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Slab Coffee Table

6534 Views 19 Replies 8 Participants Last post by  CharlieK
Constructing the Carved Tree Trunk Base

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I am having a lot of trouble getting the video to look right in this blog! It looks wrong here and if you click full screen it looks even worse! If you REALLY want to watch it then it is best to click on the button to see it on YouTube. It looks fine there. Otherwise, well, you get the idea!

If anyone knows the RIGHT way to embed videos then I would love it if you would pass the secret on to me!

This video shows how I constructed the "Tree Trunk" base for my slab table.

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This is how the base looked AFTER I cleaned it up with a grinder.

I wanted the slab coffee table to have a sculpted and carved base that looked kind of like a tree trunk. I also decided it would look more interesting if the base looked like a tree trunk that had split in half, so I made the base in two pieces. Since the slab had an open crack on one side I positioned the split in the base under the crack in the top to add continuity.

I used stave (coopered) construction for the two pieces of the base.

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I like working with templates, but usually I can get by without them. This was one of those projects where a template was was not just "nice to have", but absolutely necessary! There is no way I could have kept track of everything without some kind of a road map.

There are six critical pieces of information on the template:
1. The first thing I did was to trace the outline of the top on to the plywood. That is the outside line on my template.
2. I also located the crack in the slab on to my template.
3. I then drew two straight lines to show where there would be an opening between the two halves of the base.
4. Next, I drew a line showing the outline of the bottom of the base pieces.
5. It was also important to know the outline of the top of the base pieces where the slab would rest on the base. I used this information to draw the templates for the stave pieces.
6. It was easy to determine how many pieces (staves) were needed once the circumference of the base was drawn out.

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The plywood template represented the plan view of the base, but I also needed templates for the staves that would make up the sides of the base. I used regular copy paper for these.

We all know what trees look like, but when it came time to sculpt one out of wood I suddenly had a lot of questions! I actually walked around my neighborhood and took pictures of trees and then used those pictures as a reference.

Trees flair out at the bottom so my table base had to flare out at the bottom, too. To make it to look more interesting and realistic I chose to have it flair differently at different points around the bottom. At some points the flair was short and steep, and at other points the flair extended out more. I decided to make two different size staves so that the rough shape of the base would be closer to the final shape that I envisioned. Once I determined where these would be and marked them on the plywood I could get a count as to how many of each size I would need. Assuming 3/4" material it would take 114 pieces to construct the base!

It so happened that I had a lot of rough sawn ash that had been milled into approximately 1×4's and 1×6's so it worked very well for this project. Since it was rough sawn it did require a lot of stock preparation before I could use it.

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It was easier to glue some of the boards together BEFORE I started bandsawing out the individual staves. I glued up some pieces that were 1-1/2" thick and others that were 2-1/4" thick

After I removed the clamps I used my paper templates to mark out the individual pieces.

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The last thing I had to do before bandsawing the individual pieces was to cut out the blanks on the miter saw
Most of the individual pieces would require two operations at the bandsaw. First was to cut out the shape and next was to cut them at an angle so that when I glued them together that they would match the outline on my the plywood template.

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Bandsaws are great machines, but they can be very dangerous. Whenever possible, I like to pull the last few inches of a cut from the back rather than push it from the front. This keeps my hands out of harms way at that critical moment when the piece clears the blade.

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The plywood template was invaluable when it came to assembling the pieces. I used it both to determine what angle to cut the individual pieces and exactly where to place them.

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I glued the staves into small sections and then I glued those sections together to form the shape of the base. I used a variety of methods to clamp the pieces together.

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Clamping straight sections together was fairly easy. Gluing curved sections together got a lot trickier! I used a band clamp where possible, but that didn't always work. Sometimes I used lag bolts to screw blocks to the outside of the piece so that I would have something to hook the clamps on to. The screw holes were not problem since the finished piece would be painted.

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I purposely made the staves longer than they needed to be. This way the length of the staves didn't have to be precise. Once each of the two halves of the base was constructed I trimmed them down with a jigsaw.

