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  • acolborn

Tap Handles

Updated: Jun 21, 2021

While working on motorcycle lights in Rancho Cordova outside of Sacramento, my coworkers and I fell in love with the people and the atmosphere of our local brewery. It was tucked away in the back of an industrial park next to the light rail tracks, and due to some clause in their lease, didn't even have a sign out front.

The brewery was "Old Hangtown Beer Works" a nod to the nickname of Placerville, CA, a town which had a Gold Rush Era reputation for frontier justice and where the brewer Michael had started out, growing his homebrew operation. He had a love, unusual in California, for old world German and Belgian beers (Saisons, Märzens, Altbiers, Helles) and an almost bizarre talent for making Mel Brooks references in the naming of the beers.

Ale Camino 350 IBUs

Over the years we helped paint, brew beer, install (a very Rancho Cordova) pallet wood wall and work the booth at brew fests which the brewer Michael would often show up to in his "Ale Camino."

While they were getting ready to stock some of their kegs in local bars and restaurants they showed us the first tap handle they had made. It was a rough timber, doug fir 2x2 with the name of the brewery printed out on an inkjet, cut out with scissors, laminated and glued to the piece of wood - painful to look at. While in some ways appropriate for a non-pretentious brewery on the railroad tracks, we couldn't help but say "this won't do." So I suggested, I could make something better and....

Always do sober what you said you'd do drunk. That will teach you to keep your mouth shut - Ernest Hemmingway

Since I was making these for fun and free beer, I wanted to create them out of a wood that was nice but not crazy expensive or fancy. A woodworking friend had waxed poetic about Chechen which is sort of a Mexican rosewood. It's a dense colorful, tropical wood but, since it's sustainably farmed, it's inexpensive, easy to find and non-evil. After sanding and oiling with tung and citrus, I also found myself falling a little bit in love.

After the first couple, I set up some jigs on the SawStop, laser cutter and drill press to get consistent angles, etch cleanly, and be able to install the tap insert as perfectly centered in the bottom as possible. Soon I got to visit them in all corners of the Sacramento Area.

On a few of the very last ones, I spent some time to machine the letters out of brass on my little Nomad 883 CNC machine, inlaid them into the wood and finished them with a fancy carnauba wax metal polish.

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