Turning Firewood Into a Cup




Introduction: Turning Firewood Into a Cup


The lathe is one of the most enjoyable tools I've found in my woodworking experiences. The biggest problem I have with it is that it's very hungry. Finding wood to turn that is big enough to turn into interesting pieces can get expensive. One way to lower the cost is to find alternative sources for wood, outside of lumber yards. I've been keeping an eye out for people in my neighborhood cutting down trees and when they do, I ask if I can have a couple pieces. Usually, they have no problem with this since it's either going to get chopped into firewood or disposed of. That's where this piece of Aspen came from. I let it dry for a little over a year before turning it.

If you'd like to skip the pictures and watch this cup come to life in under 7 minutes, check out the video!

Step 1: Prepare the Blank

I wanted the center of the tree (the pith) to run horizontally through the belly of the cup. To do that I couldn't just put the log into the lathe and turn it, I had to mill it into a square block first. I used a chainsaw to flatten one side. This is so I have a flat surface to reference off of when using the bandsaw to cut the other sides. I trimmed all the sides down and then marked out where I wanted the cup to come out of. I trimmed the excess off before putting the blank between centers on the lathe.

Step 2: Outside Turning

I turned the blank until it was round, cut a tenon on what will become the bottom of the cup and used that to mounted the blank into a 4 jaw chuck. This holds the work more securely and allows me to hollow out the center on the next step.

Step 3: Inside Turning

I mounted a chuck into the tail stock and used the largest forstner drill bit I had to remove the bulk of the material from the inside of the cup. Using the same technique as I did on the outside, I hollowed out the inside of the cup to a uniform thickness, roughly 1/4".

Step 4: Sanding an a Fail

I sanded the cup, inside and outside, starting with 120 grit and working up to 600 grit. I wasn't happy with one piece on the belly of the cup so I decided to lightly touch it up. Long story short, my tool caught and threw a large chunk off the cup. Instead of trying to epoxy it back together I grabbed a new piece of wood and turned another mug using the exact same method as the first. This time no fails and the colour patterns were much better on the second piece.

Step 5:

I cut down a piece of log to roughly handle size and split it down the middle. Then I cut a piece of cherry wood with opposing grain to sandwich in between. I glued all three pieces together and trimmed off the excess. I lay down some painters tape onto the blank before gluing my handle template onto the tape. This makes removing the template clean and easy after I'm done cutting it out. I sanded the edges and rounded over the handle until it felt comfortable in my hand.

Step 6: Fitting and Attaching the Handle

I scribed the profile of the cut onto the handle and used a drum sander attachment in my drill press to fit the handle perfectly to the cup. Once happy with the fit, I glued the handle onto the cup with a high-quality waterproof glue.

Step 7: Finishing, Inside and Outside

I poured in a small amount of epoxy into the cup and rotated it around to coat the interior completely. This is optional, but it helps with strength and waterproofing. I'm not getting into the food safe argument here... Once the epoxy had cured I applied several coats of a natural danish oil to the outside of the cup. This really did a great job of bringing the wood grain to life.

Step 8: All Done!

It's just that easy!.... It was a very fun project and I want to make a full set now. I urge you to check out the video. It's one of my favorite projects to date and the video came out very well. Let me know if you have any question. I have provided links to nearly everything I used in the video description. Thanks!

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27 Discussions

Love it!! I am a wood turner and always looking for new projects, I really like this one. I agree with your "food safe" comment too.


1 year ago

So, curiously, how would you make it food safe? i.e. if I want to use it for say coffee?

3 replies

If you check out the video I have left my thoughts on food safe finishes in the description. Thanks!

I don't see it....

Your video, at 6:59 says "Food safe epoxy details in description" - but what description? Where?

in the video description... on YouTube.

Beautiful! And I love the video too, mesmerising watching ;-)

1 reply

I just love this ... the mug, the video; very entertaining ... and you are very talented. Thanks!

1 reply

I watched the video. Now I'm gonna go back and read all the text. This is the most inviting turning video I've watched yet. Great job. And, you got my vote.

1 reply

Great idea and great instructable. Wouldn't mind details of your wood storage 'cupboard'

1 reply

It's a really basic cedar shed scaled down from a larger woodshed. It's overflow storage on one side, lumber storage on the other. As always, it could be a little bigger! thanks!

quality, i want one, but i dont the the mrs will be happy if i buy a lathe just to make 1 cup :)

you have my vote in the competition.. top job

1 reply

Make and sell them, pay off the lathe! Thanks very much!

Beautiful job of turning, but as someone who has made quite a few wooden mugs I have some comments.

First, I would be be very leery of of a side turning with the heartwood there, it's not uncommon at all for it to split, especially if it's not dry enough.

I did away with the problem of coating the inside to food grade standards ( I did turn some wine glasses like yours and used epoxy) by going down to the nearest flea market and buying old plastic tumblers with a stainless steel liner and taking them apart and using the liner. This does dictate a lot of the design, inside and out, but you can put a lid on them for carrying.

For the handles, I have done some like yours but for a more "woodsy" look I use mountain laurel which grows in naturally handle curved profiles ( I usually use a wire wheel to strip the bark so it doesn't come off later).

Finally; it's very rough on the threaded portion of the tailstock to use a forstner bit for rough cutting (had to replace two so far), so be as gentle as possible and don't "hog" it out. I use my Termite tool once I've taken most out of the middle.

I'd be extremely proud of this piece if I were you. So dang unique and awesome. I'm sure you could sell them easily. I'd buy.

1 reply

looks amazing, great job,

Thank you for taking the time to share it with us

I appreciate it