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This article was published in the July 2017 edition of More Woodturning

Stacking Coasters as a 6 page pdf

Stacking Coasters


Main:  Maple and Corian nested stacking coasters.


My wife asked for more coasters.  We have a nice quartet of square glass ones I had gotten at the ACC Craft Fair years ago, but we had hidden one of them from ourselves.  I thought the square ones were more interesting than plain round ones and knew I could easily make them square by using waste wood and temporary joints.  I also decided to mimic the little plastic feet on the bottom of the corners of the glass coasters by turning a bead on the bottom out near the corners and did a prototype.  The prototype turned out reasonably well except you couldn’t really tell there was an undercut bead on the corners when the coaster was right side up.  While looking at the prototype, it dawned on me that if I adjusted the inner diameter of the feet and cut the inside of the foot vertically, then the coasters would nest when stacked into an eight-pointed star.

Getting the inner foot diameter sized so that the coasters would nest and not be too sloppy a fit turned out to be harder than I thought as cutting to a pencil line wasn’t good enough (see the [illustration] in the addendum for why). But sizing the foot diameter by a test fit jig sized by another test fit jig worked quite well.  This ends up making this project rather jig intensive even for one of my project articles.  You make two Multi-Purpose Plates which are used via temporary joints for driving the coaster, sizing the cork recess, and half of sizing the cork.  Then a jig is made to screw on to the tailstock center to size the cork insert and allow it to be beveled.  Two squares the same size of the coaster blanks are used to make a plate to size the foot inner diameter.  If this is altogether too much jig for you, then could either buy ready make cork circles or not bevel the corks and eliminate the screw-on jig.  If you’re willing to have a sloppy fit when nested you could eliminate the foot test fit plate.  If you would like more jigs on the other hand, there are a couple more (recess depth gauge and a more permanent glue up aid) in the addendum.

Briefly, first you make the jigs.  Then waste wood is glued to the blank to make it round which makes turning the blanks safer and easier and without sanding dub-overs.  The blank is carefully centered and attached to one of the multi-purpose plates temporarily and the top of the coaster turned flat and the cork recess turned and sized with the other multi-purpose plate.  The blank is reversed.  The inner foot diameter is sized with the foot test fit jig and the rest of the bottom turned to shape.  Then the blank is dismounted and the waste wood removed.  One of the multi-purpose plates is mounted in the chuck, and the cork sizing jig mounted on the tailstock center.  An oversized cork blank is pinned between them and sanded to size and beveled.  Then the cork is glued in, clamping with a multi-purpose plate.

Making the Jigs

First decide on a size.  In the pictures I’m using 3.5” square blanks and 3” diameter by 5/32” thick cork inserts, which is fine for our ordinary glasses and wine glasses.  You may want to make bigger coasters if you use large coffee mugs.  And if you’re buying pre-made cork disks then you’ll have to use that diameter and perhaps change the recess depth. A recess depth of 1/8” with 5/32” thick corks leaves the cork a bit proud. Alas, you’ll need a fresh set of jigs for different sized coasters.  If you do try different sizes I suggest you conspicuously label the jigs.

Rough cut blanks for the jigs.  I used Radiata Pine for all of them.  Ordinary white pine will work for all but the squares to determine used to size the sizing jig for the inner foot diameter, which must be something that cuts cleanly with an unsupported edge.  Regular 3/4” stock is fine for all of the jigs except the cork sizing jig which must be at least as thick as the distance from flange to tip of your tailstock center.  I used 5/4 (1-1/8”) Radiata Pine. 

·         Cut two disks about 1/8” larger than your cork diameter for the multi-purpose plates of 3/4” stock. 

·         Cut one disk about 1/8” larger than 1.08 times the coaster blank size length of 3/4” stock for the foot sizing jig.

·         Cut one disk of [>1” thick] stock about 1/8” larger than the cork diameter for the cork sizing jig.

·         Cut two squares of 1/2” to 3/4” stock that are the exact size of your coaster blanks.


Figure #1 shows the jig blanks.

Figure #1 

Figure #1:  The jig blanks.

Close the #2 jaws of your 4-jawed chuck and pin a multi-purpose plate blank with a carefully centered cone tailstock center to the face of the jaws as in the left image of Figure #2.  Turn the blank to the exact size you intend the cork disks to be.  Then turn a tenon on the tailstock end of the blank as in the right image of Figure #2.  The depth of the tenon should be less than the depth of your #2 jaws (>1/2”), and at least 1/4” less in diameter than the cork diameter so the tenon shoulders can register on the faces of the jaws.  Turn the other multi-purpose plate the same way.  Check to make sure that the multi-purpose plates are the same diameter.  If they are not, mount the smaller of the two via its tenon in your chuck (you can’t turn the one mounted in the chuck because you’ll hit the jaws) and pin the larger to it with the tailstock and turn it to match.

