I am a light sleeper, a victim of a hyperactive mind that enjoys long conversations with itself at 3 am. My night mind is a skipping stone, arcing and floating into dreams, then smacking the surface of consciousness before lifting off again into slumber. As night wanes, and the golden filigrees of sunrise reach out into the dark, my mind becomes more active still. It starts to wake, but remains firmly planted in the dreamsphere. This is where inspiration lives.
On one such morning a few weeks ago, I found myself dreaming of cocktail coasters. I dreamed I was making one of thick hemp rope or jute, winding it in a flat coil until it became a coaster. The conscious part of my mind said, “Hey, that’s cool! Let’s make some!” But then it realized that coasters like these were nothing new. In fact that particular design had likely been pilfered from the vaults of my long term memory, as I seem to remember my parents having identical coasters back in the 70s or 80s.
But that sliver of conscious mind wanted to make coasters now, so it cajoled my dreaming mind to come up with a new design.
And my dreaming mind did. The following coasters were made to the exact plan put forth by my subconscious: design, materials and execution. All of it was shown to me, so building them was quite easy, as I already had the plans!
Okay, enough of the lucid-dreaming hippie-babble! Summer is on its way, and we’re gonna need some coasters for our cold beers, icy cocktails and wine glasses! Do you need any more reason than that? Didn’t think so. Let’s make some coasters!
These coasters are made from 3/4″ birch plywood, available at Home Depot and Lowes. A 4’x8′ sheet costs about $45, and would make enough coasters to build a bar. You may be able to get smaller pieces of plywood, but the smaller the piece, the higher the price, generally speaking. Go buy a 4’x8′ panel, have the nice folks who work there cut it in half or in thirds, use some for coasters and keep the rest for other projects. Good quality birch plywood is a must-have in my workshop. I use it for everything from crafts to cabinets.
Whatever you do, don’t buy cheap plywood! Not only will it have too many holes and gaps in the layers, but the layers themselves will not be as beautiful with the greens and reds and whites.
I had some scrap plywood in the workshop, so I gathered them up and started measuring.
In general, square coasters measure 4 inches to a side. I would be making these coasters to have an alternating end-grain pattern which meant they would be built from four 2-inch-square pieces. Since this 3/4″ plywood was in reality only about 11/16″ thick, I would need to sandwich three pieces together to get to 2″ (actually it gives me about 2 1/16″). Since three stacked pieces are 2 1/16″, then I would need the strips I cut to be 2 1/16″ wide. I know, this sounds confusing, but have a look at the picture below and you’ll see how things are shaping up. I cut 4 groups of 3 strips. Each strip is 2 1/16″ wide.
Next I arranged each of those groups of 3 together to give me four long blocks with a height and width of 2 1/16″.
I glued these groups together. To make things quicker, I put them all in one clamp, but I didn’t glue the 4 groups together.
And when the glue was dry…
Since some of those edges were a little rough, and some of the pieces shifted slightly as the glue dried, I took them over to the table saw and shaved all four sides until they were smooth and still square. When it came time to glue the blocks together, I took a shortcut and glued all four at once. This was a mistake. I should have glued them together in pairs, then glued the pairs together. This was my mess of clamps trying to glue them all at once.
I didn’t get enough pressure on all sides and had to do a little wizardry trying to get glue into the cracks with a razor blade, then re-clamping the whole thing again. Eventually it all worked out. Again, as always happens, things shifted a tiny bit as the glue dried. I took the block back to the table saw, set the fence to 4 1/16″ (remember, gluing the blocks together gave me a final block measuring 4 1/8″ to a side). I cut two sides with the fence at 4 1/16″ then set the fence to 4″ and cut the other two sides. I now had the exact size I wanted. I took my router with a roundover bit and ran it down the edges. The same result could also be achieved with sandpaper.
This plywood log reminds me of liverwurst. I have no idea why, since I’ve never in my life owned a log of liverwurst. I tried it once at a friend’s house when I was 10 or 11 and decided that it was very likely humanity’s most terrible creation – a societal and cultural nadir from which we as a species may never fully recover. Anyway, back to the coasters…
Now that I had my log of
liverwurst plywood, it was time to start slicing off coasters (aw, man, now I’m back to thinking about thick slabs of liverwurst, and I’m starting to get queasy).
I decided that I wanted my coasters to be 5/16″ thick. I arrived at this precise dimension using the ultra-sophisticated and cutting-edge technique of holding my thumb and forefinger in front of my face and moving them towards each other until the space between them looked about right. Then I measured that space.
I brought the
liverwurst plywood to my radial arm saw and started slicing. To my everlasting surprise and delight, not only did the coasters stay in one piece, but they felt pretty damn sturdy! I sliced off 17 of them – 4 sets of four (for gifts or sale), plus one for me.
They were a little rough around the edges, but really what would you expect from something that spends its life holding a drink? I sanded the edges and faces with 220 and 320 grit sandpaper, then lined them up for finishing.
Since these cocktail carriers were so small, I thought that brushing on polyurethane would be a colossal pain in the @ss, so I decided to give them a bath in something a little thinner than regular poly.
In went the coaster…
And that end grain just slurped up the finish.
After a few seconds, I flipped it over.
And that coaster was totally sealed. I took it out of its bath and let it towel-dry for a bit.
Then I placed it and its brethren on an angled drying rack (a few strips of plywood set on end).
Since there was so much finish in these coasters, I let them dry for about a week before proceeding to the next step.
Update: March 2017 – After heavy use with wet glasses (sweating iced drinks several times a day), water penetrated into the plywood and caused the coasters to swell and split. I would recommend more than one poly bath, and even a coat of traditional poly to help. Ultimately, water will win. As the wood naturally expands and contracts, it will crack the poly coat allowing water to penetrate. The best use for these coasters would be with dry glasses, but they still last a pretty good while with additional coats of poly. And if you only use them for company, then they will last a long time!
When I thought they had dried enough, it was time to put a cork backing on them to protect any wooden furniture they may be used on. I found this perfect cork backing on Amazon, that couldn’t be easier to cut and apply.
I cut pieces just slightly larger than the coasters so I could trim them to size once they were applied.
Here is the backing applied, but untrimmed.
Using a sharp-bladed utility knife, I ran the blade around the coaster, holding it at a 45 degree angle, so it slightly undercut the cork. This gave the final piece a more professional look and feel.
And that was it! The only thing left is to give these poor little sots the drinks they were born to carry.
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