Coasters are such an under appreciated gift, especially if the receiving party can get to participate in the decoration process.
As a nice house gift, I made my girlfriend and her three roommates a set of coasters, (in the shape of her favorite animal), that they could decorate to their own liking. I don't normally let other people in on my projects, so this allowed me to share the joy and pride of making something and being able to actually use it.
1/8" hardwood board (oak looks nice)
acrylic or oil paint (for the decoration)
polyurethane (for the waterproof finish)
Total cost is about $8 if you just buy the wood and have the rest of the materials handy.
Step 1: Find a Picture
A quick Google search does the trick, then off to scale in Word, and then cut out the picture.
The coasters can be any shape really, as long as they're bigger than the diameter of the average coffee cup, which is about 3-1/4", so any shape longer than 3-1/2" both ways will work.
Step 2: Made a Template
I found a scrap piece of 1/8" wood in my shop, taped the paper elephant to it, and cut it out with my jig saw. After cutting it out, I sanded it down on all edges so that the outline would be smooth.
The purpose for making this first elephant is to have a template to trace the coasters (and not waste time printing out patterns, cutting, taping, etc). This decreases deviation, so that they all look more or less the same. Also, I can save this template and use it for any future projects that may come up.
After it was sanded to my liking, I traced four elephants onto the wood.
Step 3: Cut Them Out
I used my jig saw to (very carefully) cut out all the elephants. A table jig saw with a 1/4" blade would have been perfect for this, but I made due with my hand-held.
Step 4: Sand Them Down
I used my power sander for the surfaces (from 120 up to 320 grit sandpaper), and alternated using files and strips of sandpaper for the hard-to-reach spots.
They don't have to be perfect, (I could sand them down for hours and wouldn't be 100% satisfied), but smooth to the touch and splinter free is how they should end up. Afterwards, I used a paper towel to wipe away all the saw dust from the surfaces so that the prime coat would apply smooth.
NOTE: When putting the coasters in the vice, I just them between two pieces of scrap wood, and then into the vice, so that the vice wouldn't dent or scratch the coaster surface.
Step 5: Prime Them
As per usual, I took this step outside, and applied two coat of primer about two hours apart, then brought them inside to dry (on the other side of the basement where there isn't as much saw dust in the air).
After drying, I wrote all the names on the back of the elephants, so that everyone would know which one is which (this is probably the most important step *sarcasm*).
Step 6: Bring Them Over to Get Painted
Once they completely dried, I wrapped them up individually in bubble wrap (I've got tons - it's worth its weight in gold), so that they wouldn't get nicked or dented on the way to my girlfriend's apartment.
The bubble wrap is like a present in and of itself too, almost like a bonus. Love bubble wrap.
Step 7: Wait Till They Get Painted
This may take weeks, depending on scheduling, availability, free time, etc. (It also took some incessant reminding on my part to get them all done...) All in all, they were eventually painted, each one the artist's personal choice.
I love all the different ideas, and because I know these guys, I can tell how each elephant relates to its artist.
Step 8: Apply Polyurethane
In order for these coasters to function properly and for the paint not to smudge, polyurethane should be sprayed on the surfaces that will be touching the cup bottoms (the painted surfaces).
I used spray can polyurethane - two coats a few hours apart, and then let dry for 24 hours. The end results gives the coasters a nice, shiny look.
If anything, they're great conversation pieces when guests are over.