Sunday, October 6, 2013

Wedding Cupcakes and DIY Cupcake Tower

Two posts in one week! Wooohoooo :) And not only is it 2 posts in one week, I'm actually writing this one the same weekend we delivered these cupcakes! It's a Christmas miracle. October is shaping up to be a pretty cake heavy month, so be prepared. This weekend was my first cake order for this October and also my first wedding cupcake order ever. The bride who ordered them is my friend's sister's friend's sister. Did you follow that? haha. She was so nice to ask me to make her wedding cupcakes without ever meeting me or even trying anything I'd made. I was excited to do cupcakes for a wedding since I figured it would be way easier than a full wedding cake. It was easier, but it was definitely still a lot of work. Plus I still made a small cake for them to cut and to keep for their first anniversary. Here's a peek at the final display:

FYI - the cake flavors are: (bottom) vanilla cake, peanut butter filling, chocolate icing; (middle two) chocolate with cookies & cream icing; (top two) pumpkin with cream cheese icing; (small cake) vanilla and vanilla. 

When I asked the bride how she wanted the cupcakes displayed, she sent me a picture with a cupcake tower that she liked. I knew that I could probably buy or rent one, but to buy one would have been over $200 and the only ones I found to rent were much smaller and not at all like her inspiration picture. So I showed the picture to Joe and we came up with a plan to build one! I decided I wanted tiers that were 8" through 18" with a 2" diameter change between tiers. There is also an extra 10" circle that acts as the base of the tower. Though I think Joe and I would both recommend making a larger base circle. After we came up with our material list we headed to Home Depot. To make this cupcake tower you'll need the following materials and tools:

2 sheets of 2'x4'x1/2" MDF
2'x2'x1/4" piece of plywood
2 pieces of two foot long 1" PVC Pipe (1" inside diameter)
7 1" PVC Couplers
Paint (We used both spray paint and high gloss latex paint)
Gorilla Glue
Hot glue gun and hot glue
Small finish nail (like a Maze nail)

Router with a straight bit
Drill with several regular bits and one large bit (1 3/8" diameter)
Small carpenter's square
Saw for cutting PVC (Joe used a miter saw)

First you'll make an "arm" that will attach to your router to allow you to cut all your sizes of circles. Start by removing the base plate from your router. Place the base plate in once corner of your 1/4" plywood and mark where the screw holes are that attach it to your router. Also trace the circle where the router bit actually comes through the plate.

After that, draw a straight line down the 1/4" plywood that is the width of your router base. Taping off the plywood where you're going to cut it will help reduce the top layer of veneer from splintering. A saw blade with more teeth makes cleaner cuts, and Joe already had one from making our built-in bookshelves. Make your cut down the line.

Then drill a hole in each location you marked making sure to use a bit that is sized for the screw that will attach it to your router. Then use a large bit to allow the screws to counter sink into the plywood. This allows the head of the screw to not stick up and will let the arm lay flat on the wood when cutting.

Now's a good time to make sure it fits :)

Next use a larger bit to drill out the hole where the router bit comes through.

Once that is done, you can attach your router. Then use a ruler and measure from the INSIDE edge of the router bit down the arm and mark the radius of each circle size you want to cut.

Use a small drill bit to create a hole at each mark you made. These holes will allow you to temporarily attach the arm to the MDF board to be cut, and the nail will be the pivot point.

To cut your first circle, pin the arm down onto the MDF with a small nail through the hole marked for the radius of circle you want to cut. Be sure you left enough room all the way around to cut the circle. You don't want to have a flat edge :) It is also necessary to have the MDF up on some supports so that when the router blade goes through it doesn't scrape into your floor. You can see in this picture that Joe is going to cut a circle with a 9" radius, so that will be our 18" circle.

Set the depth of the router bit so that it will cut only halfway through the MDF. Making 2 passes around the circle to get the full depth will be easier on the router. Turn the router on and use both hands to rotate the arm around the pin.