Fig 02 

Figure #2:  Turn the multi-purpose plates.

Mount the cork sizing jig in your chuck.  Use a combined drill and countersink to start drilling a hole as in the left image of Figure #3.  Then mount a 21/32” drill and drill a through hole as in the middle image of Figure #3.  Then mount a mini-tap guide in your tailstock drill chuck and use it to align a 3/4”x10 tap for tapping the hole as in the right image of Figure #3.

Figusre #3 

Figure #3:  Drill and tap the cork sizing jig so it can be mounted on your tailstock center.

Insert the knock-out rod that comes with your tailstock center in the hole in the side of the center to lock the spindle.  Screw the cork sizing jig all the way on until it’s snug against the flange.  Remove the knock-out rod, close the chuck jaws and pin the tailstock center mounted jig against the chuck jaws.  Turn the blank to the cork diameter.  Then turn a rebate on the front of the jig to allow you to bevel the cork as in Figure #4.  The rebate on the back of the jig in the photo was an error resulting from an over-zealous cut.  If you are using pre-sized cork rounds you do not need to make this jig.  You could pin the jig to the cork with the tailstock center without mounting it, but it would be harder to center the cork as the plate would fall out of alignment when tailstock pressure is released enough to move the curved cork.

Figure #4 

Figure #4:  Turn the cork sizing jig.

Cover the face of one of the multi-purpose plates with regular blue masking tape.  Then cover the back of one of the squares with blue tape.  Use cross-corner diagonals to find the center of the front of the square and gently pin the square to the multi-purpose plate with the tailstock center.  To double check your centering, draw a line on blond masking tape and attach it to your tool rest as in Figure #5.  Adjust the tool rest to lathe spindle height and carefully move the tool rest so that the mark on the tape aligns with a corner of the square.  Then rotate the lathe by hand to make sure that the mark aligns with the three other corners as well.  If not, adjust the centering.  When you’re satisfied with the centering, crank the tailstock in hard enough to dent the square so you can easily return to the same position.  Hold a pencil against the intersection of the multi-purpose plate and the square and turn the lathe by hand.  This will help you know where to apply glue to temporarily mount the square for the next step.

Figure #5 

Figure #5:  Check the centering of the square.

Back off the tailstock ram to remove the square from the lathe.  Place several dots of thin CA glue (you can use various glues with blue tape depending on the situation.  If you have gaps, use hot-melt glue.  If you don’t want to wait, use CA.  If you need 100% coverage, use wood glue) within the circle as in Figure #6.  Align the square with the tailstock center and advance the tailstock ram to bring the square in contact with the multi-purpose plate.  Leave it clamped like that for a few minutes.  CA is quick, but not instantaneous.

 Figure #6

Figure #6:  Dot the blue tape with CA glue to attach the square to the multi-purpose plate.

Measure the side length of the square.  Using a dial caliper will make the math easier.  Multiply the side length by 1.08.  This is the theoretical inner diameter for the for the foot.  Put a piece of masking tape on a surface you can remove it cleanly from.  Make two pencil marks on the tape that are the calculated inner diameter distance apart.  Then find the mid-point between the two marks (do the math or use the dial calipers as dividers) and make a third pencil mark.  Transfer the tape to your tool rest, then align the mid-point mark on the tape with the center of the square.  Then use a pencil held on one of the outer marks while rotating the lathe by hand to mark the theoretical inner foot diameter on the square as in Figure #7.

Figure #7 

Figure #7:  Mark the theoretical inner foot diameter on the square.

Use a freshly sharpened 1/16” parting tool to make a cut about 1/16” (depending on how theoretical you feel) inside the marked diameter and about 1/8” deep.  You must get clean cuts without chip-out (a few feathers don’t matter) where the tool intersects the edges of the square.  If you don’t, either sharpen the tool and make gentler cuts or upgrade to a better wood such as maple.  Make another cut inside the first as in the left image of Figure #8 so you’ll be able to hollow in between the cuts with a bowl gouge as in the right image of Figure #8 without fouling on the side.

Figure #8 

Figure #8:  Hollow inside the marked diameter.

