How to make a wooden tankard

by Sam Harper

Why am I doing this?

A couple of years ago (or was it last year?), I went to the Texas Renaissance Festival with some friends. One of them had this really snazzy tankard made out of various kinds of wood. This is the actual tankard:

And I says to myself, I says, "Hey, I think I could make that." I spent the next few days mulling it over in my head how I would make it and trying to find information on the internet about how other people do it (there wasn't much). Then I tried it. The one in the middle was my first attempt, followed by the other two.

After posting that picture on the "What to do with scrap wood" article, somebody emailed me requesting a build along. So here it is.

Thinking it through

So far, I haven't done any measuring to make these. I've just thrown some wood together, and it has worked. But for the purpose of this build along, I want to explain how you can plan and vary the diameter and everything.

Basically, you're going to be cutting all the pieces into trapezoid shapes and gluing them together in the round. The angle of the cuts will determine how many pieces of wood it will take to get a circle. The width of the pieces will determine the diameter.

Now, looky here at these two tankards.

Notice how they both have eight pieces of wood to complete the circle, and notice that the angle of the cuts is the same with each. What makes one bigger than the other is the width of the pieces.

Although we are going to start off with a polygon, we want to end up with a round tankard. That means after gluing it up, we're going to have to round it by removing wood from the sharp corners on the outside and from the flat surfaces on the inside. Obviously, the more pieces you use, the closer it will be to round.

Now, looky here at these two tankards.

Notice that although they have the same diameter, the one on the right uses twice as many pieces as the one on the left. And notice, too, that the one on the right is closer to being round than the one on the left. That means the more pieces you use, the less work it will take to make your tankard round.

Now, if you frequent renaissance festivals, you've probably noticed that a lot of people don't bother to make their tankards round at all. They just leave them as a polygon of six or eight sides. Well, I don't like that. It's not as comfortable to drink out of, and it just looks lazy. But to each his own.

So here's how to figure out the angles to cut your pieces. Looky here at this picture.

Notice that it's just made of triangles. If you remember a little geometry from the tenth grade, you should easily be able to figure everything out.

First of all, there are 360 in a circle. The angles in the middle of the drawing have to total 360. So however many pieces you use will determine those inside angles (marked in green in the above picture). For example, if you use eight pieces, then you have to divide 360 into eight equal parts.

360/8 = 45

So those inside angles marked in green are 45 each.

Notice also that the other angles are equal to each other, so we can figure them out easily. First, we know that the interior angles of any triangle will total 180, so each of those other angles is half of whatever is left after subtracting 45 from 180.

(180 - 45)/2 = 67.5

To cut these pieces, I tilt the table on my bandsaw, run them through on one side, then the other.

But the angle of the table is not 67.5. It's 22.5. Where did I get that number? LIke this:

180 - 90 - 67.5 = 22.5

An example

Let's pick some arbitrary number of pieces we want to use and see if we can figure out how we need to tilt the table on the bandsaw. Let's say we want to use 15 pieces.

With 15 pieces around in a circle, 360 will have to be divided into 15 equal parts.

360/15 = 24

With 24 on the inside, the other two angles are going to have to be 78 each.

(180 - 24)/2 = 78

So the angle on the bandsaw table will have to be 12.

180 - 90 - 78 = 12

So, if I want to use 15 pieces, then I should set my bandsaw table to a 12 tilt.

The truth of the matter

But the truth of the matter is, as I said before, that I didn't do all this math and geometry when I made my tankard. What I did was eyeballed everything and guestimated on the angle of the bandsaw blade. I cut a bunch of trapezoid shaped pieces, then tried them out by standing them on their ends and making a circle out of them. If they don't quite make a circle, I add a piece or two. If they make a circle, but there are gaps, then I remove a piece or two.

But what about the diameter?

Oh yeah! I forgot to tell you about that part. Well, I was limited by the size of my scrap wood, and it just happened to come out right by luck, and I've been eyeballing it ever since. But here's the math behind it.

Let's say you want the outside diameter of your tankard to be 4 inches. You can use the formula for the circumference of a circle to figure out how wide your pieces need to be.

circumference = 2πr

...where 'r' is the radius, i.e. half the diameter. In our case, half the diameter is 2 inches, so the circumference of our tankard is going to be...