After one pass, lower the router to the full depth and make the 2nd cut around. You may have to stop part way through to adjust the supports under the MDF. After the 2nd pass, the circle should be free!

After cutting out each circle, Joe used a 1 3/8" drill bit (which is the outer diameter of 1" PVC pipe) and cut a whole through the middle of the circle. The mark left by pinning the arm to the circle should mark the perfect center of the circle to drill through. The top tier and the bottom support do not need holes drilled through them since the pipe won't go through those.

Then repeat for all your other sizes!  The next step we did was to paint. First try and make sure all the sawdust is off the circles. Then either spray paint or roll/brush paint. I first tried spray painting, and the kind I was using (which was supposed to be really good) just wasn't covering at all. I ended up painting all the circles by hand using a paint brush and some leftover high gloss latex enamel paint that we had. I did that this morning in between making icing and decorating cupcakes :) Joe used some white spray primer that we had to paint the PVC pipe and couplers since they had some words printed on them.

Now it's time to cut the piping and assemble each connector. Start my gluing a coupler to the center of the top of the base layer and the center of the bottom of the top layer. We painted them first and then used Gorilla glue, but I would recommend gluing first (also preferably more than 2 hours before final assembly) and then painting. You want the glue to stick to the MDF, not the paint.

Then cut the number of PVC lengths you need for your number of layers. Since we wanted them to be 3.75" each, we cut them to a length that would account for the MDF thickness. Since the board was 1/2" inch thick, we cut them to 4.25". Joe used a miter saw to cut the pieces.

Once the pipe is cut, put each of them except for one into a coupler. The one you don't put into a coupler will be the one that goes into the coupler that's glued to the base layer. Use a rubber mallet to make sure you get the pipes all the way into the coupler. Otherwise the layers won't be the same height.

At the venue, we assembled the tower by hammering the first connector into the base plate with a rubber mallet, then sliding the 18" circle over it. The we hammered in the next connector and placed the 16" circle over that. We continued that process until we got to the top piece that had the coupler glued to the underside. We placed the attached couple over the final connector and hammered it in place. Then we added a little hot glue where each circle met the coupler beneath it for stability. Then it was finally time to load it up with cupcakes!

After it was full, we were both of kind nervous about how it was a little wobbly. Luckily we had 3 extra couplers with us so we slid those in between the 10" base plate and the 18" first tier to act as extra supports. They really helped! Then we called it good and went on our way.

Here you can see some of the extra couplers we added for stability at the bottom. 

Geez, that was a really long post. I realize most of you aren't going to run out and make a cupcake tower, but just in case you wanted to, now you know :) Or if you want to borrow ours, that's fine too! If you do decide to make one, may I suggest not waiting until 2 days before to start it? And DEFINITELY don't wait until 2 hours before to glue things together. You want more time for your glue to dry. Trust me. Well, that's all for now. Enjoy the rest of your weekend!


  1. Wow, you are way too nice to ask her how she wanted them displayed--I hope you charged her extra for the use of the stand. I would have either told her she needed to figure it out or I would have stacked several different sizes of cake stands and made a couple different "towers". But hey--now you have your own tower. Would you ever be able to mess with the height of it and take layers on and off? I'm just curious. I've been thinking about making one too, but I would want it to be something I can assemble and disassemble for better storage.

    1. I thought about charging for using the tower, but didn't. If I would have rented one, I definitely would have had her cover that cost. I figured that since I will be keeping the tower and will *hopefully* get lots of use out of it that it would be worth it to just build one. Technically, we could take the tower apart and use different sized groupings of tiers, but it will probably be hard since the PVC was really hard to even put together. It would definitely be nice to be able to store it easier and to use it at different sizes though. If I figure that out, I'll let you know :)

  2. Turned out GREAT! I think you'll be happy that you made the stand and now you can market that for future business. The cupcakes were so pretty and colorful. Love it!