In this Instructable, I used a bunch of wood veneer I had sitting in my workshop to make Minecraft-themed drink coasters. I used only tools and materials I had on hand, so for me this was a rare, "free" project.
I chose Minecraft heads that could be done on an 8x8 grid. I made a couple of Steve heads, a Creeper head and cow for the coasters and Enderman for the holder. I ended up using around a dozen different wood species for the project. Most of the veneers are in their natural states, except for Steve's and Enderman's eyes and the two greens for the Creeper. For those I used some dyed Poplar veneer I had stashed away.
In addition to the veneer, I used oak wood for the coaster frames and purpleheart and maple scraps for the coaster holder.
- Xacto knife or box cutter (use a new blade)
- Combination square
- Miter saw
- Table saw
- Small try square
- Wood veneer
- Masking tape
- Wood glue
- Hardwood scraps
- Ugly paneling
- Cork sheet (for underneath of coaster)
- Polyurethane finish
Step 1: Cut the Veneer
This part was pretty time consuming because I cut all the veneer by hand. Each coaster is made up of 64 little squares. I made my squares 1/2" so my coasters would end up about 4 1/4" square once the frame was added.
Cutting veneer takes a lot of patience, a sturdy straight-edge (ruler) and a sharp knife. I used masking tape to both hold the veneer down to my cutting surface and to stabilize it to prevent splintering.* When cutting veneer, it's best to make several light cuts rather than push through the veneer all at once. If you try to force your knife through the veneer, the wood grain may divert your blade and you won't be cutting where you wish.
First I cut 1/2" strips of a bunch of different veneers that roughly fit the color palette I needed. Then I clamped two rulers 1/2" apart (one was actually a combination square - see picture) to form a jig for marking off 1/2" lengths. I used a knife to score the strips at 1/2" intervals, then removed the strip from the jig and cut into little squares.
Once I had a ridiculous number of 1/2" squares, I moved on to the layout phase.
* I put the masking tape on the side of the veneer that would end up on top. A lot of veneer is sold with a backing now - mine is very old and is just the wood. I left the masking tape on the veneer until I'd finished the glue-up.
Step 2: Layout the Pattern
The Internet is awash with Minecraft images, so finding suitable patterns online was no problem. The challenge was figuring out which species of wood veneers in my stockpile would work.
Since my veneer squares still had masking tape on them, I did the layout flipped (left to right), as though I was looking at it from underneath. I sort of messed it up, but the graphics are very forgiving. Once the pattern was established, I transferred it, row by row, back to my two ruler jig. Each row was put in with masking tape side up and another strip of tape was used to hold each row together. I allowed the tape to have a large overlap which I would use later to join the rows together.
As I finished a row, I used the tape overlap to connect the row to the previous row(s) until I had the entire pattern joined together. The pictures may give a better idea of what I mean.
Step 3: Glue and Clamp
As a backer for my veneer, I used some ugly old paneling that I removed when I bought my house. It's about 1/8" thick. I cut a piece about 5" square and gave it a light sanding on both sides. Then I spread a thin, even coat of wood glue on the paneling square and set my veneer pattern on the glue, with the masking tape side up. I clamped this between two boards and let it sit for a few hours.
Once the glue dried, I removed the clamps and the carefully removed all the masking tape. Take extra care when removing the (64) little squares of tape from the veneer. Pull to the side rather than straight up and try to pull along the grain and not across it. This will help prevent the veneer from being pulled apart or splintering. It's very important to get off all the little slivers of masking tape. They can come back to haunt you later.
I then used my miter saw to trim the piece to its final dimensions. I reapplied masking tape to the edges that were to be cut before doing this so that the veneer would not be splintered by the saw blade.
Step 4: Cut and Glue the Border
With the coaster faces done, it was time to put a nice wood edge on them. I chose oak because I had a chunk of 1/4" in my shop. I wanted the coaster to have a lip both on top and underneath, so I ran the oak through the table saw at about 1/8" from the fence. The saw blade was set at about 1/8" as well, so it would leave a slot in the wood rather than cut all the way through. Since the veneered panel was slightly thicker than my saw blade, I had to adjust the fence a tiny bit and run the oak through a second pass.
Next I used a jig to cut thin strips from the oak piece. There are a few safe ways to cut thin strips (and many very dangerous ways - be careful). See the pictures for the method I used. It's just a board with a small piece of wood attached to the back. Measure from the board to the saw blade and set your fence accordingly. There are loads of instructions on the web to show you this technique.
My strips ended up being about 3/8". Normally, I would miter the corners to hide the saw kerf, but since this is a Minecraft project, I decided to stay with the blocky look and use a butt joint. That left a hole in each corner which I later filled with oak plugs.
Once the pieces were cut to length, I sanded and eased the inside top edges since it's difficult to do so once the coaster is assembled. I applied a little glue to the slots and then to one end of each side and clamped. Make sure you take your time and clamp it square!
Step 5: Build the Holder
For the holder, I used slightly larger veneer squares since I still wanted an 8x8 grid but needed it to be bigger than the coasters. In fact, I cheated and chose Enderman so I could avoid cutting too many more squares (my hands were still aching from the first batch). I used a chunk of purpleheart veneer and cut out two slots for the eyes. I then cut six squares for the eyes and taped them on. I used the same veneer techniques as in the earlier steps. I used my Xacto knife to score squares on the purpleheart to simulate blocks.
While Enderman was being clamped, I set to work on the side pieces. For this, I took some 1/2" scraps of purpleheart and maple wood, cut them to twice the height I wanted and glued them together, side by side. I forgot to take pictures of this part, but I glued them up with each stick offset from its neighbor by 1/2", lengthwise. When dry, I cut them in half to produce two stacks where each wood strip was 1/2" taller than the next. See photos. I used the table saw to put in grooves to hold the veneered panel. I glued these pieces on at the four corners. I had some extra glued up pieces (the even height ones) that I glued in place to hide the saw kerf.
To hide the rest of the edges, I used some leftover, grooved oak from the coasters.
Step 6: Sand, Apply Finish and Enjoy
I gave the assembled coasters and holder a final sanding up to 220 grit, taking care to ease all the edges and round off the corners of the coasters slightly. I tried a few different finishes that I had on hand - some wipe-on polyurethane, some spray-on poly, and finally found an old can of spar urethane that hadn't gone bad yet. Since the coasters will see some liquids, I tried to make them as water resistant as possible. I think the spar will work well.
After the finish was dry, I cut squares of 1/8" cork sheet to fit underneath. I glued them to the underside of the veneer panel, just inside the oak border. They elevate the edges off the table slightly to protect the furniture from scratches. I added some small strips of cork to the bottom of the holder as well.
Some of the species of wood veneer used in this project (there may have been a couple more, but I couldn't ID them):
- Sierra Madrone
- East Indian Rosewood
- Poplar (dyed)
- Sweet gum
Shameless plug: I made this project and Instructable for the Minecraft contest. If you like it, please consider voting for it in that contest, or the Wood contest, or the Handmade Gifts contest, or all three! Thanks, and as always, please let me know if I left out a step or was unclear about anything.