After the table was assembled, the finish was in order. I applied a semi-gloss polyurethane to the legs and vertical face of the apron. For the top I wanted to do something a little more elegant and classy. I decided to do a hand-rubbed gloss polyurethane finish. The process to do this is extremely labor intensive. After scraping the top to a flat sheen I applied 3 thick coats of table top varnish with light sanding in between to ensure good cohesion. After the 3rd coat, I did a heavy sand to flatten the finish across the entire top. The next 3 layers were spirit coats, or highly thinned table top varnish, designed to go on extremely thin and flat due to the high solvent content at the expense of thickness. Because the thickness was already built up, this was not an issue. After the 3 coats were dry, it was time to rub out the top. Rubbing a finish is simply using a progressive system of grits and sanding block to flatten and then polish the surface. I began with 120 grit then moved on to 220, 300, 450, 800, 1200, 2000, and 2500. After this was done, I used automotive rubbing compounds for the final fine polish. These compounds could be substituted with linseed oil and pumice/rottenstone like they did in the old days.
After hours of rubbing, the final product was achieved.
I previously left off with the table top getting cut with a router on a trammel. The next step is to wrap the solid wood around the round edge in plies and laminate it to make a nearly completely solid wood edging. I cut my walnut piece into 1/4″ thicknesses and planed them down until perfectly square to facilitate a good bend. The 1/4″ pieces were still too difficult to bend around the table top edge. I then used my steamer to assist in the process again. After 45 minutes in the steamer I pulled out my pliesand bent them around the edge and secured with a nylon strap ratchet strap. I let the pieces cool for a few days to assist in minimizing springback. After I took the clamps off, I observed quite a bit of springback anyway. I think this is because I must have used kiln dried walnut. However, this should not be an issue as it can clamp down to the round edge of the tabletop.
After the plies were steamed and clamped, I glued up the plies with urea formaldehyde type glue to ensure no creep and a solid lamination. I applied the ratchet strap as before. With the edges of the plies, I created a bridle type joint by interlocking the ends of the plies. This should assist with the overall strength as well as making the joint aesthetically pleasing. After the glue set, I strengthened the bond to the table top with pocket screws which would have split the thinner material had I used them prior to this point.
I then rounded the edges and cleaned up the excess glue. The result turned out very well.
The top and bottom sections are veneered but are currently square. I have to get them to be perfectly round. There are trammel jigs available for purchase but because I am either thrifty, poor, or have too much time on my hand I have to make my own from what I have which is lots of scrap wood, a router, and a router edge guide. My router edge guide connects to the router by use of two rods help in place with a thumbscrew. I will use that to attach the router to the arm of the trammel. I will drill two holes corresponding to the rods and use the natural expansion tendency of wood to hold them in place with friction. The whole point of a trammel is to keep a steady radius to make a perfect circle. The central point needs to be solidly affixed without any movement. This can be done with a screw or nail but because this will be on the face of the table since only the top has a central point, this needs to be a temporary and non-marring attachment point. To do this, I took a scrap square of wood and divided it into quadrants through the center. The lines will make alignment easier. The central point was drilled perpendicular with the drill press and a nail was inserted but did not go completely through the bottom. I then fixed this central point to the face of the table using double stick foam mounting tape. This provides quite a bit of holding power but is non-marring unless the veneer is not well attached. I used the lines to align it to lines of the center circle quad-matched veneers. From there it was only a matter of putting on the radius arm at the correct distance. I traced the intended circle and then roughly cut off the excess leaving the line intact with a jigsaw. Following that, I mounted my router to the trammel and then used a straight bit to clean up the edges and cut a perfect circle. I repeated the process for both sides.
The fronts and the backs of the legs need to be veneered. This is a rather difficult proposition based upon the various curves found on the legs. I decided to use the old fashioned technique of hot hide glue veneering to get this part done. This method of veneering has been around for centuries. Hot hide glue is the oldest glue known to man and is extremely versatile and useful. The tools I use to hot glue veneer are simple. I have a veneer hammer, a hot pot to keep the glue around 135 degrees, a brush and an old clothes iron. Hot hide glue gets stickier as it cools and cures as it dries. The trick to hot hide glue is to make it runny like honey when warm. Any runnier and it loses initial tack and any thicker it gets gloopy and difficult to spread quickly. My method is to put light coats on both sides of the veneer and then a thicker coat on the substrate. Why both sides of the veneer? If you don’t, the uneven humidity will cause uneven expansion of the veneer and curling. It makes it a pain to get it down without it wanting to pull up. I tried it before… You must repeat the opposite side with a backer veneer the same day so plan on that. Why? If you don’t, the veener after it cools with cause the piece to warp and cup. I tried that one before as well…
After you get the glue on, it will be sticky for probably 10 seconds, obviously not fast enough to get positioned properly. This however, works to your advantage. The cool and moist glue on both sides makes it easy to get positioned perfectly. Grab the hot iron and reheat the veneer on the top. The heat will remelt the glue on both sides. Then to both squeeze out the excess glue and cool the veneer and get the tack of the glue working grab your veneer hammer and use it like a squeegee. Start in the middle and work your way out. Reheat with the iron as necessary. I try to get an initial point secured and then keep the heat away from that while I work on the outsides. Check with your fingernail for a hollow sound underneath which suggests an area where it was not glued down. Reheat that area with a path to the outside just in case glue is causing that bubble. Hit it (figuratively speaking) with the veneer hammer and use clamps if necessary to hold it down or in place until it cools. When it’s clear the glue is holding, your work is done. If you find a mistake the next day after it is dry you can do one of two things. Reheat with a wet cloth and iron on top of the area or attempt a spot repair using a blade to open your bubble and then a fine brush to put your adhesive of choice inside and clamp it down.
