Making a set of branch coasters from a fallen tree will allow the beauty of that wood to live on and tell the story in its rings. When you are out pruning and cutting back the garden, take a look at what you are about to throw in the wood chipper or firewood pile. Wood slices can be turned into many things, but my all-time favorite is these branch coasters that I made back in 2012.
I’ve had my cedar coasters now for almost 4 years and have had plenty of questions on the practicality of them. I’ve updated this, the original article, with some FAQs at the end of the DIY instructions.
DIY Branch Coasters
It was a sad day when the largest, oldest tree on my street was hacked down and unceremoniously chucked into construction waste bins. The 50’ Western Red Cedar still had a lot of good years left, but got in the way of developers’ dollar signs and no amount of reasoning could sway them. Neighbors came to say goodbye, walking through the wreckage, collecting a memento or two; tears were shed. It’s amazing the impact a tree can have and the immensity of the sense of loss for one treated with so little respect.
I collected a few thick branches to turn into sets of coasters that I will pass on to neighbors who remember their kids climbing those same limbs many, many years ago.
The project is simple but it will take some time to cut and sand each piece. The more time you spend getting them right, the nicer the final product will be.
1. Using the saw, cut sections of branches that are ½” thick.
2. Sand each section with heavy grit sandpaper, and then use a finer grit to smooth out the surface. Do not sand the bark on the edges.
3. Coat front, back, and sides with clear varnish and let dry. Untreated wood can also look beautiful as it absorbs the drips and condensation from the glasses that sit on it.
How do you dry the wood? How do you keep them from cracking?
I dried the wood slowly in a cool, dry room before cutting the coasters. Drying in a room that has limited moisture and heat allows the wood to dry slowly and helps to prevent cracking. It took many months. I tested to see if the wood was dry but cutting an end section. Even with this process, a few cracked. I discarded those as I had plenty more to work with.
What varnish/stain did you use?
I used Varathane clear satin varnish. The varnish was labeled as clear, but it does have a honey color in the can. It made the final coasters look a little darker than the dry wood (like wet wood), which I expected and like.
Don’t they leak sap?
No. Perhaps a different kind of wood could leak sap. But I dried the wood thoroughly and have never seen one drop of sap in 4 years of using them.
How did you keep the bark on the outer edges?
The bark stayed on due to the type of wood, Western Red Cedar. I was careful to not pull it off but it is pretty sturdy. I did varnish the sides around the bark as well.
Did you glue felt or anything to keep the coaster from marking the furniture?
When sanded they are smooth so won’t scratch anything, and they are varnished and dry so they don’t stain. You certainly could put felt or little feet on them if you choose, though.
Any more advice?
There are plenty more ideas and tips in the comments section. Have a read over it and please chime in if you have any advice to share!