Volume: 142
Issue: December 2012 - January 2013

What's On Your Bench? - Coasters

Story by Ray Ayotte
Photos by Ray Ayotte

Coasters for Christmas?  There is still time.


For Christmas 2011 I decided to make the coasters featured in the 2011 October/November issue of Woodsmith magazine (Vol. 33 / No. 197) as gifts for our children and for our own use.  The project took much longer than I had planned and the finished products were delivered well after Christmas.  As you will see, the design featured in the magazine (photo below) is somewhat time-consuming since it involves nine glue-ups for each set of coasters in addition to the border accent, but as the article states, once you get the idea, coming up with your own design is easy.  I decided to make a few more coaster sets for this Christmas using symmetrical designs rather than the more random designs featured in the article.  What I will share below are my own deviations from the construction process outlined in the Woodsmith article.







Getting Started

I suggest you obtain a copy of the Woodsmith article before getting started for the drawings and dimensions.  The process followed is to build one thick (1 1/2") coaster and then slice it into four thin coasters.  The magazine plans call for creating a blank 1½” thick from ¾” stock.  I happened to have maple butcher block in the shop which was the right thickness so I was able to avoid this step.  Further, the different wood textures add interest in the coasters.   

Cutting Thin Strips

Cutting the thin strips (to create the pattern) of consistent thickness is important.  I first tried cutting them on the band saw, but I had difficulty getting consistent thicknesses.  So I used my table saw with a thin kerf blade, using a Woodsmith tip for cutting thin strips.  See quick tip.  The thickness of my strips were about 3/64”, as close as I could get to the band saw blade kerf  The picture below is a leftover piece after cutting the butcher block.  I did a test cut to determine the thickness of my band saw blade.  








Curved or Straight Line Design

I decided to do three sets of coasters using left over wood in the shop, two with geometric patterns, and one straight line pattern.  Here the different design options are up to your imagination and creativity.  Depending on the design, I used either the band saw with a ½",  3 TPI blade to cut the curves or the table saw.


The Woodsmith article provides a plan for a clamping fixture.  I made my own fixture for easier diagonal clamping. 






Prep before cutting individual coasters from blank

After all gluing is complete, you will be ready to cut each blank into four coasters with a finished thickness of  ¼”. I found that sanding one side of the glued up blank was helpful.  I used my belt sander to do this using a simple hand screw set up clamped to my bench.  This allows you to cut the first and subsequent coasters to nearly perfect thickness on the band saw and allow enough additional thickness for finish sanding. 






Cutting individual coasters

Based on my earlier experience, I decided to forgo making a push block as suggested in the article; instead I installed a tall fence on my band saw and used my miter gauge with a fence in lieu of a push block. I also used a piece of 4x4 cedar post scrap to keep my fingers well away from the blade while cutting the last coaster and keep the coaster blank tight against the fence. Again, I used a ½” band saw blade with 3 TPI for this operation.  The thickness of the blade gives you ample room to cut four coasters from your blank and maybe even 5 depending on how much sanding you have to do to create a perfectly flat face for the block.








Building the Coaster Tray

I followed the Woodsmith article suggestions here making sure that the bottom of the tray was about 1/16” wider than the coasters to allow sufficient side clearance for the coasters.  The only deviation here was that I used a couple of ½” pin nailer brads to steady the sides during glue up.  If you decide on this approach, be sure to keep the pins well away from the center where the finger slot will be located. 


In my original effort, I used General Finishes wipe on polyurethane. This time around, I used their clear gel coat with good success.

Now find your favorite beverage and use the coasters or give them away for Christmas.