Adjustable Trivet

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This article is from Issue 75 of Woodcraft Magazine.

Turn your wooden leftovers into a versatile coaster for casseroles

A trivet is a great gift and an appropriate way to express appreciation to any cook in your life. And this is no ordinary trivet. In addition to being a lovely thing to look at, it adjusts in length to support anything from a small pot to a 9 × 13" casserole dish. (Of course, you can easily adjust the size shown here to suit whatever serving dishes you like.) It’s also a good opportunity to use scraps of special wood you’ve been hoarding. If you like, Woodcraft offers a variety of woods in the form of 2 × 2 × 12" turning blanks, which work perfectly for the trivet supports. The hardwood dowels needed are also available in different woods if you want to mix things up. Except for the dowels, all of the parts are cut long and trimmed to final length only after they’ve been drilled to accept dowels and the trivet can be partially assembled.

Making this project is a fun challenge because, for the pieces to slide properly, the holes in the supports need to be located and drilled very accurately. To ensure that, you’ll need to first make the hole-drilling jig shown. It’s a good investment in time, since it also makes production of multiples a lot quicker and easier, as does the pattern-routing template for the handles. That’s important because you may be surprised by how many folks request one of these. To paraphrase the old pistachio commercial: “Bet you can’t make just one!”

Order of Work:

  • Make the inner and outer supports.
  • Make the handles.
  • Trim to final width.
  • Prefinish parts, then assemble the trivet.

Handles, dowels and sliding supports

The trivet is designed to accommodate casserole dishes of all sizes. Smaller dishes can nest between the shoulders of the inner supports, with ends resting on the angled rabbets of the outer supports. Larger dishes can rest on the top edges of inner and outer supports. Slide-to-fit adjustment is achieved by drilling a series of blind and through holes in the supports, and gluing dowels in the blind holes.

Make the drilling jig before the trivet parts

To ensure perfectly aligned holes in the trivet supports, build this hole-drilling jig using a simple hole-spacing template. To get the right combination of blind and through holes in each part, refer to the hole-drilling chart.

Hole-drilling Chart

To avoid confusion when drilling the various trivet holes, affix this chart to the back of the drilling jig, aligning the arrows with the holes in the top of the jig. For proper scaling, ensure the outermost pairs of arrows are 2" apart.

Make the inner supports first

All four supports start out as 2 × 2 × 12" blanks. Make sure your stock is dead square and sanded smooth before any cuts are made. Each inner support has a pair of through holes, a pair of blind holes, and a pair of angled shoulders.

The construction sequence is fairly simple. Rip a 1"-thick workpiece from your 2 × 2 × 12" blank, then use the drilling jig to lay out the two angled shoulder pieces. Cut them free, then glue them back onto the workpiece. When the glue dries, use the jig again to bore pilot holes that pinpoint the locations of the blind and through holes. 

Next, dismount the jig and refer to its drilling chart to bore 33/64"-dia. through holes at their designated locations and 1/2"-dia. holes 1/2" deep at the blind hole locations. Now, rip the blank into two 3/4"-wide pieces, and then drill the remaining two blind holes.

Rip off the bottom. With the end of the inner support blank marked for orientation, and its bottom edge placed against your saw fence, make a 1"-wide rip. For aesthetics, I orient the primary direction of the annular rings from top to bottom.

Drill the pilot holes. Clamp the support blank in the hole-drilling jig, and chuck a 1⁄16"-dia. bit in your drill press, extending the bit as much as securely possible. Drill pilot holes as deep as possible at all hole locations, then remove the blank and finish drilling its holes completely through.

Drill the pilot holes. Clamp the support blank in the hole-drilling jig, and chuck a 1⁄16"-dia. bit in your drill press, extending the bit as much as securely possible. Drill pilot holes as deep as possible at all hole locations, then remove the blank and finish drilling its holes completely through.

Reattach the shoulders. Glue the shoulder sections back onto the bottom section of the blank in their original orientation. After the glue dries, joint the glue-line faces to clean them up.

Separate the blank into 2 pieces. With the support blank oriented with its blind holes against the fence for the first cut, rip it into two 3⁄4"-thick pieces.

Outer supports: cut the angled rabbet, then drill

Each outer support requires a single 2 × 2 × 12" blank. The final form you’re aiming for is shown in the drawing at right, and includes radiused corners, an angled rabbet, two ½"-dia. blind holes, and a groove that will hold the handle.

