In the making of Kentucky bourbon, the spirit must be aged in a brand new white oak barrel.
After it’s reached its state of perfection, the bourbon is removed and the barrel moves on to its second life.
Some barrels are sent to Scotland to be used to make scotch; others are sent to Mexico, where they are used to age tequila. Some even go to craft brewers. Barrels that don’t end up in Scotland, Mexico or breweries are sent to repurposing centers, where they are either torn down or sold to crafters.
Two of those crafters are locals Randy and Angie Wright, who bring new life to the charred white oak barrels that once held one of Kentucky’s finest products.
“Nothing says Kentucky more than bourbon,” Angie said.
Randy and Angie, who were both born and raised in Frankfort, own and operate Wright’s Wood Crafts. They repurpose used bourbon barrels into a variety of home décor items such as decorative barrel heads, cutouts of the state and horseheads, coat racks, end tables, coffee tables, bars and even a fireplace.
It all started in 2017 when Angie had the idea for Randy to make a cutout of the state out of a wood pallet.
“It started with the Kentucky cutouts out of pallets and then evolved into making them out of barrel staves,” she said.
Randy gets some of his barrels from Jim Beam’s Old Grand-Dad plant in Frankfort, where he works on the third shift as a processing technician.
“I get the bourbon up to proof, then prep it and send it to bottling,” he said.
He also gets barrels from distilleries in Bardstown.
“You used to be able to get a barrel for $10, but now they cost $70-100 because the demand for them is so high,” he said.
Angie used to work as a special education assistant for the public school system, but she quit her job to run their business fulltime.
The duo’s workday begins around 9 a.m. in their 1,500-square-foot workshop they built after outgrowing their garage. Randy said one-third of the space is for woodworking, a third is a metal shop and the other third of the space is Angie’s paint and finishing space.
“We repurpose the whole barrel,” Angie said. “We use everything from the metal bands to the bungs.”
When a barrel comes into the workshop, Randy and Angie have to first clean it.
“They’re dirty and soaked with alcohol,” Randy said.
They have to be dried, which they either do outside if the weather is good or in a kiln they built.
“Our shop stays pretty dirty from the char,” Angie said. “You have to wear respirators.”
Randy said they had a surplus of N95 masks at the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic and were able to donate them to area health care providers.
Randy does all of the building of their crafts, the sanding, woodworking and designing of the large pieces. Angie designs the stencils in Photoshop and prints them. She then performs the painting on the craft and seals it with protective polyurethane. She also does the majority of their marketing utilizing Facebook and their website.
Around 2 p.m., they wrap up their workday in the shop and while Randy heads to Jim Beam, Angie heads out to stock their five retail locations.
Their barrel crafts can be found at the Frankfort Peddlers Mall, Glitterati Treasures on St. Clair Street in downtown Frankfort, Georgetown Peddlers Mall, Richmond Peddlers Mall and Market Place on Main in Versailles.
Their daughter, Magan Wright, 19, attends Eastern Kentucky University and it’s her job to keep the booth stocked at the Richmond Peddlers Mall. Randy and Angie also have a son, Drew Wright, 17, who helps with the business.
The Wrights also do a lot of custom orders. They make barrel heads for weddings, anniversaries and other celebrations. They also make staves with custom writing on them, and they make signage for businesses.
They’ve shipped items to just about every state in the country but Hawaii, Randy said, and even Australia.
Angie said Facebook is a huge marketing tool for them. They do a monthly giveaway on their page, which brings in a lot of viewers.
“Last month we did a giveaway of a coat rack and our page had more than 100,000 views,” Randy said.
Their crafts also gained statewide attention when a former governor purchased and gave away one of their horse heads made of staves to a visiting dignitary.
“There was a photo of it in the Courier Journal,” Angie said. “It was a proud moment for us.”
Randy said they are always making new products. Two he’s currently working to perfect are an American flag and a bald eagle.
“They’re time-consuming, so we’re trying to work out production issues,” he said.
The Wrights also donate many of their items to charity events. They’ve donated products to silent auctions for the Franklin County Humane Society or to schools for gift baskets.
“We allocate a certain percentage to donations,” Randy said.
He said he enjoys making the barrel crafts and that it keeps him busy and active.
“My job at work is more mental,” he said. “This keeps me active. Instead of sitting around all day, we’re making good use of repurposed barrels.”
Angie’s favorite part about making the crafts is seeing people’s reactions to their products.
“My favorite part is seeing when people pick it up and they say how they just love it,” she said. “I love seeing people excited and leaving happy reviews.”