Trivets, as I learned, are special tiles for hot food or serving dishes that can be very decorative, functional, and easy to make. They can also be a great sentiment for a gift.
I made my first trivet after I became practiced at making picture frames, as the similarities run deep. My girlfriend's house has a set of these that I fixed up with some glue, and they also had a hand painted tile that her sister created in grade school ceramics art class. They asked me if I could frame it out like the other trivets. Who could say "no" to a fun woodworking project like this? Besides, it was an excellent chance to put a piece of work to practical use.
In this Instructable, I'll outline the basics of what you will need and what to do.
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Step 1: Materials and Tools
• Length of wood greater than the total perimeter of the tile or glass to be the base. I used red oak for the main trivet pictures, and the other beige ones used maple. Wood choice is a very personal preference, but hardwoods are recommended as they will stand up better to use over the years. In terms of size, a 3/4" thick piece is readily available but you can make thinner trivets. The wood should be at least greater than the thickness of the tile. Width is also a personal preference but I think 1.5" looks well proportioned on a 6" tile and is also readily available.
• Tile or glass pane. I have used various tiles to make trivets, and nearly anything works if it's large enough to fit the average pot and pan. Typically 5" or 6" squares work best. Try and get a square ish piece, if possible, or square it with a wet saw (tile saw) because it makes the miters easier later.
• Wood Glue. I use TiteBond III because it's waterproof and food safe as well as strong. The trivet will no doubt get dinner contents spilled and need to be washed periodically, so your glue must be able to handle this. The food safe glue is also best for cutting boards, so I had some in my shop. Also an old credit card or gift card is an excellent wood glue spreader.
• Oil Finish or Stain and Topcoat. This is an entire area of personal preference vs the colors of the wood and the colors of the tile. I will discuss this more in the step for finishing. I recommend to always use a topcoat and optionally include the tile when applying it so as to make it all scratch resistant.
• Caliper or Ruler. This is to measure up the tile before you cut the wood to size.
• Band Clamps. You could use corner clamps but unless you have a good set, don't bother. Also, the tile may be slightly off-square, and so the corner clamps may be a bit off.
• Miter Saw. A powered saw is easiest but hand miter saws and miter boxes work too.
• Router with Rabetting bit. This is for creating the cavity for the tile to rest. You can technically accomplish this with other tools like a table saw and a lot of patience (or dado blades) but I used what I had with the router.
• File. I used an all-in-one file for most of the filing. This isn't really always needed.
• Sandpaper and Sanding Block. I start from 60 grit to 80, 120, 150, and finish at 220. Grits 400, 600, and 800 can be used for wet sanding and sanding after layers of topcoat. This makes for a super shiny result that's also durable .
• Glazing Compound. If the tile is a bit wonky and has gaps and is light in color you can put glazing compound around the edges to fill the gaps (or even grout I suppose but I don't recommend it).
• Pad Sander: this makes life much quicker and easier. All those grits take time to go through but trust me you will thank yourself by the end for not skipping too many sandpaper grits.
• Woodburning Iron: you can further personalize the trivets with a message or artwork. This can be done before finishing.
• Other Router Bits: not all things must be square, even though it's hip. Get creative here.
Step 2: Routing for the Tile
Measure the thickness of the tile at its thickest part. Some tiles may vary a lot. Others may be fairly exact. The tile I used here was hand made so there was considerable differences of the thickness at each corner.
On a router table or with a handheld router, select a Rabetting bit and set the depth to the max thickness of the tile. Note that you can choose an average depth here too. This was roughly 3/8" for my tile. The Rabetting bit can be any size depending on how much wood you want underneath the tile. Usually anything from 1/4" to 1/2" would suffice. I used a 3/8" Rabetting bit at the 3/8" depth. This produced a square channel.
Rout the entire length of the board, including extra length on the ends in case the router runs away and also to allow for scrap when doing the miters.
Step 3: Measuring and Cutting the Frame
Measure the four sides of the tile. Write this down. You are interested in the longest length if your tile is a square. This will be the size of the square pocket for the tile, since you want the miters to be nice and 90 degrees.
With your rabetted board, miter one corner off the end at 45 degrees. Make sure that the miter is angled such as the longer end of the board is the side without the rabet. The rabet should face inwards on all the pieces so as to cradle the tile.
Measure your length to the inside edge of the step of the rabetted piece. With a combination square, extend your mark to the full with of the board at the 45 degree angle. Then cut the second miter. Repeat until you have all four sides completed.
Step 4: Test Fitting and Gluing Up
Sand the faces of the miter joint and test fit them together. You can use corner clamps or my presence is band clamps.
There are many viable ways to make a miter joint but for these low force applications I like to just glue the joints. Use a waterproof glue and food safe. I use TiteBond III for this type of application.
First cover your workspace with wax paper. Gloves and old work clothes are recommended.
Tighten the band clamp first without the joints glued to check for any open miters. You can also test fit the tile in the back of the frame first to make sure there's no gaps visible.
When you are happy, undo the clamps and glue the edges , spreading the glue with an old credit card or flat thin scrap of wood or etc. Then clamp the piece and let it dry overnight.
When the frame is dry, you can begin sanding. Sanding before gluing the tile into the trivet helps you get the inside edges and adjust the fit of the tile if needed. Sand from 60 grit to 220 grit and don't skip grits! You will thank yourself later.
When you have achieved 220 grit, place the tile in the trivet with some wood glue and rest a heavy pot or object on too to apply clamp pressure down (or use a clamp with a wide throat or a vice with soft jaws).
After the tile dries overnight, you can fill in the gaps with caulk or glazing compound on the top side of the tile.
Step 5: Finishing
Sand again where the glue for the tile has come into play.
Finishing a wood piece is a highly personal choice. I like to showcase the wood and use an oil finish like Tung oil underneath an acrylic topcoat for durability. You can mix and match these things here but the key is to pick something that compliments your wood. I like the minwax stains.
Follow the instructions on the product. It works out best that way. Usually 3 to 4 coats will suffice. You can wet sand these coats in between application with 400, 600, and 800 grits, successively. This is optional and isn't going to do anything for penetrating oils and finishes. If you're using one of these , and also a topcoat, save the sanding for between layers of the topcoat. Sand up to 800 or 1000.
You can proceed to buff the topcoat for a real shiny result but I chose a more semi-gloss look also knowing it's purpose may incur small scratches.
Step 6: Use It!
The most satisfying part of the build is putting it to use or giving it as a gift and getting some action shots from the happy giftee.
Here is a trivet on a pirate pot pie adventure. (SPOILER: the ships didn't survive dinner).
I hope to keep making more trivets as they are an easy and useful project that you can enjoy at home.