Check to see if the other square fits into the hollow.  Make light cuts with the parting tool and test fit the other square between cuts until it nests inside as in Figure #9.  If you over cut and have too loose a fit you can use a bowl gouge to flatten the square and start over at Figure #7.

Figure #9 

Figure #9:  Enlarge the hollow diameter until the squares nest.

Remove the cut square from the multi-purpose plate.  The foot sizing jig is turned in much the same fashion as the multi-purpose plates were.  Close your chuck jaws and pin the foot sizing blank to it with the cone tailstock center.  Rough it to round and form a tenon.  The tenon has to be small enough that the shoulders are broad enough that you can trim the diameter of the jig when reversed without hitting the chuck jaws.  Reverse the foot sizing jig as in Figure #10.

Figure #10 

Figure #10:  Reverse mount the foot sizing jig by its tenon.

Check the fit of the cut square on the foot sizing jig.  Make light cuts, testing after each cut, until the cut square just fits as in Figure #11.  This completes the jigs.

Figure #11 

Figure #11:  Make light cuts until the cut square fits on the foot sizing jig.

Make the Coaster Blanks

Using waste wood to convert the square blank to a disc makes turning the coasters safer and easier.  It also keeps the leading edge from being dubbed over when sanding, not to mention trying to power sand the inside of the foot would be really hard on fingers.  There are lots of ways you could go about this, and the only real requirement is that you end up with a flat disc.  I’ll describe just one way, which I like because it doesn’t require planing the waste wood to thickness, doesn’t waste much waste wood, and only takes two clamping steps.

Cut your coaster blanks from 1/2” stock with at least one smooth flat face.  They should be rectangles, not squares yet, with one pair of sides 1/4” longer than the final length (for instance, for the 3-1/2” square coaster in the following pictures, I cut rectangles 3-1/2” x 3-3/4”).

Calculate the size waste wood you need.  First figure out the width of the pieces you need.  The easiest way is to draw the square blank real size, then draw a circle around the square that is a little outside the points of the square (this is stronger than if the circle intersects the corners).  Measure the distance from the midpoint of a side to the circle—this will be your required width.  If you would rather do the math, the waste wood width should be 0.21*(side)+0.06.  For the 3-1/2” squares I used I needed at least 0.80”, so I selected some 5/4 (1-1/8” thick) radiata pine.  I like to make rip cuts on my table saw sled when possible—it seems more accurate with less chance of excitement.  So I figured out that a strip 9-5/8’ long would give me two of the sides (If “side” is the length of a coaster side, “w” is the waste wood width, and “half-length” is the length required to cut two of the four waste wood pieces, then half-length=2*(side+w)+0.375).  The left image of Figure #12 shows ripping the strips on a table saw sled.  The fence I’m using is just a board cut square across with a 3° bevel so the clamp pushes the fence down, and a D-shaped hole for the clamp.  You can accurately trim the edge of the fence right on the sled.  After ripping the strips, cross cut them into the required length as in the right image of Figure #12.

Figure #12 

Figure #12:  Cutting the waste wood.

The waste wood will be glued on in two steps.  Cover a suitable sized scrap of sheet goods with waxed paper so the so you can keep the pieces aligned flat without glue squeeze out gluing the blank to the sheet goods.  Collect 5 suitable clamps.  Attach blue tape to the longer edges of the rectangle and light sand the tape with 150 grit or so to promote better glue adhesion.  Figure #13 shows the set-up for the first waste wood glue-up.

Figure #13 

Figure #13:  The set-up for the first waste wood glue-up.

Clamp the coaster blank to the sheet goods with the taped edges to the sides as in the left image of Figure #14.  If only one face of your blank is planed smooth, then put that side down.  As 100% glue coverage is prudent, use wood glue.  Apply glue to the shorter waste wood pieces.  You can spread the glue evenly by rubbing them against the taped edges of the blank.  Then lightly clamp them down to the sheet goods as in the right image of Figure #14.  Then clamp the waste wood pieces to the blank with two more clamps as in Figure #15.

Figure #14 

Figure #14:  Clamp the blank and waste wood pieces to a wax paper covered substrate.

Figure #15 

Figure #15:  Clamp the waste wood pieces to the blank.

After the glue has a chance to set, remove the clamps.  Place the blank on your table saw sled flat (bottom in the glue-up) side down with a waste wood piece against the fence and make a trimming cut as in the left image of Figure #16.  Then, making sure you set your stop block accurately, shift the piece over and cut the blank to the side length as in the right image of Figure #16.

Figure #16 

Figure #16:  Trim the blank.

