Wednesday, 29 June 2011

How do you make a hand carved cigar ashtray.

Spalted Cherry wood
The choice of wood is very important I like to use hard woods in most cases Cherry, Beech these have fantastic grains which should be shown off and admired, I just love spalted wood the designs and patterns that come from this type of wood are fantastic.
I have used alder which dries very hard (think broom handles) when the entire ashtray is going to be covered, it is quite hard to get a really good finish with alder but is suitable for the cigar band ashtray design. I firstly select some seasoned wood  which has generally been cut into small lengths by chain saw. 
Split log, the start.
Then I check the grain decide where to split the wood log and batten it into two parts if the split goes well and the wood will allow it I will use both sides of the split log. I use very few tools to actually carve a  cigar ashtray Gransfors small forest axe Gransfors Frost clipper knife, Frost Mora spoon knife single sided Mora knives, Flexcut U gouge Flexcut tools and finally a palm sander to take the rough tool marks out of the wood. Once I have decided which half to work the next step is to use the axe too level of the top and bottom of the piece, once this has been achieved then I choose the best side to use as the top. I have several designs that I have used but in most cases the size and shape of the wood will dictate the outline of the ashtray I will draw a template onto the wood these will act as guidelines when roughing out the work. Once I have drawn the outline in, the hard work begins, the first area to be worked is the bowl of the tray, some times this is square or rounded.  I use the Frost Mora spoon single bladed knife. The key to making this work as easy as possible is to soak the work piece overnight in water I do not always do this but it can help. You must try and maintain a very sharp edge to your tool I tend to touch up the blade edge on a very regular basis, it is quite easy to realise when the edge is dulling as you have to put more and more effort into the cutting stroke. I tend to wrap my work fingers in elasticated self adhesive bandage cohesive bandage which also has a cushion affect which ensures I do not get blisters. You should wear a protective glove on the non carving hand for protection. It is worth stating at this point that if you have never worked with tools/hand tools before there are certain rules that you should apply and really have been given some tuition before use, this blog and its contents do not represent in any way such safety briefs, be advised to seek help before carving. Stay safe.
Outline, bowl, slot carved
Once the bowl has been roughed out using the spoon knife I go over the area again very lightly to try and remove some of the really rough areas this helps in the finishing process, its best to hone the edge of the tool before doing this final pass over the work. The next stage for me is to cut out the cigar slot I use the Flexcut U gouge for this task slowly chiseling out the slot bit by bit until I have reached the required depth.  Once this is complete I start work on the outside of the tray how much work in this are will depend on the design I intend to use if the top end of the tray is to be rounded quite a lot of work has to take place. If the end is square then finishing is minimal.  The final stage which probably takes the longest is the finishing. I start off with the palm sander using a 60 grit emery sheet getting all of the deep tool marks out. Once I think they have been removed I move up a grade of emery to an 80 grit. After the 80 has been completed I put the palm sander away. I continue by hand moving up to a 120 grit then 180, 240,400,600 and the final emery is 1200. If at anytime I feel that some marks have not come out then I go back a few grades to remove the marks. The final  finish can be one of several different types Polyurethane, Beeswax, Teak oil, Linseed oil.  I have found that actually I like the Polyurethane as when the finish is applied all over with several coats it is quite watertight and makes for easy cleaning after use.
2 trays left Polyurethane coated and from the same log, the right is linseed oil coated.
There is very little maintenance with the finished ashtray, however, good cigar etiquette should be used never let the cigar get to close to the wood else it will burn the cigar slot. Always let the cigar go out in the slot by its self do not stub out and all should be well.

Well, I hope you have enjoyed my little wander into my exploits of making cigar ashtrays. Just a few examples of some past projects. There is far more to come though.

Fuente Fuente Love Affair cigar tray

Two nice simple Cherry trays.
The Nub tray.
The cigar band tray now living in Florida.
Thanks for reading. Remember if using sharp tools and instruments please be very careful ensure you know what your doing and receive some safety training.


  1. I want to carve this for my hubby for Father's Day. I don't have any offcuts so I'm thinking of going to lowes to get 2 offcuts of cherry wood. What's a rough estimate of the size I should ask for?

  2. Hi, Thanks for your question. There are no ideal sizes really its what your comfortable with and the design you want. If you were to pin me down length 7 / 8 inches, width about 5 inches, depth 1 1/2 inches. I hope your cigar ashtray goes well. I would love to see the finished article, perhaps you could post me a picture of your finished piece. If i can give any more guidance please drop me a line.



  3. Great! That's very helpful. I'll definitely share a picture but it'll probably look a lot rougher. Ha....

  4. My first attempt never went to well. Just enjoy what your making and spend time in the finishing of the carved work. Good Luck.


  5. Thanks:) I'll keep that in mind:) :)

  6. Hi. I have been trying for some time to make a cigarette ashtray from a piece of oak. I never get far before tossing it aside as it is extremely hard. Also, I want to have the bark on when finished, but this also has proved to be a little difficult, should I remove the bark and reattach when finished?

  7. Oak is indeed a very hard wood to work with Wendy and like you I find it difficult to achieve a satisfactory finish. I use large U gauge chisels that I keep very sharp to take out the meat of the wood in the bowl area. In regard to the bark I have to say that every piece of bark that I have left on has always ended up coming off mainly due to shrinkage. I have never tried to glue the bark back on so I have no experience to guide you with. It is a matter of trial and error sometimes, good luck Wendy.