2*π*2" = 12.57"

If we're going to use 15 pieces, then those 12.57" have to be divided into 15 equal parts. So the width of each piece is...

12.57"/15 = .838"

If you'd rather have that in a tidy fraction, the easiest way is to look at this chart and notice that it's somewhere between 3/4" and 7/8".

Unless you're a crazy perfectionist, these things don't have to be exact. I don't know about you, but I just wanted a big tankard. I didn't care what precise volume it came out to.

If you are a crazy perfectionist, then you're going to have to do a little more math because you're going to want to have a specific volume for your tankard, which will require you to have a specific inside diameter, which you'll have to calculate given your outside diameter and wall thickness. You'll also have to account for the fact that as you shave away the corners on the outside to make your tankard round, the width of the pieces will get slightly smaller. So good luck with that.

Your pieces don't have to be of equal width, either. If you look at my friend's tankard at the top of this page, you'll see she's got some thin pieces and some thick pieces. As long as they're evenly distributed throughout the circumference, your tankard will still come out round. If you don't distribute them evenly, it'll come out oval or something.

However, when you cut these to width, you want to cut them slightly wider than what you want to end up with. The reason is because you want to make sure that when you're cutting the angles with the bandsaw, you cut all the way through the wood, and not just through part of it.

If you go with "BAD," you'll have a bad glue line, which will make it almost impossible to for your tankard to be leak proof.

Also, when you cut one angle, then flip it over to cut the other angle, you'll get the "BAD" result above unless you move the rip fence in a little. So what you should do is take all of your pieces and cut them all on one side. Then, move the rip fence in and cut them all on the other side. Unless the original width of your pieces is wider than what you want the final result to be, you're going to end up with pieces that are too narrow for the diameter you want for your tankard. Your tankard will be too small, and you'll go thirsty.

Let's do this thing

Oh yeah, one more thing. You need to make sure your pieces are thick enough to support the wall thickness of your tankard.

The fewer pieces you use, the thicker you'll need them to be since you'll need to remove more wood to get them round than if you had used more pieces.

I'm going to use all scrap wood for this. I have an abundance of maple and walnut scraps I got from my brother-in-law who makes furniture, so that's definitely going in there. I also had a piece of padauk left over from the Gryffindor bow, so I'm using that as well.

I'm using my dinky little 9" bandsaw to cut the angles.

I'm doing this just like I've done previous tankards. I'm not measuring anything. I'm just eyeballing everything. But for the sake of this tutorial, I'll give you some dimensions and angles.

First, I start with a piece of wood about 3/8" thick, and 7/8" wide. They vary in length.

Second, my bandsaw table is set to 13, although I suspect the gauge is slightly off because when I square the table with the blade, it doesn't fall exactly on 0.

Third, I set the rip fence to where I can just cut angle on one side without there being any flat spots. I cut each of my pieces of wood on one side.

Fourth, I bring the rip fence slightly closer to the blade, then cut each piece of wood on the other side. Be mindful of how you're cutting the wood. You want a trapezoid, not a parallelogram. So the wide part should be facing up, and the narrow part should be facing down.

Once I've cut my pieces into trapezoids, these are about the dimensions I have:

If the math doesn't work out, that's because my measurements aren't very precise.

Fifth, I cut the pieces of wood into 6.5 inch pieces because that's about how long they are on my first tankard, which I like.

Sixth, with the belt sander turned off, I rub each of the bevels on a 40 grit belt just enough to remove the tool marks from the bandsaw.

EDIT: I've discovered since writing this tutorial that a better method is to tape some 60 or 80 grit sand paper rough side up to a slab of granite or marble because they are machine perfectly flat, and you can get a perfectly flat gluing surface that way. It makes the tankard less likely to leak later on.

That will give you a good glue joint. Leaving the bandsaw tool marks in there will make it very difficult to seal up all the leaks later on. Sanding those bevels will give you a better glue joint.

Dry run and glue up

I put down two pieces of masking tape and placed all my pieces, fat side down, on the masking tape.

EDIT: A better way is to lay all the pieces down side by side with the fat side up, then put the masking tape on, then flip it over. It's easier to press the masking tape to the wood that way, and it sticks better, making it easier to manage.

