I got a 3gal wooden barrel for Christmas (a request). I intended to use it for an authentic take on cask conditioned ales. I have not yet done the full Monty on this, but I did use it for the first time on Saturday's brewclub meeting. I used my beergun to fill it with ESB. I ran into a few things htat I thought I'd pass along so you don't make the same mistakes (you can make different ones instead).
First, I got the beer cold by placing it outside overnight. I also put the keg out in the cold since you want the container to be at the same cool temp as the beer. The outcome of this was that the wood shrank a bit and the spigot became loose as well as one of the end hoops. I found this out as I filled and beer ran out on the kitchen floor. A quick malleting fixed both loosened items. I continued to fill until I got foam coming out the bung, then I plugged the hole with the hard bung. This resulted in beer starting to ooze out of a few places in one of the heads, and around the spigot again. I ran it out on the porch and pulled the bung to relieve the pressure. I left the bung off for fifteen minutes as foam oozed out of the barrel. Once that subsided I replaced the bung and then drained some of the beer (into a glass) to pull a slight vacuum. This worked well, and I drained a little more every so often so as to keep the barrel sealed and to keep my whistle wetted. By the time the barrel was transpoprted to my friend's house for the meeting, it had lost a couple of pints and there were no further leakage problems associated with pressure. The beer was a hit at the meeting, although there was no oak character detectable from such a short residence time.
I've learned some valuable lessons from this experience that should allow me to get a nice cask conditioned ale from it soon. Most importantly, I'll use a minimum of priming sugar as well as some leaf hops and gelatin. And I'll keep it in a plastic tote as secondary containment. I think the gradual increase in pressure is more likely to allow the seals to be maintained, plus there will be no shrinkage of the wood until its time to give it a very modest chill.
Anyone else done this before? I know wood kegs were the norm some time ago, this has given me a new appreciation for whats involved with that.