A few years ago, when I was moving into the apartment I live in now, I was trying to think of “adult” items I’d never had in my previous apartments that perhaps I needed in this one. Things that came to mind were coffee tables, ottomans, and coasters. What says “adult” more than using a coaster? Ha.
I’m an outdoorsy person. I like rustic looking things, or decor items that might be more at home in a log cabin in the middle of Montana than in a Chicago apartment. I had this idea for coasters made of a log, specifically a log from a branch of the old apple tree in my parents’ front yard that I grew up with. This tree held sentimental value, and the wood is sturdy and beautiful with great thick bark.
What you will need:
- log (4-6 inches in diameter)
- saw (band saw)
- sander (electric)
- clear-coat (polyurethane)
- stain (optional)
The first step was finding a branch/log that was big enough to be a coaster. My father had trimmed the tree, and there were several large logs to choose from in my case. I carried a beer out to the logs and measured that way. These ended up being about 4″ in diameter, but yours can be larger or smaller depending on your preference and wood availability. I tried to find the straightest piece I could without any extra branches and an even thickness.
After choosing my piece of wood, I next took the log to my band saw. The band saw was easiest for this particular project, mainly because the size of the wood I was cutting. The log was too thick to fit under a small miter saw we’d recently purchased, and a jig saw blade wouldn’t be long enough either. You could use a skil saw (just be sure to clamp your wood to something…with round pieces, and fragile bark, clamping long-ways might be a bit tougher than expected). You could also use a hand saw, not a power tool, but it will take longer. I cut these in roughly 1/2″ pieces, trying to be as even as I could (but being even doesn’t matter entirely, as you’ll end up sanding away a lot and can make them even that way.
The next part is the longest and hardest part of the process. This is the sanding part. You want these to be as smooth as possible. You’ll notice the lines in the pieces above. Those are from the saw blades, and you need to get rid of those before putting the clear coat on them or it will not dry the way you want it to and will remain rough. It is very important to sand these as much as you can.
A trick I used for sanding was to hold a hand sander upside down in my lap. Place the individual slices one at a time on the sander and press down. You can use work gloves if you are afraid of sanding off your fingers. This method of applying the wood to the sander is much easier than trying to apply the sander to the wood. Another option is to use a vice and be sure your coaster slab is secured tightly to another board or table and stand it that way. You can also choose to sand these by hand if you don’t have a sander. It will take quite a while to get them smooth, though.
Once you’ve got them perfectly smooth, it is time to apply the clear-coat. If you want to stain them before this step, you can. I chose not to. What kind of clear-coat you apply is up to you. I chose a brush-on Polycrylic, but you can use a lacquer, or varnish. Polyurethane allowed me to brush on (most lacquers are spray on and you need to buy a sprayer) it was water-based, so it goes on very light and won’t yellow over time. I’ve known varnish to yellow over time, so I didn’t want to use that. I ended up applying A LOT of coats (follow directions on the can of whatever finish you purchase).
Also, pay extra attention to the edges when applying the clear coat. The bark (if you want the bark to remain on, which I chose to do) will absorb the finish much quicker than the rest of the coaster. You also want to be sure it coats all of it, the edges too, and is a thick enough layer that it holds the edges together. You don’t want the bark to chip off later. If the bark happens to chip off while cutting or sanding, you can use wood glue to put it back together before the clear-coat step. I also had a moss-like material on parts of the tree bark that I chose to keep, so it was necessary to apply enough of the finish to these areas so it wasn’t exposed to air and would not rot over time. Be sure to let them cure (dry and harden) for several days before handling them.
The finished coasters have a lot of personality, and can have a lot of sentimental value if you use a tree you are particularly fond of or from a place you have a connection to. They’re also unique, and always a conversation starter. They can last quite a while. My set, which I made about two years ago, are all still in perfect shape, and I’ll admit that they see quite a bit of drinks.