As you did for the first glue up, apply blue tape to the freshly cut edges and sand the tape.  Clamp the blank to the wax paper covered substrate.  Apply glue to the longer waste pieces and clamp them lightly down in position.  Then clamp the waste wood pieces to the blank as in Figure #17.  Allow the glue to set and cure before proceeding.

 Figure #17

Figure #17:  Clamp the second pair of waste wood pieces to the blank.

Turn the Coaster Top

Carefully find the center of the coaster square.  If you use cross diagonals be sure tape doesn’t obscure the corners.  You can also use a marking gauge if your waste pieces were accurately cut.  It’s a good idea to double check the accuracy of the center by checking that compass drawn arcs intersect all four corners of the coaster square.  Then use the compass to draw a circle outside the corners, as in Figure #18. Having the waste wood extend past the corners of the square coaster will strengthen the temporary joints.  Then cut the blank round on a band saw.

Figure #18 

Figure #18:  Layout the blank and double check the centering.

Put blue tape over one of the multi-purpose plates and mount it in your chuck.  Also put blue tape on the back of the blank.  Lightly pin the blank to the multi-purpose plate with a cone tailstock center.  Draw a line on making tape and put it over your tool rest.  Set the tool rest at center height and align the mark on the tape with one of the corners of the square coaster as in Figure #19.  Rotate the blank by hand to triple check the centering.  If all is well, advance the tailstock firmly enough to dent the blank so you’ll be able to return it to the same position.  Trace the outline of the multi-purpose plate with a pencil so you’ll know where to apply glue.  Back off the tailstock ram to remove the blank and apply several dots of thin CA glue inside the penciled circle on the blank.  Place the blank back in position on the tailstock center and advance the tailstock ram to clamp the blank in place for a few moments to allow the not quite instant CA glue to set.

Figure #19 

Figure #19:  Triple check the centering.

It would make sense from an efficiency standpoint to take a skimming cut to flatten the blank at this point.  I generally get fixated on making the cork recess and forget this until later.  Pin the other multi-purpose plate to the blank and trace its outline with a pencil by rotating the lathe by hand as in Figure #20 to mark the recess for the cork.  This is both more accurate and safer than attempting to use calipers.

Figure #20 

Figure #20:  Trace the multi-purpose plate to mark the cork recess.

Use a 1/16” parting tool and make a cut somewhat inside the marked circle.  I’ve found that the narrow parting gauge is makes a gentler cut with less tear-out.  Then make a second cut inside and overlapping the first so that you can check that the depth is 1/8” with the end of dial calipers.  Use a small bowl gouge to hollow the recess as in Figure #21.

Figure #21 

Figure #21:  Flatten the cork recess with a small bowl gouge.

Test the fit of the multi-purpose plate in the recess as in Figure #22.  Unless you’re a daredevil it won’t fit yet. Make very light cuts with the thin parting tool, alternately testing the fit, until the plate fits snugly as in Figure #23:

Figure #22 

Figure #22:  Test fit the multi-purpose plate.

Figure #23 

Figure #23:  Continue light cuts until the plate fits snugly.

If you forgot to skim the face of the blank do that now.  Check the depth of the recess at the edge with dial calipers.  Then make sure the recess is flat and even either by eye with a straight edge placed across the blank or with a homemade gauge (see the addendum) as in Figure #24.

Figure #24 

Figure #24:  Make sure the recess is flat.

Reverse the Blank

Cover the face of the other multi-purpose plate with blue tape.  Cut a piece of blue tape and fit it inside the cork recess as in Figure #25.  Bring up the tailstock to where you’ll be able to use it to insert and clamp the multi-purpose plate.  Apply dots of Ca glue to the taped multi-purpose plate, align it with the cup tailstock center, and advance the ram to insert and clamp it in the recess.  Wait a few minutes for the glue to set.  Then back off the tailstock and check to make sure the multi-purpose plate is secure.  It is possible that your recess wasn’t flat and the CA dots located over low spots.  You can try re-flattening the recess, or you can find the high spots. After changing the tape make a thick radial line with a soft pencil on the tape in the recess.  Insert the taped multi-purpose plate into the recess and twist it back and forth a few times.  This will transfer some of the pencil on the high spots of the recess to the multi-purpose plate.  Remove the plate, and place CA dots at the diameter of the transferred pencil, then re-insert and clamp the plate for a few minutes until the glue sets.

Figure #25 

Figure #25:  Tape both multi-purpose plate and recess for reversing the blank.

