Sunday, January 16, 2011

Stealth Project Revealed! Figured Eucalyptus End-Table

I previously posted about a last-minute stealth project for my mom for Christmas.  It's a pretty short side table that will sit beside her lounge chair; it is short to make picking up and putting down her tea cup easier on the wrists.
The table top is figured Eucalyptus floating on brass rod on a Maple base with hand-shaped apron curves and tapered legs.
The idea came to me late Saturday and I basically got through to the finish stage by late Sunday as the weekdays would be tough even to get the finish done.  Alas, the rush on the finish spoiled part of the top (divulged below).  It isn't as nice now as it was during the build, but still not bad for a one-day marathon.
As I was rushing, I didn't take as many pictures as usual.  Use your imagination a bit.  Add bikinis where necessary.  Okay! Let's go...
I cut the leg stock from some 6/4 Maple I had around; fortunately, one edge was riff-sawn.  Squared and tapered.  Apron stock from 4/4 Maple cross-cut then bandsawn close to the curve.  The rest of the rounding was done with spokeshaves so they wouldn't be router-perfect.  Parts were Domino mortised at this point.
I neglected to take a picture, but if you look carefully at the top of the legs, they are chamfered.  This was done on the JMPv2.  If you have a sloped shooting board, you could do it with that, too, or with the stock backed on a router table. Or... well you get the idea :)
The figured Eucalyptus had a darker wave of curl on one edge.  I decided to cut the pie pieces so the dark would be in the center of the table top.  Once mitered, it was time to glue up.  Now, let me be the first to lament that despite backers, it was difficult to get the cut edges clean of chipout.
Using parts of Woodpecker's miter set helped pull in the corners.
The legs needed a 3/8" hole dead center dead plumb to receive the brass rod.  I used the DJ-1 drilling jig and CT-16 palm brace to nail it.  Wish I took a picture. You can use the DJ-1 with a power drill, but I was thinking "gentle"...
So, time to glue up the base while the top firmed up.  The weights on the top were to keep the table stable with all those long bars reaching out everywhere!  The base was all Domino joinery.
After the epoxy for the top set "enough", I re-trimmed the edges to ensure they were square then beveled what will be the underside.
I needed to cut 4 pieces of 3/8" brass rod for the stand-offs.  I knew the precise depth of the holes in the legs, thickness of top, and reveal I wanted so it was easy to mark them all off and hacksaw away.  I put a hole in a scrap of Oak to make holding the rod easier while cutting.
The rod was, well, not pretty.  Oxidation, you know.  One end of the rod was going to be epoxied into the leg and the other epoxied into the top so each end was fair game for a Jacob chuck's teeth.  I chucked the rods in the drill press one at a time and cleaned the middle with Brasso.
I later did the same, but with Meguire's.
Purdy :)  I remember realizing at this point that I hadn't eaten anything all day.  Glue was setting so it was a food break (sorry, no picture ;)
Some clean up on the table base then the first coat of General Finishes' Polyacrylic.  I love this stuff.  Seriously, I buy it flowers.  The brass rod was just for a preview...
I ended the night applying CPES to the table top as it would take all night to cure.  Why CPES?  Well, I want to greatly limit the moisture exposure of this top; those are 9" miters in solid wood.  Too much moisture movement that the adhesive can't compensate for and things open.  I realize this is a test and it might fail.  If it does, I'll post-mortem it and make her a new table :)
The next day would be mounting the top followed by the rest of the finishing schedule.  Yes, I should have started a week earlier.
So, I have CPES's warm forumla because normally it is bloody hot around here.  That week, the garage was at 50º at night, which would benefit from CPES's cold formula.  The schedule stated it would take 4 days to cure.  For each 18º increase in temperature, the time halved.  So I built this tent and put a ceramic heater underneath it with the thermostat set to around 90º.
That would have it cured by lunchtime the next day.  Just before my bedtime, I dropped the 4 brass rods into the top of the legs with an ample amount of thickened West System epoxy.  Nite nite...
Now I needed the top applied.  The brass rods show through to the top.  I think this is classy, but time consuming.  I have a better way for the next table ;)
To place the holes accurately, I took the scrap of Oak with a 3/8" hole used to cut the rods and split the hole in two.  This is going to be my hole-placement jig (and it only took 1 cut!).
I set the base onto the top so the rods were on the miter cuts and same distance into the bevel (I wanted them on the bevel, not the flat as I thought they would look more elegant).
This requires some explanation.  First I placed the jig block on the rod and used the horizontal clamp to ensure the rod was always set in the jig's recess.  Next, I clamped the jig tight to the top.
Next, I removed the horizontal clamp.  (After I took the picture, I realized I had moved the base while monkeying with the clamps for the picture; it was placed on the miter.)
Now, remove the table and place a 3/8" brad-point bit in the jig's recess then tap it with a hammer to mark the location with the brad's spur.  Take it to the drill press and drill it plumb.  That's one hole.  Repeat 3 more times.  Each time you position the base, ensure existing holes have a tiny bit of its mating rod seated.  This worked exceptionally well, actually.
Slather epoxy on the ends of the brass rods and some in the holes and tap home the table base.  I went until each rod was proud by as little as at all possible.
To flush the ends of the rods, I wrapped blue tape on a mill file except for a small region in the middle.  That's what I took swipes against the rod with.  The tape kept the file from marking the table top.  Tedious.  Cue up long songs.
Sand the whole top... P180, P220, P320.
Finish polishing the brass with a bit of wet/dry paper on the end of an eraser.  I used 600, 1200, 1500, 2000.
Alrighty.  Build and a large part of the finish was done.  I now needed some Arm-R-Seal on the top to even out the sheen as the sheen of CPES is not so purdy. I put the table on my couch with a drop cloth and pointed a radiant heater to the top.  I didn't want to bake it, but wanted it warm to set faster and let me get three coat to the top.
And it was done for Christmas!  Delivered stealth-like into the reading room without her noticing; just put a bow on the door.  Easier to wrap that way.