Before making the cuts shown below, check each blank to make sure it fits snugly in your hole-drilling jig, which ensures that your pilot holes are perfectly placed. After boring the ½"-dia. blind dowel holes, it’s smart to drill shallow easement holes to ensure smooth glue-up later. Finally, round over the outer corners, and saw or rout the handle groove.

Angled shoulder first. Set your tablesaw for a 15° bevel cut, and saw the angled shoulder on each blank in turn. Use a featherboard to ensure the cleanest cut.
Seat cut. After returning the blade to 90°, set your rip fence for a 1" cut, and raise the blade to cleanly intersect the angled shoulder cut. Err on the side of undercutting, as cleanup with a chisel is quick and easy. Then cut the seat on each piece.
Drill the holes. Clamp each blank in turn in the hole-drilling jig and, referring to the drilling chart, bore 1⁄16"-dia. pilot holes at the locations for the 2 blind holes, as shown. As insurance against drilling errors, place the clamps over the two hole locations not to be used. Afterward, dismount the jig and drill 1⁄2"-dia. holes 3⁄4" deep at the pilot hole locations.
Easement holes. Follow up by drilling a 3⁄16"-dia. hole 1⁄4" deep in the bottom of each blind hole. These glue- and air-escapement holes will ease dowel insertion during the final trivet assembly.

Make two handles from one thick blank

Resawing the handles from a single blank conserves material, results in book-matched grain, and makes for efficient sawing and drilling. Begin with a 3-1/4 × 12" blank that’s at least 13/16" thick. Screw the handle template to the blank, trace its shape, and then locate the centers of the cutout starter holes as shown. Remove the template and bore the starter holes at the drill press.

Next, as the initial step in creating the two handles, resaw most of the way through the blank with the curved side down. Then shape the partially resawn blank using a jigsaw to cut out the handle hole, and a bandsaw to cut the curved profile lines. In both cases, stay slightly outside your cutlines. To finish the shaping, reattach the template and use a flush-trim bit to finalize the shape. Afterward, return to the tablesaw and, with the curved side of the blank up this time, complete the resaw operation to fully separate the two handles. Then rout all the curved profiles with a 1/8" round-over bit. Finally, fit each handle  to its outer support groove as shown.

Locate the starter holes. Nestle a 1⁄2" Forstner or brad-point bit into each end of the handle cutout, and tap it with a hammer to provide a precise center mark for drilling. Then drill the 1⁄2"-dia. starter holes.

Initial resaw step. With the rip fence set for an 11⁄32" cut, and the blade raised about 2", make the first pass with one face of the inverted blank against the fence, and then with the other face against the fence to halfway separate the two handles.

Template rout the profile. Using an over-under flush-trim bit prevents tearout. Simply readjust the bearing height and flip the work over as necessary to allow cutting in the direction of the grain.

Fitting the groove. Saw a shallow rabbet in the underside of each handle to create a snug fit in its outer support groove.

Trim the trivet, then apply finish before the final glue-up

It’s much easier to apply finish to the trivet before final assembly, so here’s my approach to wrapping things up: First, cut four 8" lengths of 1/2"-dia. dowel, and sand, scrape, or file the ends if necessary to fit snugly into the blind holes in the inner and outer supports. Now dry-assemble the trivet, and twist any imperfectly straight dowels in their blind holes to create the best possible sliding action. For reorientation later, mark the top of each dowel just where it enters its outer support hole. Also sand or scrape any dowels where needed to improve the sliding action. Then glue the properly reoriented dowels into their blind holes in the outer supports. Don’t glue the dowels to the inner supports yet, but do match-mark one dowel and its blind hole in an inner support for later.

With the parts together, measure outwards 5-1/2" from the center of the assembly to mark the final width of the trivet. Then trim the package to width using a tablesaw sled. In preparation for applying a finish, touch-up sand everything, and mask off the ends of the dowels at the outer supports. Apply several coats of your favorite finish (I use tung oil), avoiding the dowels and the glue surfaces on the handles. After the finish dries, complete the glue-up. After the glue dries, check the sliding action, and sand any dowel areas that bind. The final step is to fine-sand the dowels and apply wax to them.

Trim to width. With only the dowels glued into the outer supports, place the otherwise dry-assembled trivet on a crosscut sled, and trim both ends flush. (Save an offcut from the outer supports to use as a profile layout pattern for future trivets.)
Final assembly. Glue and clamp the inner supports to their dowels, and the handles to their outer supports, making sure the entire assembly is square under clamp pressure.


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