Remove the blank from the first multi-purpose plate.  You can probably pull it off but be careful to pull on the coaster square, not the waste wood.  For stubborn temporary joints I’ve found that inserting my spindle roughing gouge with the flute to the side in between the blank and chuck jaws and then twisting will remove it.  Again, apply leverage to the coaster square, not the waste wood.  A scrap block and anything usable as a lever would also work.

Turn the Back of the Coaster

Mount the blank in your chuck using the second multi-purpose plate.  Pin the foot sizing jig with the tailstock center against the blank and trace the jig with a pencil as in Figure #26.

Figure #26 

Figure #26:  Trace the foot sizing jig.

Create a recess inside the feet using the same procedure as you did to make the cork recess.  First make a pair of cuts inside the traced line using a 1/16” parting tool about 1/8” deep.  Make a skimming cut across the blank to flatten it.  Hollow the recess inside the cuts with a small bowl gouge as in Figure #27.

Figure #27 

Figure #27:  Turn a recess between the feet.

Test the fit of the foot sizing jig in the recess as in the left image of Figure #28.  Unless you’ve been rash, it won’t fit yet, so alternatively make light cuts with the narrow parting tool and test the fit until the jig fits as in the right image of Figure #28.

Figure #28 

Figure #28:  Alternatively cut and test until the foot sizing jig fits.

For nesting purposes it’s best to leave the inside of the feet vertical.  Turn the outside of the foot to whatever shape you prefer as in Figure #29.

Figure #29 

Figure #29:  Shape the outside of the feet.

Remove the blank from the multi-purpose plate, then remove the waste wood.  Remove the waste wood pieces that go all the way across first by bending them away from the feet.  Then remove the other pieces in the same fashion.  If you didn’t sand the edges before attaching the waste wood then do that now. 

Apply Finish

A shellac based friction polish would be a poor choice for a coaster, as shellac is marred by both water and alcohol.  Lacquer or CA glue would be a better choice.  If you want to spray lacquer, cover the cork recess with tape so that you can use wood glue to attach the cork with wood glue.  You could attach a handle temporarily to the cork recess so you can spray the coaster more than your fingers.

If you want to wipe on lacquer sanding sealer or CA glue it would be best to do this in stages while the coaster blank is still mounted on the lathe, then apply the finish to the edges after removing the waste wood.

Turn and Attach the Cork

I bought a roll of 5/32” cork at Michael’s.  It’s easier to handle if you cut off a strip a little wider than your intended cork diameter.  I cut the strip while it was still rolled up on my bandsaw.  If you don’t feel safe cutting round objects on the bandsaw then use scissors.  Determine which side of the cork looks better (I liked the convex up side).  Place a multi-purpose plate on the bad side and trace a circle with pencil.  Then cut out a circle of cork with scissors about 1/8” outside the pencil line as in Figure #30.  Sheet cork is crumbly regardless of how it’s cut.  To get a neat edge one must cut oversize and sand to final size.

 Figure #30

Figure #30:  Cut out an oversize circle of cork.

Optionally apply blue tape to the edge of the multi-purpose plate.  It’s not strictly necessary, but it will help keep you from gradually reducing the size of the plate.  Then mount the plate in your chuck.  Screw the cork sizing jig onto your tailstock center.  Sandwich the cork in between the plate and jig and center it so that about the same amount sticks out on all sides and tighten the tailstock ram as in the left image of Figure #31.  Turn on the lathe and use a strip of ~100 grit abrasive to reduce the cork to the diameter of the plate.  If you want a bevel, briefly tough the abrasive at an angle to the edge of the cork on the tailstock side, as in the right image of Figure #31.

Figure #31 

Figure #31:  Sand the cork disc to size and bevel.

Back off the tailstock ram to release the cork disc.  Spread some wood glue in the cork recess of the coaster.  Place the cork disc in the recess, and then use the multi-purpose plate as a caul to clamp it in place until the glue sets as in Figure #32.  The completed coaster is shown in Figure #33.

Figure #32 

Figure #32:  Clamp the cork until the glue sets.

Figure #33 

Figure #33:  The completed coaster.

Going Corian

Corian is a nice solution for the problem of picking a water and alcohol resistant finish because it doesn’t need any.  I was pleasantly surprised that the temporary joints to the plates and the waste wood held up just fine.  The only problem is being patient enough while hollowing the recesses.  I found that my round shear scraper tool, sharpened using the Veritas Scraper Burnisher, and held at a steep downward angle worked well.  See the addendum.  Dots of CA glue worked well for gluing down the cork if briefly clamped with the multi-purpose plate.