Bow tie's in table slab

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Forum topic by Boondock posted 12-15-2016 01:28 AM 3355 views 1 time favorited 25 replies Add to Favorites Watch
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5 posts in 727 days

12-15-2016 01:28 AM

Topic tags/keywords: elm table slab check finish

So I’m finishing my first table and I really care about this piece of wood. It’s for myself and hope for it to be in my family for a long time. In saying that I’m nervous about everything I do to it. It is nearly 11’ long, ranges from 30”-40” wide and 2.5” thick and is a live edge Elm. I’m doing my best to sand this piece smooth without using a timesaver. There’s a hump or dip here and there but I think I’ll get it just fine. I plan to sand to about 320 grit before sealing with a high quality petit marine spar varnish. Flagship 2015 with either a buffed finish or a couple coats of their lower gloss captains varnish. The table is currently sanded to about 80 grit top and bottom. The tree fell 3 years ago at a minimum. I found it a year ago rough cut, and have had it stored in my basement with 40-50% humidity for almost a year. I checked the moisture about a month ago and it was about 13%. I have a wood stove in the basement I started to use and the level is down to about 9%. The check and cracks that exist always were there and didn’t get larger with the stove being on. The cracks do go all the way through. I have the bottom up and am ready to put in my bow ties. For some reason I feel like I’m about to regret it so I searched and found this forum and thought I’d ask your opinions on all aspects of my project. All comments welcome. *. My biggest concern is with these keys I had my father machine for me. They are 3/4 thick copper colored bronze. I thought metal would be neat seeing how it’s on the bottom anyhow and that’s the scrape he had laying around.
So I guess I just trace them and chisel out the wood and epoxy them into the slab and seal them under the varnish? I feel confident in working on the check but the long crack I’m a little nervous. Should I throw some timber locks in through the side to help with maybe some glue in the crack? Can there be any problems with using metal bow ties?
I’m just looking for assurance I suppose or for someone to save me from a mistake. Here are a few pics to help. Thank you all in advance and I look forward to this site.

25 replies so far

View HerbC's profile


1790 posts in 3058 days

#1 posted 12-15-2016 04:10 AM

Most people put the bowties on the top surface…


-- Herb, Florida - Here's why I close most messages with "Be Careful!"

View Aj2's profile


1872 posts in 1996 days

#2 posted 12-15-2016 05:00 AM

I’m thinking you should practice on some scraps first to see how they fit.Wood is a better choice buy that just my opinion.
Im also not sure what the finish you mentioned is.If it’s a spar varnish then I think it’s just too soft for good wear.
I do like the slab it’s a very nice piece of wood.
Good luck.


-- Aj

View Boondock's profile


5 posts in 727 days

#3 posted 12-15-2016 11:14 AM

Thanks for the replys guys. I know that they are usually wood, they won’t be seen though. I thought that just out of strength and the ability to have them I’d go for it. Do you think it will oxidize the wood or effect the top side? The practice makes sense lol. I was thinking trace chisel and maybe use a Dremel with a good bit to hollow out the inside.
As for the finish it is what petit calls z spar. It’s exterior marine grade varnish. It is a little sod I suppose but work well on exterior product I’ve used. Any suggestion for other products? I know everyone says tung oil but I just don’t think it will enhance the wood or be stronger. I’m thinking I will be putting on a minimum of 7 coats.

View EricTwice's profile


246 posts in 732 days

#4 posted 12-15-2016 11:55 AM

I have done several of these. (Usually walnut) I cut the hole for the bow-tie first and then fit it in. I usually put them on the top and bottom. This is especially true if the wood is more than an inch thick. I have never tried metal bow-ties but I cannot see them being a problem. Brass and aluminum can both be easily worked with woodworking tools. (Watch out for the chips. they can be hot and wear eye protection. Please!) They will however mean you cannot work the top with handplanes.

Elm shouldn’t have too much of a problem with splitting. If you look at the wood closely you will see a zigzag pattern. The grain changes directions and is treasured for Windsor chair seats because it does not like to split.

I would not try to pull a crack back together. It only introduces stress into the wood. This is the opposite of what you are trying to accomplish, if you want a stable top.

I am not familiar with the finish you are using, but it sounds good. Just be sure that you finish both sides the same. I have seen more of these ruined by warping caused by the finish than I care to think about.

-- nice recovery, They should pay extra for that mistake, Eric E.

View Lazyman's profile


2609 posts in 1586 days

#5 posted 12-15-2016 01:21 PM

While I think that the brass butterflys will look pretty cool, one problem I see with using brass, especially if you put it on the top, is that you have to get the depth cut perfectly. With a wood butterfly, you can make it a little proud of the surface and then chisel, plane and sand it level. You can eventually level the brass I suppose but it’ll take a lot more work. If you do sand the brass, you may get brass dust into the grain of the wood which could be difficult to get out (check out my bottle opener project for an example with copper). Not sure if you need to worry about it or not but don’t forget that brass will expand and contract with temperature changes and the biggest expansion will be in its length, which is exactly opposite of what you get with a wood butterfly. Because you typically make the grain run the length of the butterfly and put that at about a 90 degree angle to the grain of the wood you are stabilizing, the expansion due to moisture content is minimal along the direction of the grain so it doesn’t push or pull the crack apart or together and even though the butterfly may be a different type of wood, its linear expansion from temperature changes won’t be that different from the table top.

Unless you are planning to put this outdoors or some other setting where you need protection from UV or wide swings in temperature or moisture/humidity, I probably would not use a spar finish. My understanding is that spar finishes are designed to be more flexible to handle wide swings in temperature and moisture so might provide less impact protection. I am afraid that someone writing a letter on the table with a ball point pen without something under the paper might leave a permanent record in your table top.