This is where you arrange the different woods in the order/pattern you want, and you can play around with it. You can use a straight edge to get them all lined up.

Once I have it where I want it, I use a stick of wood to lift one end up.

As I lift it up, I fold it around into a circle to see how it fits.

This part can be pretty frustrating because those pieces will want to fall out and cause the whole thing to fall apart on you. There are a couple of things you can do to help alleviate the frustration. One is to flip the whole thing over so you can press the tape on better and maybe even put an extra piece on. Another thing you can do is enlist the help of a lovely assistant.

As you can see in my picture, I'm about two pieces short of making a full circle, so I put another piece of walnut in there, and I also cut a piece of Osage. Voila!

Once I'm convinced that everything fits, I lay it all back down again with the wide part down, and I squeeze some Titebond III in the cracks. Be generous. You definitely don't want any gaps because these vessels have to carry liquids. Be sure to put glue on the end pieces, too.

I put some paper towels underneath because this is going to be messy. Once I have the glue in there, I lift it like before, make a circle out of it, and secure the tape. Glue ups are the hardest parts of doing a build along because you can't take pictures while you're hands have glue all over them. This is messy. If you don't have glue oozing out of everywhere, you didn't do it right.

Once you have it folded up into a circle, it's much easier to manage. You can squeeze it, and it won't fall apart on you.

Now, I tie some string loosely around both ends and use a small piece of scrap wood as a tourniquet and tighten up the string so it acts as a clamp. More glue squeezes out, which is good. It means you're getting a good seal. I use duct tape to secure the tourniquets.

I let that dry until the next day.

The bottom and handle

While that's drying, I try to figure out what I'm going to do for a handle and for a bottom.

For the handle, I'm using a piece of ipe. And I think I'll use a piece of ipe for the bottom, too. When I made my first tankard, I liked the handle, so I made a template out of it. I have since then lost the template, so I just used the handle on my first tankard to trace onto the ipe.

I cut it out with the bandsaw, then used the belt sander, dremel tool, files, and rasps to shape it.

I know I called this section "The bottom and the handle," but I'm not ready to do the bottom yet. Sorry about that.

Making it round

I don't know how other people do this. I suspect they use a lathe. I didn't have a lathe when I made my first ones. I acquired a lathe just the other day but still haven't learned how to use it. So I used a belt sander. I hold it on there like this and roll it, being careful not to let it sit still in one spot so it doesn't create flat spots.

In reality, I hold it with two hands, but I had to use one hand to take this picture. After a short amount of time, it looks like this:

After that, I used my disk sander to make both ends flat. It's especially important for the bottom to be flat so you can get a good gluing surface and not have any gaps.

The only hard part is keeping it square. If you don't hold it square against the sanding disk, your tankard will lean. But go slow and check it from time to time to see which way you need to apply more pressure or whatever.

Sanding the inside takes more time. When you sand the outside, you're just taking away the corners, but when you sand the inside, you're taking away the flat parts, and you have to sand until the glue line goes away. I use a sanding drum mounted to a 1/3 HP motor.

That used to be my lam grinder until my brother-in-law got a real fancy schmancy thickness sander. Now I go to his place to grind lams.

Once it's done, it looks like this.

The wall thickness is not perfectly even, as you can see. But I figure that's okay because I'm not selling these. So far, I've just given them to friends. They can't complain when they're getting it for free, right? I suppose if I were going to sell them, I might try harder to get the wall thickness even.

Speaking of wall thickness, the easiest way to ensure your thickness is pretty even is to use all woods that are about the same hardness. If you use cedar with bloodwood, for example, it'll be thinner where the cedar is and thicker where the bloodwood is because bloodwood is a lot harder than cedar. I learned that form experience.

I reckon if you use a lathe instead of a belt sander, you might not have that problem.

Doing the brim

I like an inside bevel on my brim. It makes it more comfortable to drink out of than an outside bevel. I start off grinding with the elbow of the belt sander like this.

Then I use my 4 way Nicholson rasp.

Finally, I use some emory cloth I ripped off of a discarded sanding belt. Besides getting the inside bevel nice and rounded, I also knock off the sharp corners on the outside and arrive at this.

