This build is made possible by Waterlox finishes, find out more HERE
This set of 6 custom beer tap handles was an incredible challenge in sequencing and figuring out what steps could or couldn’t happen before the next one so I could end up with a certain final look. These tap handles were made for an awesome 6 tap kegerator that my buddy built. They are made from spalted beech wood with an epoxy inlay that contains a red die along with a tangerine iridescent powder that really made these what they are. The lines in the front of the taps correspond to the number of the tap from 1 through 6. These were so much fun to make, I hop you enjoy the build half as much!
It all starts as this log! It’s a really old piece of spalted beech and the 6 tap handles get cut out of this with a couple handle blanks to spare in case I need the extras.
I cut the log down into length a few inches longer then I want the final handles to be and then cut down the middle of the logs all the way down the length splitting them in half with my electric chain saw.
Then it’s a combination cutting these down smaller on the band saw and then down to their final rough square shape on the table saw.
I was able to get 8 of these blanks out of the log that I started with so I picked the best 6 out of then to make this set.
Then all of them are run through the thickness planer until the faces are all flattened. I check them for square too (although it’s not necessary, just because I’m anal) and cut a couple of them on the table saw again to square them up while I’m flattening them down.
Once all faces are smooth and square, one end is squared up on the miter saw and the other end is cut to length. Their still left a couple inches longer than the final length so I have some room to play with them during the turning process.
Next we move back over to the table saw and cut these detail lines in each one of the handles. Each handle labels the taps 1 through 6 so all of the odd numbered handles are cut starting in the center and then the even numbered handles are cut with the 2 middle grooves straddling the center.
With all of the grooves cut in the blanks it’s time to prepare for the first epoxy pour. I’m pouring an epoxy mix in to fill up these grooves so I need to cover up the ends to keep the epoxy from pouring out. I just use a couple layers of blue tape and push on the tape really hard to make sure there is a tight seal on the ends of the grooves. I’ve done an epoxy pour before that leaked… yeah you only do that once.
So I mix together the 2 parts of the epoxy – resin and hardener, in a cup, then add a powdered red dye to color the epoxy followed by a tangerine color iridescent powder which adds a slight orange tint along with a really cool 3-dimensional look and shine in the cured epoxy.
Once I’m sure it’s mixed thoroughly (to ensure proper curing) I pour the mixture into the grooves in the handles. The grooves are pretty thin and I don’t want any air getting stuck in there so I pour going from the center out and work it into certain spots with a tiny scrap piece of wood. I also run over the epoxy quickly with a small propane torch to help bring any air bubbles to the surface and pop them.
With the epoxy cured I pull them off of the silicone pad (good thing because I made a mess… per usual) and bring the over to the belt sander to clean them up and sand the epoxy flush with the wood surface.
I still have a 2nd epoxy pour to do but I sand it down flush anyway so that it sits flat on my miter saw for this step and gives me an accurate cut. Here I cut off a small top piece of the handles at an angle and save the cutoff piece for the next step.
For the 2nd epoxy pour I want to create a gap between the two pieces I cut and fill that with the same epoxy mix. For this I use a couple of pieces of 1/8″ thick PVC scrap to hold the 2 pieces with an even gap between them while I tape them together on the sides and bottom. The scrap piece is reattached specifically just to help me turn these down to size because it will be removed again later.
I pull out the PVC spacers, make sure the tape is secure all the way around and then mix up my same epoxy concoction again. This is again poured into the gaps starting in the center and moving out to the sides until full, then bubbles are popped with a propane torch and it’s left to cure.
And, once again, with the epoxy cured I bring the handles all over to the belt sander to flatten the faces to prepare them for the next step.
I run all of the handle blanks through the table saw with the blade tilted over at a 45 degree angle in order to cut all of the corners off to take off the bulk of the material before mounting it to the lathe.
Then the last step before I can finally start turning these is drilling a hole in the end of each handle where the threaded insert will be…. well… inserted (using a forstner bit), and then used to mount the handles both to the lathe now and to the beer tap later.
To mount these in the lathe I use a bolt with the same threads as the threaded insert with a nut threaded onto it. I then mount this in my lathe chuck using my small jaws and once it’s tightened down I put the threaded insert onto the protruding end of the bolt.
Now to get the threaded insert into the holes I drilled earlier I simply alternate between tightening the tail stock (to push the insert into the handle) and spinning the handle with one handle while the other handle holds the chuck in place.
This is the story stick/template that I use to shape the handles down to size. I made a sketch in CAD to get approval for the shape of the handles, so I use this to trace out the profile and I write certain key diameters along the length of the template (like the largest/smallest diameter and key points along the way).
I start turning by setting my calipers, using my template, to the largest diameter of the handle. Then I turn down to what is essentially a giant dowel. Every couple of inches along the length I use my calipers to get it down to this diameter and then I connect all of those points to make a straight line along the length of the handle.
Now I can use my story stick part of the template to mark out the key points along the handle and then turn these down to diameter like I did before for the largest diameter.
All of these points are connected to create the profile of the handles by curving from one point down the the other.
I do this mostly by eye, but use them template to check it along the way. With the template pressed up against the handle I look to see where there is light passing through and where the template hits the piece — the light is the low spots and the touching parts are the high spots so I work it little by little until it brought down to shape to match the profile of the template.
Once I’m pleased with the shape, it’s just a matter of running through the grits to sand it down smooth. I start with my regular sandpaper and sand up to 400.
Then since I want to bring the epoxy down to a shine, I pull out these micro-mesh sanding pads which run all the way up to 12,000 grit.
This is about half way through the micro-mesh sanding process and you can already see a shine starting to develop in both the wood and the epoxy.
Then I can finally take the tap handles off of the lathe and remove the final piece which is the scrap piece I reattached earlier. I carefully and slowly cut along the line that is the top of the epoxy infill on the band saw.
I then bring them all over to the belt sander and sand the tops of them flat.
It made the surface nice and flat, but the belt is 150 grit so it’s super rough still.
To smooth that surface out and bring it to a shine it’s just a matter of sanding through the grits again. First, I mount the random orbital sander in a clamp upside down so I can sand through 400 grit.
Then it’s down to manual sanding with the micro-mesh pads to bring this to a shine!
Now it’s down to the best part, time to apply the finish and see that grain!! For finish I use Waterlox Original, which is a tung oil finish. I use 6 coats to make sure these are nice and protected for lots of handling.
After just the first coat of finish you can see the amazing grain pop and the cool pattern formed by the iridescent powder in the epoxy mixture.