-- Nathan, TX -- Hire the lazy man. He may not do as much work but that's because he will find a better way.

View Boondock's profile


5 posts in 727 days

#6 posted 12-15-2016 02:04 PM

Nathan and lazy man thank you for the knowledge. I do. It want to see the butterfly on top. I was thinking of leaving the void in the check or filling with a black wood epoxy. If I need it on top I will use wood, unless I’m safe from further splitting being Elm?

As for the crack do you recommend putting in a butterfly still, leaving it, or trying to break that edge off? Here’s a picture of the top.

View LittleShaver's profile


420 posts in 818 days

#7 posted 12-15-2016 02:16 PM

I did an oak slab table a few years ago. When setting bowties, use a marking knife to do the outline. gets you a starting point for your chisel work. You might consider adding a slight taper to the sides of your inserts first. Tapping them in to their final resting point is a little easier.

I also had some cracks and voids to deal with. I filled them with a 2 part clear casting resin I found at Hobby Lobby and threw in some semi-precious stones we had laying around as a kind of aggregate and to add some visual interest. I did end up coating the entire top with the resin to ensure even coloring and is worked like a grain filler. This was not the thick plastic coat that you sometimes see on a bar top. Just enough to fill the grain and even out the color.

I topped it all with about 8 coats of home brew wipe-on poly and it’s been holding up well to daily use for 7 or 8 years so far.

-- Sawdust Maker

View Aj2's profile


1872 posts in 1996 days

#8 posted 12-15-2016 02:56 PM

I don’t like that finish for interior,its too soft it might get sticky after a few cleanings.Its going to take forever to dry and build coats.You will not be able to rub it out.Too soft.
It’s a good finish for outdoors.
Here’s my suggestion since I just booed your idea.
If you can spray go for the poly or CV they have more solids.


-- Aj

View Boondock's profile


5 posts in 727 days

#9 posted 12-15-2016 03:29 PM

I’ve always had a thing for solvent based clears. I love what they bring out of wood. I’m anxious to see what the Elm will look like. I always see water based as doing nothing to enhance the color. What is CV? I will be rolling and tipping the finish and if possible I will polish the fish coat with the festool

View bobasaurus's profile


3544 posts in 3383 days

#10 posted 12-15-2016 06:11 PM

I would put those bowties on top, they will look amazing when polished up and finished over. I would first do a wash coat of shellac, as it will stick to the metal and wood alike, then any further coats of varnish etc will stick perfectly to the shellac. Be sure to use a good epoxy when inserting those bowties… gluing metal to wood is a bit tricky. The bowties should be roughed up on the bottom and cleaned carefully before insertion to get good glue strength.

-- Allen, Colorado (Instagram @bobasaurus_woodworking)

View Aj2's profile


1872 posts in 1996 days

#11 posted 12-15-2016 06:51 PM

I ve always had a thing for solvent based clears. I love what they bring out of wood. I m anxious to see what the Elm will look like. I always see water based as doing nothing to enhance the color. What is CV? I will be rolling and tipping the finish and if possible I will polish the fish coat with the festool

Conversion Varnish

Good luck with your project.


-- Aj

View jonnybrophy's profile


160 posts in 810 days

#12 posted 12-15-2016 07:01 PM

I think those bowties would look beautiful! Just be real careful and maybe even consider using router templates for a more accurate/reliable inlay.

-- "If she dont find ya handsome, she better find ya handy"

View BEWoodworks's profile


37 posts in 1048 days

#13 posted 12-15-2016 07:55 PM

Most everything has been said already, but I just did my first bowtie in a table top. It is a 42” wide Hickory top. I think metal would look cool as a bowtie, but as someone already pointed out getting it perfect depth will be tough. Chamfer the bottom edges and taper the sides (if you can) so it goes in easy. Take your time and get the fit right. Trying to force metal into too small a hole may cause problems. If you are worried about contamination, put a clear coat on the metal before installation, then clear over it after. Blue tape is your friend, will protect the wood!

I used a marking knife to trace the piece, and cleared all excess material with chisels. Faster than setting up a router for one bowtie. Block Plane and sand flush. Mine is on the bottom as well because I didn’t want the bowtie showing, and the crack was wider at the bottom.

I used a coat of amber shellac for the look you like, sanded that and then finished with Enduro-var. Water based finish is super easy to apply evenly and dries fast!

View Manitario's profile (online now)


2680 posts in 3081 days

#14 posted 12-15-2016 08:11 PM

I’ve done a bunch of projects using bowties; one of my first was a big elm slab table:

The bowties should be 2/3 the depth of the slab if you want them to help stabilize the crack, ie. not just decorative. The other thing to consider with using metal bowties is that the wood slab will continue to move, the metal will not; if there is any further movement of the slab you may end up with gaps around the bowties.

I’m not a huge fan of heavy film finishes for kitchen tables eg. poly or spar urethane; they are more durable to a certain extent than an oil based finish or a wiping varnish but no finish is indestructible. You need to consider what you’ll do the first time you have a big scratch on the nice poly surface or the first time you get a water ring under the poly that you can’t heat out; oil and/or wiping varnish is a lot easier to repair/recoat.

-- Sometimes the creative process requires foul language. -- Charles Neil

View OSU55's profile


1962 posts in 2188 days

#15 posted 12-15-2016 10:06 PM

If you are wiping or brushing, ob poly is the easiest. WB finishes dry too fast for that large of a surface for hand application. While many diss it, I prefer Minwax ob poly. Tried many others and MW works as good or better. Most problems are “operator error” not product related. Here's some info on oils and poly you might find interesting. Shellac can be used to provide color if desired, or the dyes described in the link can do it. No need for shellac in this application other than color tho.

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