Assembly

Now I sand the inside really good. It's easier to sand the inside before you glue on the bottom. Sanding the inside is a pain in the butt, though. One thing you can do is use old sanding belts to make a flap sander that chucks into your drill press. Just rip off strips, poke holes in them, stick a bolt through the holes, and tighten it all down with a nut.

And here it is in action--the only picture in this build along where the equipment is actually running.

I use this method to get all the tool marks off from when I rounded the inside. Once they're gone, I sand the rest of the way by hand, which isn't much fun. I go ahead and work my way to a fine grit since the next step is putting on the bottom, and it's hard to sand it once the bottom is on.

I used another piece of ipe to do the bottom, and traced it out with a green sharpy so it would be easy to see.

I cut that out with a bandsaw, then use the disk sander to get it to the line.

By grinding to the line and having the line be the thickness of the sharpie mark, that leaves the bottom a little wider than the cylinder, and having it wider makes it easier to glue up since the cylinder isn't perfectly round.

Again, I used the disk sander to make sure the bottom was going to be flat so I'd have a good seal when I glued it to the cylinder.

I decided to go with a 30 minute epoxy instead of wood glue for a few reasons:

1. Epoxy cures clear, so if some oozes out on the inside, and I can't wipe off the excess, it won't look ugly.

2. Wood glue shrinks when it dries, but epoxy does not shrink when it cures, so if there are any imperfections in the joint, the epoxy will do a better job of filling the gaps than wood glue.

3. 30 minute epoxy takes 30 minutes to cure, whereas wood glue takes several hours, and I'd have to wait until the next day before I felt comfortable enough to use power tools on it again. This way, I can glue on the handle the same day.

My joint turned out to fit so well, I probably could've done it without using a clamp, but I went ahead and put my tool box on top of it to press it together.

Once it's cured, I use my belt sander again to grind that lip flush with the rest of the cylinder, and I do a little more rounding on the cylinder while I'm at it. That's why I didn't bother to sand the outside before gluing on the bottom.

Here's what it looks like when I got done blending and rounding on the belt sander.

I took of the sharp corner on the bottom with a file and sand paper. Since it's a lot easier to sand the cylinder and the handle before gluing them together, that's what I did. I spent a lot of time with the 100 grit sand paper, getting out all the tool marks from the belt sander, which has a 40 grit belt on it. Once I got all those marks out, I went to the 220 grit.

Since the cylinder is round, I had to dish the handle to make it fit right. I used the elbow of my belt sander to do that.

See how well that worked?

On my first couple of tankards, I used tape to hold the handle on when I glued it to the cylinder. But it was hard to apply, and it left a sticky residue on the tankard that I had to sand off. So I decided not to clamp at all. I put the handle in a vice, put epoxy on the gluing surfaces, and just pressed the cylinder on.

I put the handle higher up on the tankard than I wanted to, but oh well. What's done is done.

***EDIT***

Here's another way to fit the handle to the tankard. After you've made a little groove with the elbow of the belt sander, tape some 100 grit sand paper to the tankard where you want to put the handle. Then rub the handle up and down in the direction indicated until all the tool marks from the belt sander are gone.

By then, it should fit perfectly.

Then put the handle on with some rubber bands and situate it exactly where you want and trace lightly around with a pencil. Then drill some small holes with the dremel tool and a small drill bit. I drill kind of at an angle except for the middle ones. This will help the glue grab on both sides, and since the holes are angled a little, they'll grab better. Be careful not to drill too deep on the tankard side lest you drill all the way through.

Sand those pencil lines out with some 220 grit sand paper. They should come right out. Then mix up some epoxy fill those holes, and stick them together. Put some rubber bands on there for clamps. It's easiest if you put the thin rubber bands on first, then the thicker ones. That way it doesn't try to slide around on you while you're applying them.

Wipe off as much of the excess epoxy as you can with little pieces of paper towel. Then wet a small piece of t-shirt with some acetone and wipe off the rest. It'll clean right up.

Finishing

Before putting a finish on it, I sand it with progressively finer grits until I get to 400. You don't need to go that fine, but that's just what I feel like doing. Since I got my sweaty hands all over the tankard while sanding, I wipe the whole thing down with acetone before applying a finish to clean off all the sweat and oils.

