Curly Maple & Onyx Coffee Table Top

  • Advertise with us
Project by JayG46 posted 08-29-2013 10:26 AM 4138 views 7 times favorited 6 comments Add to Favorites Watch

This table top is my first real commission for someone who is not a family member or a friend. He came up with the idea to inlay some large tiles, I sent him a drawing in Sketch up with the approximate dimensions, he ordered the onyx tile and we were off to the races.

It replaces a simple glass table top that is 3’ x 5’, so this one clocks in at roughly the same size. Since there is tile involved, I decided to build off a a substrate, in this case 3/4” MDF. To reinforce the MDF, I cut 3 3/4” dadoes about 3/8” deep and ran some pieces of hard maple on their quartersawn face to act as stretchers and keep the top rigid.

Next, I milled the pieces of curly maple for the top. I was working with some very nice 15/16” stock that I bought in Vermont earlier this summer and I resawed it on the table saw as thick as I could get it.

The tile was 3/8” and unfortunately, once the pieces went through the drum sander, they were maybe 23/64”. Since the tile was only going to get taller with the application of the adhesive, I ended up mortising somewhere between 1/16 and 1/32 into the mdf were the tiles were laid.

From there, I really didn’t like the idea of a simple butt joint between the boards and decided to add some decorative dovetails. I cut the pin boards on my Leigh 1600 dovetail jig and the tail boards on the table saw with the crosscut jig shown above.

Like having a lot of felt in between a ball and a pocket on a pool table, when you are spreading out dovetails over a five foot span, it makes it extremely difficult to achieve a truly tight fit because of the slight imperfections in the boards (not to mention the minor inaccuracies of measurement and execution).

Overall, the joints fit together pretty well, but it took a lot of trimming the tails on the bandsaw and paring them with a chisel to make it work.

The mitered frame is almost 2” thick and looked a little plain on the corners, so I wanted to add some sort of a spline. However, I didn’t want to do the pieces separately and the workpiece was far too big to horse around on the table saw or router. Luckily, I found a really quick and easy way to make dovetail splines from the Woodsmith Shop with a jig that I made in 10 minutes.

The splines themselves are made out of bloodwood, which is a beautiful material to use for accents. I takes a gorgeous polish and has a sort of golden glow beneath the deep red.

It took me almost a good six hours to get everything to fit just right since all the gaps were so tight and the tiles and pin boards didn’t always want to drop. Once everything was glued down to the MDF, I still needed to open up some room for a few of the tiles and alternated between a card scraper and 60 grit sandpaper to remove some material which was pretty awkward and tedious.

Taking some inspiration from turners, I finished the whole top using CA glue, which was a technique that I tried for the first (and possibly last time). It was surprisingly easy to do but you don’t have much time to mess around. I was squirting the glue with one hand and furiously buffing it out with another before it dried. After applying 3 coats (with the second and third going on must easier) I ended up sanding it up to 3000 grit with wet/dry paper and then knocking it back down with #0000 steel wool because it was a little too shiny and showed every imperfection. To to it off, I put several coats of paste wax to add a nice sheen to it. My client was really hoping for the grain to pop and I hope I succeeded in that regard at least.

Finally, I had to seal the onyx with some gloss natural stone sealer and the tiles were attached to the MDF with Loctite PowerGrab.

I learned a lot of lessons on this project and tried some new techniques, some of which are permanent parts of my arsenal (like using the big rubber abrasive cleaner as a sanding block and the dovetail spline jig) and some which might never be used again (like the CA glue finish). In hindsight, it probably would have been a lot easier to make perfect butt joints and then fashion some dovetail keys in a contrasting wood. Maybe next time.

If you made it all the way down here, thanks a lot for checking out the post.

-- Jay Gargiulo, Naples, FL "Once you understand the way broadly, you can see it in all things."- Miyamoto Musashi

6 comments so far

View Gary's profile


9353 posts in 3579 days

#1 posted 08-29-2013 11:21 AM

Really interesting build. Thanks for sharing. I bet they were really happy with the results

-- Gary, DeKalb Texas only 4 miles from the mill

View dpwalker's profile


273 posts in 2978 days

#2 posted 08-29-2013 11:39 AM

This is one of the prettiest table tops I have seen. Nice work all around.

-- You have not really lived until you do something for someone who can never repay you.

View HillbillyShooter's profile


5811 posts in 2439 days

#3 posted 08-29-2013 01:00 PM

Very interesting design. Beautiful maple and outstanding jointery! Very nicely done.

-- John C. -- "Firearms are second only to the Constitution in importance; they are the peoples' liberty's teeth." George Washington

View rickf16's profile


392 posts in 3728 days

#4 posted 08-29-2013 03:03 PM

That is an awesome table! You have some serious time invested here. The dovetail joinery adds so much more to the look and feel, especially the bloodwood keys. Thanks for posting.

-- Rick

View Monkman's profile


134 posts in 2432 days

#5 posted 08-29-2013 03:28 PM

Wow! what a concept. I really like your joinery methods and the maple just pops.

-- MonkeyMonk

View JayG46's profile


139 posts in 2005 days

#6 posted 08-29-2013 05:10 PM

Thanks for the comments, guys. It’s nice to hear some positive feedback from others since you look at a project for so long when you are working on it, you can’t see the forest for the trees anymore.

-- Jay Gargiulo, Naples, FL "Once you understand the way broadly, you can see it in all things."- Miyamoto Musashi

Have your say...

You must be signed in to post the comments.

DISCLAIMER: Any posts on LJ are posted by individuals acting in their own right and do not necessarily reflect the views of LJ. LJ will not be held liable for the actions of any user.

Latest Projects | Latest Blog Entries | Latest Forum Topics