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The bottom side on each of the two halves was not flat right after glue up. Again, I made them longer than needed to allow for flattening the bottom.

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Once the tops were trimmed down I flipped the pieces over and secured them for flattening. Then I flattened the bottoms of the two halves with the same router jig I used to flatten the slab.

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I got a very good result using the coopered (or stave) construction method, but it was quite time consuming. If I make a similar project in the future then I might experiment with a different method, possibly stacked lamination.

This is how it looked after I constructed the base and set the top on it
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The next video and blog article will show how I sculpted and textured the base pieces. The last thing I will do to the base is to add a metallic finish, and I have a pretty good story about that!


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How and WHY! I Inlaid Stars in Slab Top

I don't know why this video didn't embed properly. I did it the same way I always have, but this time I got a black square. If you know why then please let me know!

At least the YouTube link works. Here is the photo, but you will have to click on the link below the black box to see the video:
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Photo is not the video, click on link below black box to see video.

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I inlaid decorative black stars in my slab coffee table. This is one of those times when the reason why might be more interesting as the how. The how is good, too but the WHY is a good story all by itself!

The wood slab that I used for the table had a lot of worm holes in it.oh drawing stars and
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I wrestled with what to do with them. Leaving them just as they were would have been a perfectly good choice, but I couldn't leave well enough alone. I decided to fill them with epoxy.

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Unfortunately, what I didn't consider is that the surface of the slab was end grain. As a result, the epoxy bled beyond the worm holes. Rather than the nice distinct little dots that I had envisioned, I ended up with a bunch of ugly little blobs.
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After thinking about it for a while I decided to disguise the, now blobs, by inlaying stars over them. I didn't want the stars to look like I put them on with a stamp. So, to add interest I purposely drew the stars by hand to ensure that no two would be the same.
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Then I scored around the edges with a small chisel and an Exacto knife.
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Once I outlined the edges, I excavated most of the waste with a Dremel tool.
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A Dremel is perfect for inlay work. Unfortunately, the Dremel base that I had was not. The base that I used is called a "Cut-Out" base and it is more suited for cutting holes in drywall than it is for very fine detail work. The problem is that it is difficult to make fine, or repeatable, depth adjustments. As a result, the excavations were a bit deeper than I would have liked. No biggie, but I would rather have used a higher quality base.

I used a small chisel and a detail knife to clean up the star recesses after roughing them out with the Dremel.
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I masked the stars off with some really high quality "outdoor" masking tape.
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I was a little leery off epoxy after the problems I just had with it so I decided to use something different. I have had very good luck with a water based grain filler called Crystalac, so I decided to use that instead.
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I used regular Rit dye that I bought at the grocery store to dye the Crystalac and it worked great!
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Crystalac works great for filling grain, but it is not intended for filling these relatively large recesses. The downside was that it tended to shrink back and I had to apply multiple layers to bring it level with the surface.

This is how the stars looked like when I removed the masking tape.
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The good thing about the Crystalac is that is was very easy to sand down.
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I am very happy with how they turned out.
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The end result was not only good, but it turned out to be a real conversation starter!

Brown Wood Orange Amber Wood stain
You did us proud with the stars Charlie. Tedious, but well worth it. Great job.


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Table is DONE and so are the videos!

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A few months ago I made a slab coffee table. It was quite an undertaking! I have 3 other blog entries on LJ about this.

The first one is on how I Flattened the Slab with a Router Jig
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The next one is on how I constructed the base
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The other one is on how and WHY I inlaid the stars in the top.
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I also have a blog article on my website about how I did the Carving and Texturing on the Tree Trunk Base
Wood Trunk Wood stain Hardwood Rectangle

The video in This entry is an overview of the ENTIRE BUILD process INCLUDING how I did the copper finish on the base.

I wrote an extensive article about the copper finish on my website blog.

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I am VERY happy with how the table AND the Video turned out.

Please let me know what you think about it.

Charlie, video not working.


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