Canadian Woodworking

Bottle Openers: 3 Takes on a Theme

Author: Rob Brown
Photos: Rob Brown
Published: August September 2016

There’s nothing like a nice cold one after some time in the shop. Make one (or all) of these bottle openers and you can reap the rewards of your shop time with each drink you enjoy.


  • COST

All three of these openers are quite easy to make. In fact, the most time-consuming version – with veneered faces – only took about 90 minutes in total, and it can easily be made without veneer, which cuts about an hour off the build. All of these openers can be made in about an hour, though once you start making one you might want to go that extra mile and add a certain detail, or personal touch, to customize yours.

At its simplest form, you can grab a cold one and place it on your patio table, break out a small piece of wood, drive a panhead screw into one face, adjust its depth to work properly and use it to open your beer on the patio five minutes later.

For two of these openers I used pocket-hole screws as the edge that removes the bottle cap. For the last one I used a washer that is sold with rare earth magnets. You could also use any pan-head screw; as long as the surface on the underside of the head is flat it will grip the edge of the cap.

The openers I made are all on the large side. I’m not usually a “bigger is better” kind of guy, but I liked the look of the larger versions. You could probably make any of these models about half the size if you wanted to. The important dimension is the thickness of the opener, as you don’t want your screw to protrude through the opposite side. And as long as there is enough material on the far side of the screw or washer, the opener should, at the very least, do its job. The rest is strictly “wow” factor.

Use a fairly dense wood for these openers, as a softer wood will compress slightly with repeated use.

Also, if you wanted to embed a magnet into the side of one of these openers so it could be stored on the side of the fridge, go for it. Another option is to drill a small hole in the end and use a piece of string or rope to hang the opener from a hook.

When it comes time to finish your opener, select a durable finish that won’t be damaged by alcohol. Shellac is out, but an oil- or water-based polyurethane will work well. Your opener will likely get lots of use over the years, and also spend a decent amount of time banging around in a drawer. Even a wipe-on finish that could be reapplied every few years would be fine. For small projects like this I like using a small spray bomb.

Slight Protrusion
Brown drilled the hole to accept the washer, then marked a line 1/8" inside the outer quadrant of the hole. When the waste is removed, and the washer installed, it will protrude about 1/8" from this line.

Remove the Waste
The waste removed from the front, lower face of this opener will allow the bottle cap to fit over the protruding washer.

Eased Edge
While the edge of the washer was held by needle-nosed pliers, Brown chamfered it so it would fit underneath the edge of the bottle cap a bit easier.

Perfect Fit
Once the washer is installed it will fit under the cap nicely.

Cut Some Veneer
Mark out pieces of oversized veneer, then trim them with a sharp knife. Use the workpiece to ensure the veneer will be large enough.

Cauls and Clamps
Brown sandwiches the blank and two slices of veneer between cauls, then clamps them in place. You can use masking tape at the ends to keep the veneer from shifting while pressure is being applied.

Thumb Locator
The curved end of a belt sander produces the perfect radius for a notch your thumb can rest on.

Finger Notches
A small drum sander in a drill press creates four notches for fingers.

Draw Two Arcs
Brown lined the blank up so the end of the workpiece was even with the edge of the work surface. He then located a point about 3-1/2" in from the edge of the work surface and drew an arc with a 12-1/4" radius. This arc represented the underside of the opener, and is shown in this photo. To mark the top edge of the opener Brown located a point about 1-1/2" away from the edge of the work surface and marked an arc with a 16" radius.

Tapered Sides
Both sides taper in about 3/16" so the handle is narrower than the working end.

Smooth the Tapers
You can use a bandsaw, handsaw or plane to remove the material, and leave a smooth surface.

General Shaping
A belt sander will make quick work of rough-shaping the contours of this opener.

Quick, Easy Finish
Brown finds spraying coats of finish on these small openers is often the best approach, as they can be difficult to brush or wipe a finish onto.

Simple opener

As long as you already have a washer, and a long enough #4 screw on hand, this is the simplest of the three versions in this article. Start by breaking out the blank to about 7/8″ × 1″ × 7″. Mark a line on the 3/4″ wide face that’s 1-1/2″ from the end of the blank. With a Forstner bit, drill a hole centered on the line, to accept the washer, and allow it to finish flush with the underside of the blank. I used a 5/8″ diameter washer and a #4 × 1″ flat-head screw.

