In the general "Boat Improvement" category, some things just have to be done. One example of this is the cockpit table in my boat. Not that the table is bad, its just an area that can be improved. Here is what I am starting with:
Mahogany is a traditional marine wood, and is pretty dimensionally stable (not prone to warpage), so I decided that would be the wood I would use. Mahogany is really a class of wood, and there are quite a few different species within this type. I am using Philippine Mahogany,which is the least expensive of the Mahogany species, and a good choice for something that will be exposed to the elements. It is also a rather light-weight wood. While Philippine Mahogany doesn't have that rich red beauty of traditional Mahogany, its about 25% of the cost. You woodworking gurus might know that the common name for Philippine Mahogany is Luan.
The project starts with the glue up 3in and 4in wide boards until obtaining the the desired width. Hardwood purchased at a lumber yard is typically finished on three sides only. This requires one edge to be trued, which is easily done on a Jointer/Planer. If you do not have this machine, you can either purchase premium pre-dimensioned hardwood at a home center or see if your lumber yard will true the edges for you. Many yards will do this for a nominal shop fee.
I used Elmer's ProBond to glue up the boards. This is a polyeurethane glue, waterproof, and very strong. Another similar brand of polyeurethane is Gorilla Glue. When gluing wood, you must pre-wet one surface while applying the glue. Moisture helps cures the glue, and the liquid turns to a foam, and even helps fill any gaps you might have between the joints. Unfortunately, eventually some of the foam will exit the joints, creating
a real mess. This can be minimized by wiping the glued surfaces with a farily wet sponge about 20 minutes after the glue is applied.
I used biscuits to mate each board, which really makes for a strong assembly. The biscuits are actually compressed wood. When they get wet from the glue, they tend so swell, making for a very rigid joint. If you use biscuits, be sure you account for their locations when you cut the table to size, otherwise you might ene up with a biscuit showing on the end of the table. Alternatives to biscuits include traditional dowel pins, routing a glue edge, or simply edge gluing without anything. Each piece is clamped after it is aligned.
You can see here that the glue up looks pretty ugly at this point. However, all of the glue can be sanded off with no problem. The clamps keep the entire assembly flat and true.
After the glue up is completely dry, the next step is to sand the glue and slight misalignments on each board. I used an orbital sander with 80 grit sandpaper to do this. After this step, I cut the table to size and rounded off the corners. One of the objectives of the table is to have a slightly larger surface than the original one. This was accomplished by not rounding corners as much as the original table. Compared to the original table, this one is the same width, but is actually 2in shorter. However, it is more square than the original, so it has more surface area".
The next step is what really makes this table unique. I will route the boat's name into the table. To do this, I used a micro-router, which is a Dremel tool fitted with a router attachment and a 1/8in shank straight router bit. The boat's name is simply free-hand routed on the surface. This does take some practice so it might be a good idea to test it on some scrap wood. Try to use the same wood as the table is made from, since that will give you an idea of how much finesse you must use when moving the router around.
Using the same font as used for my boat name, I printed out the name on a computer, then transferred it to the wood top by tracing the name over a piece of carbon paper. This allows the font of the table name to match the transom's artwork. If you have a sign shop make your boat's name, they will usually give you a file copy of the artwork if you ask for it. The next step is to route the name into the table. You only need to cut into the table 1/16in to 1/8in deep.
To fill the routed areas, I used a two part casting epoxy - the type used to make those glossy tables out of tree trunks. I added a dye to the epoxy for a green tint; which matches the boat's trim. I have discovered that some combinations of epoxy formulations, dye, and wood; that you can get some "bleeding" - where the product runs into the surrounding wood. This can be cured with the application of either a sanding sealer or thin coat of varnish prior to the application of the epoxy.
Here you can see the application of the epoxy "inlay". When dry, I can simply sand it flushwith the table top. The epoxy is transparent, so the wood grain is visible under it. You may have some air bubbles in the epoxy, but these can usually be "popped" with a small torch. While the epoxy is still wet, carefully apply heat to the bubble, and it should pop.
After letting the epoxy set for 24 hours, I simply sanded off the excess - flush with the top. Resist the urge to sand before waiting 24 hours. Although it can be done earlier, the epoxy may have a rubber-like consistancy until it fully cures, which will gum up your sandpaper.
After the inlay is sanded down, all that remains is the final sanding and finishing. The finish consisted of several coats of polyeurethane finish; sanding and steel-wooling between coats. I discovered that the open pores of the Philippine Mahogany required quite a few coats of finish and sanding to get all of the pores filled. This step takes some time, but the gradual buildup of the finish will result in a very smooth and highly glossy table.
I need to elaboarte a bit on the finishing process. In all of my woodworking experience as a hobbyist, I have come to learn that 50% of a successful project is finishing, and the other 50% is all of the rest. In other words, as important as the other steps are, the finishing step is by far the single most-important step for a good result. To get an even high gloss finish, you must fill the pores of the wood. This takes time.
Now isn't that nice?
After using the table for a couple of seasons, I came to realize that Phillippine Mahogany doesn't stand up to abuse very well, and reminds me a bit of a thick paper bag. It can get "dented" and scratched rather easily. However, it is fairly immune to moisture intrusion and warping, which is important in a table in a cockpit.