Modern Coffee Table (How to Fake Walnut)

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Project by Dan_Seattle posted 12-07-2015 02:45 AM 2252 views 2 times favorited 5 comments Add to Favorites Watch

Modern Coffee Table

The Preliminary Idea:
I saw on some website (the way all great ideas and projects start, right?) that it’s possible with water-based stain to emulate the look of walnut with Poplar. While I’ve read way too much woodworking snobbery about how this is blasphemy, and ‘why would you ever cheap out and only buy poplar’, or ‘poplar’s grain looks nothing like Walnut.’ Of course, they’re right it doesn’t really look much like walnut, but says a bunch of woodworkers, not your average house wife or Capitol Hill hipster. Even a handful of employees at the Tukwila Rockler told me “good luck with that.” Haha.

5/4 rough cut Poplar.
Titebond III #20 Biscuits
General Finishes Water-Based Stain – Medium Brown
General Finishes Water-Based ‘High Performance’ Top Coat – Flat
Handful of foam brushes
Finishing Rags

Threw the rough cut lumber through my recently refurbished Craftsman 6.5” Jointer, achieved two square planes and did the rest on my Delta table saw. Then planed to an 1 1/8” thick. Since I did not wait the recommended two+ weeks for the lumber to acclimate to my wet and cold Seattle shop, the wood moved on me a little. I then took off another 8th making the thickness an even inch. Since I was just looking at something I saw online and copying it without knowing the exact specs, I had no idea if an inch was going to be strong enough to withstand the rigors some people put their coffee tables through. As I often do, I throw caution to the salty Seattle wind. Either way it was going to be a learning experience like any other project.

Nothing abnormal here. Pipe clamps and f-clamps. Used 4 biscuits about 9-12” apart (cant remember exactly) the length of each adjoining board for the table top surface. Repeated process for both sides/legs.

Started with a Dewalt ROS 60 grit. It seemed the wood wasnt done shifting to the atmospheric conditions even after being glued. So I wanted to make sure at least the top of the table was absolutely smooth and flawless to the touch. Graduated to 100 grit then 220. Since my last few projects (not for profit or sale) had lots of little sanding curly Qs, I wanted to make sure this didnt continue happening to me, making sure to either apply the appropriate amount pressure to my ROS and properly graduating sanding grits and not skipping straight to 220.

Cutting the Miters:
Mitered corner joints with biscuits and as much glue as possible. Cut the table top miters with a Dewalt 7.25” circular saw with two sacrificial 1/2” ply boards sandwiched on top and bottom of the cut and a straight edge guide. Usually covering the top of a cut like this isn’t necessary, but my Dewalt saw still has its factory blade on it and had no doubt horrible tear out was going to occur. To my dismay I was able to get a shockingly clean cut. I only had to take a few passes back over the mitered cut with a hand plane since the miters on this particular design needed to be extra straight.

Staining & Finishing:
With all the surfaces sanded to a smooth 220, I wiped the surface one last time with a damp rag to raise the grain, waited for it to dry then lightly sanded again with 220. Stained with General Finishes Water-Based ‘Medium Brown’. Single coat. (In hindsight, I would’ve applied a wood conditioner or single coat of de-waxed shellac before applying the stain) It appeared blotchy while drying, but then seem to even out after it was completely dry. Might’ve been my lighting or something. Very lightly sanded the dried stain coat with 400 grit, then wiped with a tack cloth.

Applied General Finishes Water-Based Top Coat (Flat). Applied 2 coats to the inside and underneath, 4 coats to the legs, 6 coats to the top surface. Between each coat I lightly (and evenly) sanded with 400 grit. After the last coat I used 1200 grit sand paper and very lightly sanded down the micro bubbles and burrs. Wiped cleaned with a tack cloth. Tah-Dah!

-- Dan

5 comments so far

View Glen Peterson's profile

Glen Peterson

556 posts in 4115 days

#1 posted 12-07-2015 12:00 PM

The finished product looks nice. Did you reinforce the miter joints with anthing in addition to the biscuits?

-- Glen

View Monte Pittman's profile

Monte Pittman

30613 posts in 3397 days

#2 posted 12-07-2015 03:37 PM

Great looking piece

Welcome to Lumberjocks

-- Nature created it, I just assemble it.

View a1Jim's profile


118161 posts in 4636 days

#3 posted 12-07-2015 04:14 PM

A very fine coffee table ,great job.


View Mean_Dean's profile


7057 posts in 4206 days

#4 posted 12-08-2015 12:53 AM

Great looking coffee table!

-- Dean -- "Don't give up the ship -- fight her 'till she sinks!" Capt James Lawrence USN

View Dan_Seattle's profile


3 posts in 1963 days

#5 posted 12-08-2015 06:37 AM

The finished product looks nice. Did you reinforce the miter joints with anthing in addition to the biscuits?

- Glen Peterson

Hi Glen, I did not reinforce the joints. Only biscuits and TitebondIII. I guess only time will tell if it’s enough. I’ve been contacted about doing a work desk in this same style, so I’m definitely going to reinforce that piece. I’m going to try little 2” x 2” metal brackets and screw them on the inside corners. Maybe paint them black too. If you have a better idea I’m all ears. Thanks again!

-- Dan

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