antique hand saws, and shapes his staves with drawknife and spokeshave. He finishes his wares with fascinating specialty tools such as the hollowing knife, jointer plane, scorp, croze, sun plane, and even a tool for setting the iron hoops known as a Nantucket driver. When asked how he ended up as the resident cooper of a living history museum, Norm put it simply: "They didn't have anyone who could make buckets, and I didn't have a 19th-century farm shop."