Wood tankards have a feeling of Old World charm. Drinking from a large, old-style wooden mug is reminiscent of sitting in a favorite tavern during Colonial times with friends and family in front of a large fire. Making wooden tankards that pass the test of time is a challenge since wood pieces must be cut and glued together. The tankards are then finished in such a way as to create a watertight mug that doesn't absorb liquid. Making one of these three major styles of tankards requires specific tools, and then the wood must be sealed with a highly durable, waterproof finish.
Lathe Turned Tankards
Some tankards are created from a single piece of wood. Fine-grained hardwoods such as walnut, mahogany or cherry can be turned on a lathe, and the wood will not fracture because of the strength of the timber. This project requires a lathe and a number of tools called chisels and gouges with which to carve out the interior of the cup. After the tankard is turned, it should be hand sanded to prepare it for finishing.
Glued-up Wood Tankards
Decorative tankards can be created by gluing pieces of wood together in layers. Alternate layers of maple and walnut, oak and cherry, or other pairs of hardwoods that have significantly different colors and wood-grain patterns. In order to make a glued-up tankard, a craftsman uses a table or band saw and a surface planer to prepare the wood for gluing. The wood is stacked with a liberal coat of wood glue between each layer, then squeezed with a pair of bar clamps until dry. As a result, independent pieces of wood become one solid block, and the joints between the layers are stronger than the wood itself. After the block dries, the tankard is created by turning the block on a lathe, as described above.
Keg Style Slat Tankards
For those without access to a lathe, old-style tankards that look like beer and wine kegs are made from slats that are glued together vertically. Each slat is cut, then beveled on a table saw so the pieces fit together perfectly. For example, when making a tankard with 12 slats, each side of each slat must be beveled at 15 degrees. After a light sanding, each joint receives a liberal coat of waterproof wood glue, then the slats are pulled together to form the small keg with a web-strap wood clamp. After the pieces dry, they are decorated with a small rope pulled tightly around the top and bottom of the tankard to make it look like the rope holds the wood together.
Waterproof Wood Finishes
After making the tankards, they must be finished with a high-quality, water- and detergent- proof clear finish. A simple finish of waterborne acrylic polyurethane can be applied directly out of the can with a paint brush. However, if these pieces will be receive heavy use, a better finish is a two-part epoxy catalyzed finish applied with high-pressure, low-volume spray equipment, which is available for rental at many commercial paint stores.
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