Building a Barrel Grill

Seth Gould makes beautiful things. A metalsmith who honed his trade at the Penland School of Crafts in North Carolina, Seth spends most of his hours in his east side studio forging tools like chasing hammers for jewelry makers, calipers for glass blowers, and custom knives for discerning cooks. They are products that reflect an ideal, the culmination of a collaborative process between a skilled craftsman and an end user.

What Seth doesn’t typically make are grills out of used 55-gallon drums.

But after speaking with Cleveland lawyer Charles Fleming about his childhood memories of his father, a prominent Cleveland judge, feeding friends, neighbors, and colleagues with food cooked on such a grill, I was inspired to build one. So I asked Seth for assistance and he obliged.

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Tucked away among Seth’s circa-1905 power hammer and hand engraving tools, we found the necessary tools for crafting a barrel grill: a chop saw, an angle grinder, and a metal inert gas, or MIG, welder.

Based on my general familiarity with barrel grills, I knew that gathering supplies didn’t mean looking for anything new and shiny. So to Craigslist I went, and within seconds found a choice of used 55-gallon barrels. I went with one that was food grade, but that’s not an essential requirement. It was 15 bucks.

Once the barrel was secured, it was time to gather up the other parts. Seth and I rooted around my garage and his shop for the angle iron, casters, and a chimney. For the expanded steel, flat steel, and extra angle iron we hit up The Metal Store in Maple Heights, a small shop that’s happy to custom cut any quantity of metal and couldn’t be nicer about it. For the hinges and chain we went to the standard home improvement store.

Once we had the supplies, it was simply a matter of grabbing a 12-pack and getting started.

First we cut the barrel in half with an angle grinder, welded a flat lip on the edge of the barrel half that serves as the bottom so the two halves could close up tight. Then we attached a chimney and damper to control airflow–the barrel already had a hole that made setting up the air intake easy. Next we added chain to connect the two halves of the barrel so that it could be held open. Finally, for the frame, the key was measuring carefully and checking for square often while welding it together. Casters were added to make the grill easily movable. With basic welding and metal working competency, the whole project should take a solid half a day. Without the beer maybe even less.

When the grill was just about done Seth couldn’t help himself and added a final bit of flairs. While not getting engraved with his touchmark initials that serve as a signature on his regular work, a signature of some kind was necessary for this Gould creation. That signature came in the form of the grill’s custom-forged handle. As far as features go, we’re not going so far as to say that a wiener-shaped handle is a necessary component of a barrel grill, but we’re not going to say that it isn’t either.

For a look at Seth’s more typical work, you can visit his website at SethGould.com.