Thursday, September 26, 2013

Trash Talk Thursday: No Fret Firkin Stack

Check it out ~ all of my firkin bucket makeovers pictured below were published in the Spring 2012 issue of A Primitive Place Magazine, pages 82 ~ 85!
© copyright 2012
The popularity of vintage mid-century wooden buckets has driven the price out of the ballpark for most collectors, but with a little creative searching and thinking outside the firkin box one can still find affordable methods for growing a stack of these pantry buckets.

Often stacked by graduated sizes, rustic wooden buckets still offer practical storage for seasonal items or household supplies. Most of the wooden buckets circulating nowadays were reproductions of colonial cooper’s buckets, mass produced in the 1950’s – 60’s at the tail end of the colonial revival era. Warehouse décor stores such as Basketville in Putney Vermont were once stocked to the rafters with the inexpensive wooden buckets of various sizes. I've recently put together this big stack of painted firkins for under $50.00, and chances are you can do the same.

Knowing their past uses can be the key to finding affordable vintage buckets through thrift store and online searches. Since many folks have no clue what a firkin is, firkin buckets often go unsold on internet websites or online auctions, or sell for a fraction of what collectors would pay. I’ve found inexpensive firkins online which were listed for sale as popcorn pails, pretzel containers, cheese boxes, planters, magazine racks, Basketville baskets, purses, salt boxes, kitchen canisters, ice cream barrels, piggin’ pails, churns, even beach or toy buckets. The next time you are searching for firkins or buckets to buy online, try entering some different key words and you too might just find some hidden bargains.

Likewise, you can start looking for firkins in all the odd places while browsing through thrift stores and flea market booths. I’ve found firkins mixed in with the vases complete with dusty plastic plants, in the tool department holding greasy nuts & bolts, in the toy department filled with Lego blocks, in the shoe department as a shoe shine kit, in the salt & pepper shakers section, even in the purse department. Below are the makeover stories for most of the wooden buckets pictured in the above stack...
A Pretzel Pail
I found this firkin listed as a Handpainted Wood Pretzel Container for just $9.00 (plus $6.00 shipping) on With wooden finger bands and lid intact, this 'pail' was practically a steal.

After sanding the entire surface to remove all paint & varnish, I dusted the bare wood and applied 2 coats of Federal Blue Old Fashioned Milk Paint. When the paint dried, I distressed the finish by hand sanding with fine grit sandpaper, then dusted the paint powder with a dry rag and sprayed a light coat of clear acrylic spray sealer. Milk paint adheres better to unpainted or stripped bare surfaces and can be a bit tricky to work with, but darkens over time to look authentically older than most latex paints.

A Sweet Deal Cookie Jar
Similar in size to the pretzel container but with metal bands, I found this firkin listed simply as a Vintage Cookie Jar on ebay for only $8.50 including shipping. After lightly sanding off the cookie motif, I used a base coat of flat black, followed by a coat of Moss Green interior flat latex paint. When completely dry, I distressed the paint by sanding with an electric palm sander, then applied Minwax Wood Sheen Rubbing Stain & Finish with a dry rag.

Back On The Wagon Ice Barrel
This larger firkin was found towering over a shelf of shot glasses and barware at a church thrift store, which could be a story in itself but with a price tag labeled BAR ICE BARREL $2.00 it quickly became the next trash to treasure makeover story.

Sometimes vintage buckets come with extras such as metal or plastic embellishments, removable legs with brackets on the bottom, even electrical lamp kits added through the center. As a matter of preference, I like to remove all that and fill in any holes left behind with wood filler, which is what I did with the plastic Eagle on this firkin. Don’t let the spare parts deter you from buying a thrift store bargain bucket, they truly are easy to remove with just a common screwdriver.

The metal bands on this bucket were not in the best of shape and I like the more rustic look of wooden finger bands, so I decided to ‘make’ my own. Metal bucket bands can easily be covered with wooden bands from basket repair splints or scrap baskets, Chinese bamboo steamers, or even strips of rubber carpet cove molding. I used a .99 thrift store bamboo sectional steamer for this particular bucket, by soaking 2 of the sections in warm water for 20 minutes. I removed the steamer’s widest strips, towel dried them, then wrapped them around the metal bands while still damp, nailing the strips directly into the bucket with 7/16" copper tacks (available at Home Depot) and overlapped at the tapered ends. The wide splints from old baskets also work great, simply soak the basket in warm water for 10 minutes, cut and remove some splints to wrap& nail or staple around the bucket. The ends can be tapered by cutting with scissors to resemble finger bands. After applying a flat black base coat, I painted this bucket with Mustard Yellow interior semi-gloss latex, then sanded with an electric finishing sander & rubbed watered down brown acrylic craft paint over the surface for an antiqued look.
Spicy Stack Topper

While browsing through the Salvation Army thrift store one day, I was stunned & amazed to find this set of .59 baby firkins amongst the vintage salt & pepper shakers! Complete with swinging pegged handles and made in USA, I knew these would be the icing on the cake for topping firkin stacks. I discovered they are plentiful on eBay and Etsy, usually listed as salt & pepper or S & P buckets or churns. By simply filling in the shaker holes with wood filler, these tiny 1940’s firkin replicas become unique top of stack buckets. After filling in the spice shaker holes, I painted these little buckets assorted colors and distressed by using a cardboard fingernail file, then sprayed with a light coat of clear acrylic sealer. These also make great ornaments for hanging on a Spring themed tree or wreath.

Magazine Racks Hold Up The Stack


The largest of firkin buckets often had dividers added inside for use as magazine racks or knitting/sewing project holders. Checking out the books and sewing areas of your favorite thrift stores can result in great firkin finds.

I found this huge firkin filled with hunting magazines in the corner of the book section at the local Hospice thrift store, and almost fainted upon peeking at the $4.00 price tag. The volunteer clerk pointed out that there was a similar magazine rack which had been converted into a sewing box that I might be interested in for $3.00, but since it was half-price day on craft supplies I’d be able to buy it for $1.50. Needless to say, I gladly took both of those off her hands and now make a point to check out books & crafts at all thrift stores.
Neither of these large buckets had their original lids, but don’t the lack of lid deter you from buying bargain buckets. A round wooden plate can take the place of missing lids, and work especially well when stacking buckets. I keep a drawer full of thrift store wooden dishes of assorted sizes on hand, they usually only cost pennies, are easy to store, and come in handy for make-do firkin lids. I painted the larger bucket with Colorplace To Die For Red flat interior paint, and the smaller one White semi-gloss interior. Both painted buckets and make-do wooden plate lids were distressed using a palm sander, then rubbed with watered down brown acrylic craft paint on a rag for an antiqued look.
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