When I went to the Texas Renaissance Festival with my friend who had the fancy schmancy tankard, she took me to the shop where she bought it. The first thing I did when I pulled one off the shelf to look at it was stick my nose in it and take a whiff. It's instinct for me. The guy said, "What do you smell?"

I said, "I was trying to see what kind of finish you had on it, but I don't smell anything."

"That's right," he said. "It's an odorless epoxy. You shouldn't smell anything at all. It also seals any leak, making it perfectly leak proof."

"Interesting," I said, wondering where I could get some.

When I got home, I searched all over the internet trying to find out what kind of epoxy the makers of these tankards used. I was able to find some odorless epoxies, but they were sold in very large quantities, and I didn't want to spend a lot of money on large quantities of epoxy that I was probably not going to use.

I finally found some epoxy in small quantities at Michaels. It was sold as "casting resin," and I thought it might work well since it was perfectly clear and thin enough to spread with a brush. It worked well except that it had a strong odor.

Later, I went back to Michaels and found a pour on epoxy made by the same company.

This is basically the same kind of epoxy they use to finish bar tops and mantles by just pouring it on and letting it harden. It's crystal clear, cures very hard, creates a glassy finish, and best of all has almost no odor. I'm pretty happy with this stuff.

You may be concerned about food safety. No doubt, you've heard of "food safe" finishes like Salad Bowl Finish. Well, I figured if this epoxy is used to finish bar tops, and if it's safe to eat off of bar tops, then it ought to be food safe. But I also found this article explaining that any modern finish is food safe as long as it is completely cured. I think epoxy makes the best finish, though, because it'll seal all the nooks and crannies better than other finishes, making it water proof. Epoxy is very hard and durable, too. Some people say you can even drink hot chocolate out of these cups.

To be cheap, I got these cheap 25 cent foam brushes from Hobby Lobby. They didn't work very well because they left bubbles in the finish, and it was hard to get it smooth. I decided to go to a regular brush with bristles, and I had better luck with that. They're more expensive, though. You don't want to get cheap brushes or the bristles will fall off and stick in the epoxy. You can clean them with acetone and reuse them, but with the amount of acetone it takes to clean them enough to reuse them, it hardly seems worth it. I think the best thing to do is make several tankards, and finish them all at the same time. You'll waste fewer brushes that way.

I put three thin coats on before leak testing them. Thin coats are better than thick coats because thick coats will run, leaving little hardened drops on the sides.

To mix the epoxy, I measure it with Dr. Pepper bottle caps. I pure the epoxy in a cap up to one of the threads. Then I pour the hardener into another cap, filling it up to the same thread. Then I pour them both into a 3oz paper cup and mix it.

I'm told that mixing epoxy in waxy cups isn't a good idea, so I got these small plastic mixing cups from Big Jim's Bow Company. I like these much better because they have volume marks, eliminating the needs for Dr. Pepper bottle caps.

Whenever I mix up some epoxy and have some left over, I pour the rest into the bottom of the tankard as if the bottom were a bar top. I learned a neat trick. If you use a heat gun or a blow drier and just blow it a little over the surface, the bubbles will come right out, leaving a perfectly smooth glassy finish.

The first thing I do is apply the finish to the inside, the top of the handle, and around the brim. I let that cure for about 24 hours, or longer if it's still tacky. Then I apply the finish to the bottom and outside but not all the way to the brim. That way, I can set it down upside down on the brim to let it cure, and it won't stick to the newspaper.

It's important to do this in a dust free environment and to keep the cats away from it. Once some dust or cat hair gets in the epoxy, it stays there.

After I've got three coats on there, which takes about six days, I leak test it by filling it with water and setting it on a paper towel for several hours. If it can go over night without there being any wet spots on the paper towel, I call it good. If not, I put an extra coat or two of epoxy on and test again. It's time consuming, but here's the result.

Ordinarily, if there's an odd piece or a break in the pattern, I'll put the handle there for the sake of symmetry. But in this case, I really liked the Osage and wanted it to be right there where you can look at it when you're holding the cup. I didn't want to hide it under the handle.

There you have it!

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