So what was the mistake that spoiled the top?  Well, I wanted to apply a couple more coats of Arm-R-Seal so I asked for the table back the next week while she was busy with company.  When I got it home, I noticed some sanding marks I missed in my hurry.  No problem, sand through the finish, get it smooth, and reapply the finish.  When I got down to bare wood, I decided it would be smart to hit it with CPES again since I may have sanded through the original sealing layer of CPES.  Built the tent.  Accidentally did something to the thermostat that it ran high all night.  Oh, it was cured.  I'm not sure what the thermal expansion ratios are for figured Eucalyptus, but I can assure you that they open 9" miters.  It wasn't horrible, but nothing like the top you see in the build pictures.  I was actually happy with that top; not at all happy with this one.  I applied cynoacrylate glue to the part that opened partly to glue it up but mostly to have a clear glue in there to help mask the gap.  That gap shows, but honestly even before with the figure and all, it was obvious where the miter lines were.
Moral?  Don't rush.  And start a week early :)


  • Anonymous said...

    Half-inch shy... brass rod between the top and base... I get it! The top looks beautiful and I would have been really surprised if the miters held together in solid wood. Surely you could have pulled it off with veneer though. But good for you trying. I have a saying that goes like this: You'll never know where the line is until you cross it.

    You did a nice job locating and drilling the holes through the top and a file is the best way I know of to level metal with wood. Would it have worked to clamp the top to the base (as if the top didn't float) and drill straight down through the top into the base to ensure the holes line up? Yes, I realize you were rushing and probably didn't think of that.

    Nice tent, by the way!


  • Anonymous said...

    Nice design and choice of materials. I am sure your mother will enjoy it. Ah - patience, too bad it can't be purchased! That has been my biggest learning curve since retiring. Developed lots of bad habits trying to get things done over the w/e before going back to work on Monday!

    Just bought a Sawstop myself - still waiting for delivery...


  • HalfInchShy said...

    Thanks for the comments, Chris (and Mohrab!).

    As I eluded to in the long babble, the top is a bit of an experiment for me as I know solid-wood miters that large should open with the season rendering the table a mess. However, I processed the wood specially and hope it avoids the problem. If they open, I learn something and I make her a table with veneer :)

    For drilling the holes, my concern was not drilling dead plumb through the top into the leg and, worse, not having the hole dead center of the leg. With their size, even a 1/8" mistake would be glaringly obvious. So I opted with having the legs position the holes in the top. It wasn't much extra work and I feel it gave more control.

    Next time, though, I'll be sure to double check the thermostat or, better, wait a week... seriously, that week was really cold here with the shop in the 40s, well below CPES's cure temperature. The next week? 50-60s. Go figure.

  • Unknown said...

    I didn't see an update on the long term viability of the table top. I recently did a very similar table top for my Dad and was curious if it ended in disaster.

  • HalfInchShy said...

    This January it will be 3 years old and the miters haven't budged a bit. It has even had a few spills on it (promptly wiped though). The part that opened due to my heater thermostat running on high all night is the only thing wrong, but that was wrong when I built it due to poor planning.

    I plan on remaking this table next time I get some stunning figured wood that would look good in a mitered pattern like this.

    If you sealed your hardwood top with CPES like I did, I don't think you'll have any problems. It takes the "moisture expansion" out of the equation leaving thermal expansion; normally these things live in a 15-20ºF wide band so virtually no movement.