Sometimes its fun to make something directly from the raw materials. Especially when the circumstances allow for you to do something completely unique! In this project we're not going to go to the store, we're going to take a fallen tree branch, mill the wood ourselves using standard shop tools, and turn it into drink coasters and a cheese tray! So follow along and let's get started!
Step 1: Watch the Video!
Before you move on, take a minute to watch the video on this project. Sometimes its easier to demonstrate concepts and ideas through moving pictures.
Once your finished, move on to Step 2!
Step 2: Cut a Dried Out Tree Branch Down to Size
Back Story: About a year ago my father called me and said the pecan tree in his front yard had been hit by lightning. He asked me if I could come over and help clean up some branches that had fallen from it. When I got there it looked like there might actually be a few branches I could mill down into dimensional lumber. The rest I could use for firewood or in my smoker. So I gathered it up and brought it home. It's been sitting my garage ever since that day. For those wondering, the tree survived the lightning strike and is doing well.
Wood cannot be used the day it comes out of the tree. It must be dried first. The traditional way to do this is to slice it immediately and let it dry in a stack for for some time. However, I was in the process of moving so I just put it in my self storage facility. It did get some cracking in places, but overall I got lucky. If you find some dried out timber in the woods, you could certainly try and use it just like this.
Since the branch wasn't straight I went ahead and cut it into three 16" sections to make the straightest boards I could make from it. This will also make them much easier to run through the band saw.
Step 3: Make a Quick Milling Jig
A branch isn't straight, or square, or flat. That makes it really difficult to run the through the band saw or table saw. Fortunately there's a solution to that! Take two sections of scrap wood, roughly the length and width of your branch section and screw them together. Then screw the branch into the log. The screws should be just long enough to pierce the bark, but not much longer.
This will provide a surface to run along the fence of your saw, and something keep flat against the cast iron top.
Step 4: Make Two Sides Flat
Run the branch through the band saw to get one flat side. Then unscrew the branch, lay it flat, and screw it back to the jig. Cut a second flat side. This second should be 90 degrees to the first.
You're not looking to remove a ton of material here. Just enough to get a 2" or so flat surface to run against the saw without the jig attached. Adjust the amount, depending on the size of your branch/log.
Step 5: Flatten the Other Two Sides
Now that you have two flat sides, remove the jig completely and flatten the remain two sides. You may still wind up with some live edges or bad spots, but we'll fix that up in the next steps.
Step 6: Slice the Finished Sections
Slice the stock up on the table saw. If you prefer you can use your band saw, but I find for me I get better results and less finishing work when I use the table saw.
Step 7: Flatten and Square the Stock
It's very likely that the stock is not going to be perfectly flat or square. You might be better than me though.
If you have a jointer, now would be the perfect time to run one side and one face over the jointer, then follow them up by running them through the planer on the opposite sides.
Since I don't have a jointer I used the alternating method. I planed each side about 1/64" flipping it several times. This generally yields acceptable results for my purposes.
If you don't have a planer or a jointer you'll just have to hope your cuts on the table saw were good enough.
Step 8: Make the Most of the Material
You're bound to have some material left at this point that still has big knot holes or live edges on it. Our goal now is to measure out each section of wood to make the most usable material.
Cut out any knot holes using a cross cut sled or miter saw. Then using the table saw, trim off any remain live edges from those sections.
Step 9: Glue Up the Panels
I wanted to make a minimum of four coasters, and one cheese tray. In order to do that I made I glued up all of the smaller material into five 4.5" x 5" sections. I glued all of the longer boards up into a single 12" x 10" section. This will leave me with five coaster blanks and a single cheese tray blank.
I clamped all of my coasters into a row, just omitting glue between them. This saved on the amount of clamps I would need.
Step 10: Finalize the Coaster and Cheese Tray Dimensions
Once the glue was dry (24 hours later), I cut the coasters down to their final dimensions, of roughly 4" x 4".
On the band saw I cut the final shape of the cheese tray. I found a pattern on the web from Steve Ramsey that worked well. I just attached it temporarily with spray adhesive.
Step 11: Sand It Down
Everyone loves sanding. No seriously. That's what I heard!
Sand the boards down to about 100 to 120 grit. Right before adding the finish you'll want to sand it down to about 220 grit.
Step 12: Add Some Decorative Edges
Something about a 3/16" round-over bit screams finished product to me. But you can use any bit of your choosing to a dd a nice decorative edge around the outside of the cheese tray and the coasters.
Be sure to follow this up with another light sanding to remove any scratches left by the routing process and prepare it for the final finish.
Step 13: Apply the Finish
Because this project was something of a sentimental value, I wanted to keep it natural. It's also going to be used for food and drink so I wanted to make 100% sure the finished product was food safe.
I used Salad Bowl Finish from General Finishes. It's not only 100% food safe but completely non-toxic once cured.
Salad Bowl Finish leaves a slight amber tint to the wood, but for the most part is clear.
Step 14: Serve Up Some Snacks!
Seriously cut up some cheese and put out some fruit. Of course its time to have a glass of wine and enjoy the company of good friends!
If you liked this project you'll most likely like my others! Be sure to follow me here on Instructables. Check out my website The Geek Pub, and subscribe to my channel on YouTube at YouTube.com/c/TheGeekPub!