Easy Gift Project: Salt And Pepper Shakers

The vast majority of everything I’ve made has been given to others as gifts. Unless of course it’s a large piece of furniture. Anyway, last week I took a road trip to Michigan for a relative’s wedding and was able to bring a few more items to give away. I took the gift I made for the wedding, my stand up computer cart and an old cutting board I made to give to my brother, and a two player Chinese checkers game box to give to my dad. Giving items you personally made not only feels good but people receiving them generally appreciate them more as they were made by you.

While gathering those items it dawned on me that I really don’t have much else to give away in the future so I decided to make a few items to have on hand. Salt and pepper shakers are super easy to make, use very little material, and you can batch out a few sets in an afternoon. They are easily customizable too with different wood species, shapes, and any decorative elements you want to include. The two I made here are relatively simple with very few details. For a free plan with the dimensions I used click here.

This isn’t my first set of salt and pepper shakers though. I’ve probably made a dozen or so sets here and there and have given them all away. For this set I’m using sapele as the dominant wood and maple as the accent wood.

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The cool thing about these little projects is how little material is required for them. I tend to make larger projects so these smaller projects always seem to go by so quick. For this set I used a 5” x 16” strip of 4/4 sapele.

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The maple I’m using was salvaged from a heat treated shipping pallet on my previous trip to Michigan last March. Before slicing out a couple strips for the accent material two faces were cleaned up at the jointer. Two faces of the sapele were jointed as well.

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Then two 5/16” strips were sliced out at the bandsaw. I recently did a tune up on my bandsaw and man does it cut better. No more blade drift.

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To get everything down to it’s final size the planer is used. It’s crazy how much more use this machine gets after I got my jointer. I initially stored this planer in my miter saw station but since getting my jointer I haven’t put it away.

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After ripping the 5” wide sapele strip into two pieces a blank was glued up. Sapele – maple – sapele. For this glue up I purposely used too much glue as I though it would be neat to shoot a time-lapse of the glue squeezing out and dripping. It ended up not being as nice of a shot as I thought and just created a huge mess. I won’t do that again.

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Back to the jointer and table saw to clean up the faces. The sapele was milled to 7/8” thick and the maple to 1/4” thick before gluing up so the resulting blank was then sized to 2” square.

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I prefer to use a table saw sled for crosscutting smaller parts. I also prefer to use a one sided cutoff sled most of the time but I went for my two sided sled for these. The shaker dimensions can really be up to you but for these I made the blanks 3-1/2” tall. That way when the 1/4” top and bottom pieces are added the final height is 4”.

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Using the drill press and a 1-1/2” forstner bit the main cavity is drilled into each of the shakers. It’s a good idea to use a clamp to hold the shaker as the hole is drilled for two reasons. Not only is holding smaller items on the drill press dangerous as the drill bit can grab the piece and instantly spin it in your hand but also the shakers tend to heat up quite a bit during this process as a lot of material is being removed.

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When milling the material earlier I also milled some extra 1/4” strips of sapele and maple to use as the top and bottom cap. I did make a mistake here though. Before gluing on the top it’s best to drill the 1/2” through hole in the bottom. If you wait until after the top is glued on like I did you will end up with a tiny piece of wood on the inside that is a nightmare to get out. For salt I used a maple top and bottom and for pepper I used a sapele top and bottom.

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After the glue dried on the top and bottom pieces the belt sander was used to flush up all of the sides. I rarely use this belt sander these days but when I need it it’s incredibly handy to have.

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Another 1-1/2” hole is drilled on the bottom side to a depth of about 1/2”. The purpose of this is to allow your fingers a little bit of room to grab the cork.

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A small tapered cork will be used for the plug. I used to buy these corks locally for about $5 for a set of four. Luckily I couldn’t find any locally this time as I ended up getting a bag of 100 off Amazon for less than $10. The exact package I purchased seems to be temporarily out of stock but specifically they are #4 tapered corks with a top diameter of 16mm and a bottom diameter of 12mm.

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Next I drilled the 1/2” through hole on bottom. I should have done this before gluing on the top piece. Every time I’ve made a set of these shakers I’ve made this same mistake. As the drill finishes the hole the last bit of material ends up being pushed down by the drill instead of drilling it completely out resulting in a tiny piece of wood stuck inside the shaker. It’s more annoying than anything.

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A 1/2” hole results in a perfect size opening for the tapered corks to stop half way. And the wider 1-1/2” hole drilled earlier allows plenty of finger room to remove the cork.

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For the top holes you can get fancy with a letter S or a letter P but I always keep it simple. I just mark the diagonals and drill five holes in an X shape. For the pepper all five holes are drilled all the way through the top with a 1/16” drill bit. For the salt the same 1/16” drill bit is used but only the middle hole is drilled all the way through. The rest are only drilled slightly just for decoration. Salt tends to flow more material than pepper so it’s best to start with one through hole and drill more later if necessary.

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Finally, to remove the pencil marks I use my scraper. I’ve really cut down on sandpaper use since getting a scraper. I should have gotten one a long time ago.

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A little bit of spray lacquer and they are done. A quick and easy project you can complete in an afternoon with very little material. And they are great to give as gifts. For a free plan with the dimensions I used click here.

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  1. I’ve been looking for simple Christmas gifts that I could make plenty of in a short time but also they had to be useful for everyone… and these are perfect.

    I get plenty of sapele for free but in no perticular size so I got all I could today, I’m doing a few test pieces as they will be 1 3/4″ square if they work then great if not I’ll glue them up to be 2″.

    I’ll post photos on Facebook when done.

    Thanks for the idea and keep up the good work.

  2. Jay,
    I was wondering if there are any woods not to be used for things like this. I have some rosewood scraps laying about my shop and would be perfect for this project if it is safe for use. Is this something I can make with these boards?

  3. Hey Jay, I know you live in or around Starkville. I live in Tupelo. I would like to know, where do you buy your hardwoods from. In Tupelo, L I Wes and Home Depot only carry oak, poplar, pine and cedar. I appreciate your videos. This gives me some projects for Christmas gifts.
    Thanks David.

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