Original #1: The story behind the beer cannon

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Blog entry by JohnInHadley posted 01-21-2013 11:00 AM 1775 reads 0 times favorited 2 comments Add to Favorites Watch
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As my opening post, I think it important to thank Steve Ramsey over at for making hobbies fun again. Aside from the honest and clean entertainment value of Steve’s Friday videos, I find his message to be inspiring. I feel good about going out to the garage and making useless crafts of dubious quality instead working on improving the house. He has reminded me that I must improve myself before I can improve the world. And that I improve the world by improving myself. Steve brings a smile to nearly everyone who views his videos. And that makes the world a better place. Sharing ourselves. That is what it is about. And so now I share. Thank you Steve. And on to the beer cannon.

Steve posted some photos of a project I worked on just before Christmas
But the lack of the story leaves the photos a bit wanting. The story actually begins about 10 years ago when I sprung for an expensive new lathe from central machinery. Having dropped 65 bucks on it, I felt obligated to buy the quality tooling to match so I also bought some new lathe chisels from a traveling tool show for $8.99. Now I didn’t go spend all that money for no reason. The house needed fixing up and I thought some nice turned railings on the front porch would be fitting. I wasn’t imagining that I would just go out, buy some tools and turn a masterpiece. I knew that I’d have to practice for an hour or two first. So I pull some branches from the brush pile I was about to burn, cut them down to a good size for the lathe and spun up the first one. Now Steve will tell you over and over that woodworking is a continuous learning process. And I agree as that is when I learned you really can splot an ant on the ceiling – it just takes 1500 RPM. A few gallons of pesticide later and I am practicing again. The wood was fairly rotted but I tried practicing those curves on the ends that I needed for the porch anyway. After the second piece I sort of gave up on the porch idea, but playing with the lathe certainly was fun up until it broke a few hours later.

Some years later, I needed to get rid of left over paint from a Barbie-themed project. The local dump wouldn’t take it unless is was dry and hardened. So back at the house, I saw the two turnings that used to be an ant farm and began dipping them in the paint buckets to use up the paint. Several dippings later Steve is yet again proved correct in that there is always something new to learn. In this case, I learned that when you mix all the Barbie colors together that you get a puke-like purple. And that it is easier to just kick the cans over on some rotted plywood than to try to use it up by dipping rotted tree limbs.

A few years after that, my younger brother came down for a visit. He noticed the lathe and said it would be cool to make cannon barrels with it. Remembering the two ant infested, paint dipped tree branches, I told him I already had. I couldn’t locate them to show him, but that isn’t unusual in my messy world of projects and expensive tools needing repair. But I did eventually find them again – on the day I moved from that house. I found the two branches as I was loading for the very last trip out of town. Tossing puke-purple things into the woods didn’t seem neighborly, and I had already made the last trip to the dump, so I tossed them on the truck and drove 800 miles to the new home.

We fast forward to summer 2012 and I am doing projects with my daughters, one of which involves painting lawn furniture with Rustoleum <picture>. As I am about to put away the black Rustoleum, I decide to take a walk around the house and touch up a few things – house number, horseshoes over the garage door, and then I spot those two purple ant farms and say to myself, why not. The transformation was magical. They suddenly looked like cannon barrels retrieved from some distant civil war cemetery and restored as best one can revive the honor, loyalty and heroism that is buried in scores of years of rust and tarnish. Stunned by the outcome, I carefully stored them to dry, not exactly knowing what I would do with them.

Thanksgiving 2012 at my brothers house. The annoying females start the secret Santa thing. Now I am definitely a Christmas person. I put lights on the house, in my office, even on my car and just about anywhere else I can think of. I even have a 6 foot nutcracker outside my front door (I’ll post that project too.) But I really hate this secret Santa thing as it just doesn’t have a Christmassy feel to it. You wind up pulling the names of people you barely know and so you give them something entirely inappropriate or gift cards to places they never shop. I decide enough is enough and I demand that I want my brothers name or I am not playing along. Woe and behold, I get my brothers name. And I know what I am giving him.

If you live in a house in the north east, there is a lot of preparation you need do before winter sets in. And being a Christmas person, there is that extra load of the usual plus the special project that one must complete in time for the beginning of the Advent. So finding time to work on the cannon build was difficult and I was really having a problem deciding on the base. I was thinking fortress style since building wagon wheels seemed a bit beyond my skill set. But the solution, hanging on the fence in my yard, came from a trip to the town dump earlier in the year. There are these decorative wagons that have metal wagon wheels and the skimpiest of frames. You might see them at a craft store or such like places. This one had no wood left on it, was rusty as all heck, but he wheels seemed in good shape and I just can’t pass up wheels <picture>. Given the civil war feeling of the barrels, a cavalry style cannon seemed proper. I cut the sides from 3/4 oak plywood. I used a 1 inch dowel right through the cannon barrel, a 3/8 dowel for the axle, and a 1/8 barbecue skewer for the axle pins. The paint is Behr exterior in samples from Home Depot that was left over from the nutcracker project (except the barrels which, as previously mentioned, were done with Rustoleum.)
And finally, I had to package it for the annoying females secret Santa thing. Being a tad longer than two feet, I couldn’t find a good box. So rather than packaging it nicely, I went in the other direction. I used a hammer to carefully whack two precision holes in the end of the box and then used duct tape to tape on a plastic cup over one and a paper cup over the other. Then in a really bad handwriting I wrote, “from secret Santa”. As an added bonus to be over-looked, I made a ribbon out of black walnut shavings. (I’ll probably write about that in another post as this is long enough already.)

And so what does all this have to do with a beer cannon? Well, that’s the sharing part of Steve’s inspiration.

I thought this came out really well, wasn’t that hard to do, and I felt it would be a great project to share with Steve so he can share with others. Then I realized that not everyone has a set of steel wheels hanging on the fence. After giving it some thought I reverted to the original idea of going with a fortress style cannon. I used a hole saw for the wheels, 3/4 plywood for the base, and dowels for the axles.

The problem that I ran into was that I couldn’t find a tree branch to turn a new barrel. And I wanted to get something over to Steve in time for folks who need to make a few last minute gifts for the holidays. Being a Mere Mortal, I am pondering the dilemma over a beer when the solution presents itself. I dropped a beer on top and took a picture.

Being of Christmas spirit(s) and occasionally entertaining lesser mortals (you know, wine drinkers) I took another picture with a wine bottle on top. And it being a cannon, I felt obligated to have at least one photo with a cannon barrel, which I borrowed from the gift to my brother.

Hence the beer cannon. I think it makes a better project as a beer cannon as it allows it to be personalized for an individual. You can size it to a particular bottle and even transfer a bottle label to the side and give both bottle and base as a gift. I can even see someone hiding a pair of wine or shot glasses inside it as well. Or you can spin up some ant infested logs and just make a nice display.

I hope you all had a Merry Christmas,
John in Hadley

2 comments so far

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19596 posts in 2638 days

#1 posted 01-21-2013 12:08 PM

That was a very entertaining read. A nice story of serendipity!!!

Nice job on both the “antique” & beer cannons.

One question; Where are the cannon balls???

-- Randy-- I may not be good...but I am slow! If good things come to those who wait.... Why is procrastination a bad thing?

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22 posts in 1957 days

#2 posted 01-21-2013 03:22 PM

Thanks Randy. My brother asked the same question. The answer is, I need save something to give for his birthday. Right?
John in Hadley

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