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Project: Making a Turned Coaster

by Curtis Turner
Round Rock, TX

I recently added a cork lining to a vise on my workbench. Of course, I had to buy way more cork than the project required, so I decided to see if I could put this extra material to good use. I chose to make a few coasters lined with cork.

The challenge with this project was to come up with a way to cut the cork into perfectly sized circles.

Wood Selection

I turned several mesquite coasters for my shop and office many years ago. These were simple wood coasters finished with Waterlox and wax. I chose mesquite for its density and stability. They have held up to countless cups of hot coffee and dripping wet soda cans for years. The coasters never allowed moisture or heat to seep through onto the table. Almost any dense wood will work well without a lining. I would not, however, recommend porous woods for coasters unless they were lined with cork.

Mounting the Blank

Since the plan was to use cork, I chose a small oak blank. I wanted this blank to yield several matching coasters, so I did not want to use a faceplate or worm screw because either method would waste too much material. Therefore, I opted to mount this blank between centers. This required turning a small tenon for mounting in a chuck.

Once I reversed chucked and trued the blank, I used a compass to mark out the outside and inside diameter of the coaster.

Next, I turned the inside of the coaster. I used a small bowl gouge to remove most of the material. I then used a small skew as a scraper to cut a square rim. I also used the skew (in scraper mode) to feather out the transition from the rim to the bottom.

I periodically checked the bottom with a square piece of wood to ensure the bottom was flat to slightly concave.

I then used a depth gauge to mark the inside depth.

I then transferred the depth to the outside and added about ¼" to mark the outside bottom of the coaster.

The next task was to refine the outside and rim. I sanded everything except the inside bottom. Since the bottom will be covered with cork, I wanted an un-sanded surface to promote better glue adhesion. I then used a parting tool to part away the coaster.

I then remounted the coaster in the chuck. This allowed me to create a slightly concaved bottom. I also sanded the outside bottom.

Turning Cork

I first turned an osage orange block to match the inside diameter of the coaster. This block would serve as the "bushing" or guide for cutting the cork. This is similar to using a bushing to turn a pen blank to size. I then mounted a waste block in a chuck. I placed an oversized piece of cork between the waste block and the "bushing" to make a sandwich.

I used a small spindle gouge to cut the cork to the proper diameter. This was a fast and simple way to make perfect circles.

A quick test confirmed the cork fit just inside the rim.

Final Steps

I applied several coats of a spray lacquer to the wood coaster. I let the final coat dry overnight. The next day, I applied a thin coat of a two-part epoxy to the coaster. Then I placed the cork in the coaster and placed a small wood disk on the cork. This disk served as a clamping caul. This was held in place with a small clamp and allowed to dry overnight. The project was a success. The coaster has held up to rigorous testing!

Now I need to make a few matching coasters. These will make great gifts or items to sell.

Curtis is a former President of Central Texas Woodturners , a member of the American Association of Woodturners , and a member of Fine Woodworkers of Austin . Curtis teaches and demonstrates nationally for Lie-Nielsen Toolworks. He also teaches for TechShop. He owns a studio where he teaches and works. Curtis lives in Central Texas with his wife and four young children. Take a look at his website at .

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