My family just chopped down an old silver maple tree in their backyard. It has some great branches that are about 2-3 inches. We thought that slicing them and cutting them up into thinner pieces to make a some nice drink coasters.

The plan is to have a nice bare tree look with them. The bark is thin on these in this area. We want it to have a nice natural look, and possibly something to show off the rings of the tree. Nothing dark, nothing that will change the color/hue too much.
There won't be a need to make it food safe, as its just for cups and glasses. They will potentially be used outdoors on the patio. I would like them sealed so they will retain their look for a long time. However, I also don't want anything that will smell (in case they are used in the house or in the enclosed patio room). Something that would also stand up to the elements (to some extent) if they are left out.

My question is do you think that they need any type of finish on them?
And if so, what kind what do you suggest?
Should these also be dried out, and if so for how long before a finish?

I know some of this might be opinion based, and I appreciate everyone's opinion and thoughts on that. Overall, looking for a what works best, and what is a good thought on sealing a wooden coaster that is sliced from a tree branch.

  • 1
    You're getting a little ahead of yourself here, before you work out what finish you want to use you have to get some slices dried that you can work with. That's the thing you need to look into first since getting slices of branch dry/seasoned without disastrous cracks in the majority can be a major obstacle.
    – Graphus
    Apr 21, 2018 at 16:41
  • Thank you for that Graphus. Perhaps I am getting ahead of myself. However, I am looking to the end result and already have the pieces cut and trying to dry them right now and seeing what I got to work with. I have about 20-30 cut right now and would be happy with about 6-8 (just as a set for a gift). I have had success with drying in the past, but mostly pine or basswood, never maple/silver maple. And I am still looking for a finish in general for the coasters. Thoughts? Apr 23, 2018 at 0:01
  • Was the tree alive when it was felled or was it standing dead? If it was alive the wood is green and you'll have to be lucky to get a 27-30% yield after thorough drying (weeks to months), but branch stock can pleasantly surprise sometimes. As to finish, you'd have a lot to pick from except that you want the colour to change minimally. End-grain surfaces almost always darken considerably when finished and all of the hardest-wearing finishes I can think of will also add some amber tone (even if the finish isn't strongly yellow like varnishes can be, e.g. epoxy).
    – Graphus
    Apr 23, 2018 at 12:07
  • The silver maple was half-dead when it was felled. It wasn't completely, but still had leaves every year but some dead branches. Roughly a 4 foot trunk at the base, and the branches I am looking at were 2-4 inches. Hence why it was cut down. It was also cut about 6 weeks ago, the wood was left outside and some of the nicer pieces I picked up and took home for the coasters. I let it dry for about another week before cutting, and felt that as I was cutting many of them were not that green, though still needed time to dry. I think I have 2 more branches I am drying just in case..... Apr 23, 2018 at 12:33
  • ....but you are right, with all that it could go either way with the drying and such. I like to think that so far they are good and its a recipe for success (but I am being very optimistic). But a 20% yield is about what I was planning, hence the 6-8 for about 20-30 cut. thank you for the conversation and insight about all that, its good to know that and hear it from some one more seasoned and experienced (which I have little of in this realm, but eager to learn). Thank you. Apr 23, 2018 at 12:36

2 Answers 2


My question is do you think that they need any type of finish on them?

I think it's vital, yes. The top and bottom surfaces of slices like this are all end grain, and unsealed end grain is absorbent like a sponge. Even the slices that dried without cracking to begin with have the potential to crack and/or warp again each time they get damp or wet.

And if so, what kind what do you suggest?

Personally I think wax is the way to go here. I normally prefer finishes like varnish that dry hard, but for this the wax can be soaked into the wood in a very simple way that doesn't require any complicated or expensive setup.

  • Buy an inexpensive wax such as canning wax, or any other pure paraffin wax. You could use beeswax but it generally costs a lot more and there's no benefit here AFAIC, and it's usually yellowish to orange in colour while paraffin wax is white.
  • Melt the wax carefully over a low heat or in a double boiler/bain marie.
  • Once the wax is fully melted submerge the slices one at a time until they stop bubbling. They'll want to float, so you'll either need to hold them under with tongs or something or place something small and heavy on top to keep them submerged.
  • Once bubbles have ceased to be released from the wood this should indicate that it's absorbed as much wax as it can take so remove them, wipe/scrape as much excess wax from the surface as you can and put aside to cool.

Once they're at room temp you can scrape any remaining wax from the surface, buff them with a cloth and they're ready to use.

Should these also be dried out, and if so for how long before a finish?

As with all wood drying, you do it as long as is necessary to get the wood down to a suitable moisture level. Without a moisture meter I think the only way to check this is to weigh them until they stop losing mass.

The other option would have been to stabilise the wood in PEG or Pentacryl but I believe this needs to be done immediately after cutting to be effective.

  • Wow, awesome! Thank you for the response and the details! Apr 23, 2018 at 12:40

The biggest problem I see with your plan is that discs cut from a branch as mentioned are going to be chronically bending and warping even after they are properly dried out.

One option you could consider is casting them in clear (or colored for that matter) resin.

This would be a pretty simple process for what you are planning you simply need a dish slightly deeper and wider than the disc. Once coated in resin you can trim the edges and sand/buff it smooth and shiny. Realistically they should pretty much last forever...

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