The table legs were meant to be curved in every direction. One of the design ideas in this project was to limit as much as possible every straight edge from the design. The legs are bent but need refinement on the edges. Unfortunately, this is not a simple matter that can be solved with a roundover bit on the router. Firstly, the curved edge I want to be more sloped and elongated than any router bit I own can do. Secondly, even if this was possible, the leg does not allow me to let it rest on a router table top nor is it wide enough for me to support a router running over the edge. The small radius curves eliminate the possibility of using the flatter front and back surfaces to support the router working from that angle. For the solution to this problem I used good old fashioned handtools. I began with a block plane to square up the edges and do bulk removal of the not perfectly aligned layers of laminations. From that point on I used a low angle spokeshave to hand shape the curves except in the tightest areas. I finished those areas with a coarse rasp then smoothed them with a fine rasp then finished them with a felt block and 80 grit sandpaper. The results are below.
The next step is to veneer the fronts and backs of the legs.
It’s been a month since the last post and due to a week long break over Thanksgiving, I was able to get a lot accomplished. I left off previously with the laminates being steam bent. Obviously, those laminates have to be laminated to form the legs. I used a urea-formaldehyde adhesive to bond them and used the same form to glue them exactly how I wanted to have them and ensure each was exactly the same as the other.
It was now time to cut the center circle. I created my own trammel from a piece of scrap oak, an exacto knife, and a screw. I drilled a hole that would snugly hold the exacto knife in place and set the screw to protrude at the proper radius. The screw was placed at the center and rotated around. I found the best method was to tape the insert over the starburst pattern and tape along the cut line on the starburst pattern to minimize splitting from overaggressive cutting. At this point, all I had to do was rotate the trammel arond until both layers were cut through. I then assembled as before.
The veneers on the face also require a backing or balancing veneer. I used the absolutely cheapest material I could find for this as it will be hidden unless someone is lying underneath the table somehow. These veneers were assembled into a sheet but edge to edge gluing in a bookmatch type fashion. The results were quite good even if non-dramatic.
Because I am using a vacuum press to press the glue, I will be using cold press glue. This is different from more normal PVA glues such as elmers or titebond. I spread the glue in a uniform fashion using a foam roller and then applied the veneer sheet. The panel went face down onto the melamine platen in the vacuum press and sucked down and pressed for 2 hrs.
The panel after gluing up will have to have the veneer tape removed and the face scraped smooth before the finish is applied.
Today was the first real use of the wood steamer I built last weekend. Over the past week, the garment steamer I started with developed some sort of short and kept throwing the GFCI circuit and was unusable. I bought a used wallpaper steamer to take it’s place. I steamed all 6 of the plywood sheets that would make up the requisite 3/4″ thickness for one leg. I let them stay in the steamer for about 45 minutes although the rule typically goes 1 hour for each inch of thickness. According to this, the multiple thin layers should have only required about 10 minutes.
I used welding gloves to protect myself from the steam and heat when removing and placing the layers onto the mold. I tested one piece to make sure the experiment would not result in a catastophic and expensive failure. The bendable plywood was extremely flexible. I think I could have bent it around a soda can without it breaking. And so I did…
I fit the layers to the mold and secured them in place with a few pieces of wood screwed to the mold. I’m not worried about having the layers super tightly held to the mold because I will be gluing them later. I just need to get them so they will be close enough to the shape desired so that when they are pressed, they won’t break. Here’s a picture of the wood on the mold cooling.
After about 30 minutes of cooling time, I removd the first test case from the mold and tested the flexibility. It seems very flexible, almost like I reset the flexibility allowed by the wood to this new pattern. This is going to work better than I thought. Because I only have one mold, I wanted to hold the laminates kind of close to the final form just to be safe. I was able to do this with a simple solution using masking tape. Because the wood was reset, the force needed to hold the plys in the shape was minimal. It worked great.
I think this solution turned out very well. I have 3 more legs to go with the same technique.