Mark a line on the underside of the opener located 1/8″ inside the front quadrant of the newly bored hole. Extend this line about 3/8″ up either side of the blank. Mark another line, perpendicular to the first one, 3/8″ from the bottom surface of the opener. The second line should extend from the end of the blank to the first line. Use a handsaw to remove the rectangular piece of waste. Don’t remove too much material at this stage. You can always trim a bit more off down the road.

Position the washer in place with finger pressure and see how it fits on a bottle of beer. If the washer doesn’t protrude down far enough to hook onto the bottle cap, use a rabbet plane or chisel to remove a bit more material until you have a good fit.

Add any cosmetic details to the opener at this stage. I just added a facet to each corner and ensured there were no sharp edges. A final sand and I was ready to apply a finish to the opener. While it dried I removed some material from the one edge of the washer, so it would fit under the bottle cap a bit easier. With the washer held in my needle-nose pliers I held it against my belt sander at about a 45° angle while I rotated the washer slightly.

Veneered opener

Break out the base wood for the opener to 3/4″ × 1′ × 7″. Select veneer to cover all four sides, and both ends, and cut out oversized pieces. I used tightly figured wood, as more loosely figured wood will not show well at this small size. Use cauls and clamps to glue pieces of veneer to opposing faces on the blank. When dry, trim the edges flush and glue the other two longer pieces of veneer to the blank.

You can trim the veneer flush with the ends of the blank, but I chose to cross-cut the blank on my mitre saw. To protect against chipping on the backside of the workpiece I set the workpiece against another piece of solid wood during the cut to support the wood fibres. Cross-cut both ends flush, then apply a very light “glue-sizing” layer of glue on the end grain, let it dry for a few minutes, then apply a regular coat of glue to either end of the workpiece and clamp the veneer in place. When dry, trim the veneer flush and sand the piece smooth.

Drill a pilot hole in the 3/4″ wide face, about 1-1/2″ from the end of the workpiece. On the opposite face of the workpiece, about 3-1/2″ from the end of the workpiece, use your belt or drum sander to create a medium sized depression in the edge. This depression will locate your thumb during use.

Grasp the opener as if you were going to use it. Notice where your four fingers cross one of the lower, outer corners, and mark some lines where your fingers meet. Using a smaller diameter drum sander than for your thumb, create four small depressions to comfortably locate your fingers during use.

Ease the sharp edges, and final sand the opener, before applying a finish and driving the screw into place.

Shaped opener

This is much more of a free-form approach than the veneered version. Which details to use, and how to use them, can be up to you. If you want to practice first, grab a bit of softwood and shape a prototype before starting on the real thing.

When viewed from the side, this opener tapers from about 1-1/2″ at the business end to about 1/2″ at the handle end, but feel free to adjust as you wish. Looking at the opener from above it tapers from 7/8″ to 1/2″. Once two arcs are drawn onto the rough stock you can use a bandsaw or jigsaw to cut the workpiece out. Don’t worry too much about accuracy at this stage, as there’s some flexibility with the design of this opener.

With the blank laid out you can either bandsaw or jigsaw the workpiece from the board. On the upper, curved edge, draw a rough line that marks how much the opener tapers along its width. Though you can use a handsaw or hand plane to remove this material, I chose to use a bandsaw. I then used a block plane to smooth the two surfaces.

With an assortment of hand tools, as well as my belt sander on edge, I gave shape to the opener and smoothed all its surfaces. Because this opener has a lot of curved surfaces, and it will be handled a lot, do your best to ensure the curves are fair so it feels good in the hand. At this point I drilled the pilot hole for the pocket screw, finish-sanded the project and applied a few coats of finish.

Whichever opener you decided to make, even if it was completely different from one of these versions, send me a photo of your finished project with a few details about it. You can also share it with us at the end of this article.

Rob Brown - [email protected]

Rob is a studio furniture maker and the editor at Canadian Woodworking & Home Improvement. Instagram at @RobBrownTeaches

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