Making a Confederation Tray

It started as an experiment, like most things do around here. To try it and see what happens. We had harvested some hemlock logs from Sutherland’s River, NS in the winter of 2017/2018. We decided to slice up some hemlock into round discs, called cookies, and follow through the process of levelling, sanding and finishing. But first, we have to count the rings. I counted just over 150 rings. That means this tree sprouted at about the same time a group of men gathered in Charlottetown, PEI. Which is just up the road and across the water :). Confederation Cookies.

hemlock trees,Nova Scotia,forestry,hand made in Canada,cookies
About 150 growth rings.

Let’s start with a couple of cookies on the workbench. I had cut them about as straight as I could with the chainsaw and let them dry for a few months indoors. Once dry we needed to address the cracks and make them level.

hemlock cookies,wood discs,platters,made in Nova Scotia,made in Canada
Rough sawn hemlock cookie platters.

I’ve never made a butterfly joint before. Most methods I’ve seen in the past involve a router and templates to fit a butterfly shaped piece of wood. I opted for a more rustic approach. First up, I made a butterfly joint from a piece of wood that would contrast with the hemlock. A piece of ash will do. I drew out a shape and cut it on the bandsaw.

butterfly joinery,wood discs,cookies,platters,Antigonish,Nova Scotia,hand crafted,artisans
Make a butterfly joint.

Once the butterfly shape was cut out, I traced the it onto the cookie on either side of the crack.

butterfly cookies,woodworking,joinery,Antigonish,Nova Scotia,crafts,artisans
Trace for cutting out.

Now I had to cut away the shape from the cookie. A steady hand and patience is key. A sharp blade helps too. Its worth noting that when I was cutting the two angled sides, when backing out of each cut I did have some difficulty because the kerf had closed in as I was cutting. The grain still has movement.

hemlock,cookies,butterfly joints,wodworking,Antigonish,Nova Scotia
Butterfly joints to control cracking.

We were now ready to put it together. Cross your fingers.

woodworking joinery,wood joints,butterfly,Antigonish,made in Nova Scotia,artisans,crafters
Time to move quickly with glue.

A couple swift blows of the hammer did the trick and honestly, it was at this point I expected the cookie to crack up.

woodworking,butterfles,joints,joinery,wodo crafts,cookies,platters,discs,weddings,Antigonish,Nova Scotia,hand crafted
Setting the butterfly joint in place.

There you have it, two successfully jointed cookies. But we weren’t finished yet.

wood crafts,woodworking,cookies,discs,wedding supplies,Antigonish,made in Nova Scotia
Rough cut butterfly jointed cookies

In the past, we have sanded down large cookies with just the sander. It does a good job but sanding on the end grain of a piece of wood is by far the most difficult area to level out. Time to try something new. We decided to remove end grain material using a router and a flat bottom router bit. Nowadays there are special bits for such a purpose. We only have a straight bit that just so happens will leave a flat bottom.

First step, rig up some clamps to keep the cookie in place.

how to flatten end grain with a router,,woodworking,made in Nova Scotia,Antigonish
Getting a grip on the cookies.

Then I put together a simple sled for the router to travel back and forth on.

how to flatten end grain logs with a router,made in Nova Scoita,woodworking,artissans,Antigonish
Using a router sled for end grain flattening.

With each pass back and forth, we removed 1/2 inch of material at a time. The yellow clamp on each end would grip the sled, then we would unclamp, move 1/2 inch to the right, re-clamp and make another pass. This 15 inch diameter cookie took 30 passes to flatten. Half way done, this is what it looked like.

woodworking,how to use a router sled to flatten end grain,hand crafted,Nova Scotia,Antigonish
Router used to flatten end grain.

With the router work done, it was time to sand. We used 80 grit as that’s the roughest grit we had. Maybe 50 grit would have sped up this step as it took as much time to sand as it did to router.

woodworking,sanding end grain,hand crafted,Nova Scotia
Sanding end grain of a log cookie.

With the sanding step out of the way, here you can see the fruits of our labour.

hemlock,end grain,wodworking,butterfly joints
Butterfly joint and hemlock end grain.

Shown below, you can see the presence of radial cracks in the log.

woodworking,close up of end grain hemlock logs,Nova Scotia,Antigonish
Note the radial cracking.

We are getting close to the final steps in the process of making our Confederation Cookies. Only thing left was a few coats of water based polyurethane.

polyurethane,woodworking,end grain
Polyurethane clear coat.

After the clear coat dried, it was sanded and another coat applied. Then a hand buffing of paste wax for a smooth finish.

woodworking,cookies,hemlock,Nova Scotia,crafters,Antigonish
Confederation Cookie!

Now Gina wants me to add butterflies to all the things. Cracked or not.

We decided to add handles to the two wood slices. First one we added rope handles. For this I drilled two holes on either side of the slice and pushed the rope through and attached it underneath. With both handles on here is how it looks.

serving tray,rope handles,cookie slices
Rope handled tray

And here is where it landed.

serving tray,butterfly,wood slice,cookie
Rope handles and a butterfly

For the other one we added leather handles. We actually liked the back of the leather better for this project so that’s what we used.

cookie slice,wood cookies,tray
Leather handled tray

Here is where it landed.

serving tray,cookie slice,leather handled tray
Some minor rearranging

A little video:

And there you have it. Confederation trays, wood slice trays, cookie trays, serving trays, call them what you want. Done two ways. Oh and we either need a bigger house or a new hobby!


A Newfoundland born Canadian with a life long interest in woodworking, baking and anything else that peaks my curiosity.

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