I asked for the piece of wood and was given bemused permission as the owner knows we don't have a fire place (yet) and bought it home.
With a bit of help from the husband and his collection of power tools, I gave it a go.
Heres what I did...
My first attempt to cut the branch onto slices involved the pruning saw and I never got through the first slice. Its really hard work to hold a small piece of wood still while you hack at a piece of hardwood!
Once the Husband realised what I was doing, he got out his power saw and set it up for me with a jig attached so that my slices were all the same depth. I simply slid the branch along the base plate until about 2cm were past the cutting blade (and it was hard up against the piece of wood held on with a clamp acting as my guide or jig) He got me to do it myself. It was the first time I had ever done this as this piece of machinery scares me silly with its power and noise but with all the safety gear on and plenty of caution, I managed to cut most of the wood into slices.
I had chosen a hard wood (some sort of native that had fallen in a storm a while back) that was on the bottom of the pile. It had been there a while and had "aged". My husband had tried this exact thing with a piece of the Apple Gum when it dropped a branch a few years ago. The branch was "wet" and fresh and he cut it into slices and then as each slice dried out, it split and warped. So I knew I needed a piece that had been out in the weather and was a "grey" colour rather than a fresh rich brown and wasn't split. The longer its been out in the weather (or off the tree) the more likely it is not to split was our theory.
Oce I had all my slices cut, I used a sanding block to neaten up all the edges as the saw left them all rough with burrs on the edges.
One scary thing that happened was discovering a hole in the middle of one of my slices. Actually that wasn't so scary, it was following the hole through a few slices and then discovering a wet patch... where I had sliced some big white grub thing in half. I gave the grub halves to the chookies and wiped the grub juice off the slices and left them in the sun to dry. It seems grub juice doesn't stain the wood...
Really interesting shape hole. He must have entered the tree in another part of the branch as we couldn't find the entry hole at all!
At this point I made the decision to remove all the bark. It was falling off and the only way to keep it on was to glue it on. It seemed like a lot of hit and miss as it crumbled as well as falling off in big chunks. It was easy enough to pick off the sides and I threw it in the garden to add to our layers of organic material!
I wanted to seal the slices so that they didn't stain or go mouldy if a drink got spilt on them and when I was hunting through the shed for some varnish, I found a spray can of varnish stain (that I didn't think to photograph)and decided to use that.
I popped them on an old moving box (I have so many of them at the moment) and simply pointed the can at them and sprayed.
I did a coat each day for three days on each side. Its quite cold up here and the can said 24 hours between coats. I did sand the first 2 coats but left the third. I turned the slices each time and made sure I got the sides as well as the tops and bottoms of each slice.
So once they had their three coats of varnish each and were dry, they came inside to be used on the table. The grub hole isn't for every one but its certainly a conversation starter and my admiration for these grubs and what they can bite through has definitely improved!
I can see some slight splits forming - I'm guessing the older the wood the less chance of this happening there is. I don't know if a different (thicker) sealer would help... If you do know, please let me know in the comments. I think Ill end up making more and it would be good to hear from people who know more about this than I do.
At any rate, they cost nothing and are I think quite successful! It wouldn't be hard to glue a piece of felt on the bottom of each slice to protect the table top if you felt it was necessary. You could colour coordinate the felt with the rooms colours or the wood itself - depending on how you feel.
Have you made these before? Let me know how you went and feel free to link to your post about making coasters from a natural tree branch!
Green-ness: 4/5 for using something natural that was laying around rather than buying a piece of plastic to do the job!
Frugal-ness: If you have the varnish or sealant laying around already, its super cheap!
Time cost: About 2 mins to cut, 2 mins to sand and 30 seconds to spray - over a week though!
Skill level: Guidance or experience with power tools - the rest is sanding and spraying!
Fun-ness: It was a great fun project and I'm quite chuffed with them - I'm thinking Christmas pressies for the family now!