With the new boat comes a new table. This is the third table that I have made for my boats, and I will continue to use the techniques I have developed thus far. This of course, means a design will be inlayed into the table. So, what design to use? Since the design will be inlayed into the wood with freehand use of a router, it has to be simple. Simplicity therefore means not attempting to use the boat's name; "Yesterday's Dreams", as that is an awful lot of lettering to get into a small table. Instead, I decided to simply use "YD". I worked up a concept of 4 different designs; and ultimately decided on the ship's wheel on the upper right.
For this table, I am using Honduras (Genuine) Mahogany. Mahogany has good properties for marine use outside, including stability and excellent wear in the elements. Those of you that are comfortable with woodworking may be a bit bored with some of the step explaination, but for those that are not, the first step is to select the wood.
Ideally you should alternate the grain when viewed on end so to minimize any warping that may occur. If there is no obvious direction in the grain, simply put the best looking surface on the top side.
Rip each piece on a table saw if you have access to one so that the boards are true and parallel. If you have access to a jointer-planer and true the wood edges, it would also make for a better glue joint. However, professional quality saw blades, like the Forrest blade I am using, will all but alleviate the need for using a jointer-planer.
Although there are newer techniques available, I still like to use a biscut to help align and strength the glue joints. A biscuit is a piece of compressed wood that expands when it is wet with glue. This expansion of the biscuit helps hold the wood joint securely. Using biscuits require a purpose-built tool, such as this biscuit cutter. Other alternatives, should you not have a biscuit cutter is using dowel pins. With this method, you drill a hole in one piece for the dowels, then use a "dowel pin center finder" to mark where to drill on the opposite board. Regardless of which method you use, it is better than simply butt joining the wood, as the joints will always be somewhat weak.
Laying out the boards is easily done with a set of Bessey clamps. For exterior wood projects, I like to use Gorilla glue, which is waterproof. When working with hardwood, I like to glue one side of each piece and wet the joining piece with water. Water is the catalyst for the glue up, and while the glue will draw moisture out of the air, a faster and perhaps stronger glue joint is made if one surface is wetted.
Even though clamps and biscuits are used, care must still be taken to get the boards "on-edge" as close as possible. This is often improved by clamping the wood piece to the clamp bars at the glue joints. When using Gorilla glue, you will get some glue out. Its best to leave it alone until it dries, then remove it with a wood chisel. After allowing 8 hours for the glue to dry, you can now sand the boards down flat. You will typically have to true the edges of the glue joints somewhat, but if you took care in laying out the boards and biscuits, it should be a minor task.
A Dremel tool with router attachment and 1/8" dia shank router bit is a great tool for creating the inlay. Fortunately, the router attachment includes a circle cutter, which is all but essential for the wheel segments. The most difficult part of the routing job was to get the 8 wheel handles to match. They are close but not perfect. I suppose this then becomes "art".
The finished routing. It was a nice day at the marina, so I did this outside on a picnic table. Might as well be comfortable (and have good lighting) when you do the difficult steps. At this point, the table is approx 24" x 16". The router cuts are about 1/8" deep. This is a surprisingly difficult depth to determine, as it must be deep enough to withstand sanding of the surface, but not so deep that it is too difficult to cut. From practice, 1/8" seems about right.
Here is the secret... I use Enviro-Tex brand high-gloss resin (epoxy), and dye to color the different areas. The Enviro-Tex dye comes in the three primary colors that you can mix for almost any desired color. I have found that Rit Liquid Dye also works for those few colors that are not possible to mix (for instance; black and white).
When mixing the Enviro-Tex, make sure that you mix enough as you don't want to run out of any color half way through the pour. The epoxy has a 4 hour pot life, and will dry on the project in about 8 hours. One problem you will have when using the epoxy is air bubbles. These must be removed before the epoxy sets or the end product will look terrible. Fortunately there is an easy way to remove the bubbles; simply heat them. I use a charcoal starter lighter that "pops" the bubbles. Check for bubbles a couple of times during the cure.
One issue to be aware of is the colors will tend to run into each other. I use a simple solution of cutting the "fuzzy" ends from plastic Q-Tips, then using the plastic barrels to block the colors from running into each other.
After the epoxy is cured, you will wonder if you made a mistake or not, as the project looks pretty awful at this point. The next step is to sand the epoxy flush with the wood. However, this is easier said than done, especially with Mahogany. Mahogany is a relatively soft wood, and reminds me of a paper bag. The epoxy is much harder than the wood, so excessive sanding will tend to undercut the wood. What I do is to set the Dremel router with the bit just a bit above flush, and run over the epoxy until it is shaved nearly to the height of the table top. After doing so, the small amount of sanding will get the epoxy flush without undercutting the wood.
At this point, the table has taken on it's final shape. The notch in the top is for clearing the flagpost that is attached to the stern rail on my boat.
At this point, I installed cleats in the table. The table will be mounted on the stern rail, and it is "aircraft carrier" flat, so that anything on the table that can roll, might roll off the boat. So a cleat affixed to the table top will prevent this. As well, two cleats are installed on the bottom of the table to facilitate the mounting of the leg post. All cleats were attached with screws drilled through the table. The screws were then plugged as shown here.
I used Minwax Poly Spar Varnish to finish the table. Mahogany is fairly porous, and Spar Varnish usually only requires 3 or 4 coats. Standard polyurethane varnish may take up to 15 coats on porous wood such as Mahogany. The choice is yours.
The table leg is a cut-down section of a Taylor-Made boat cover pole. It attaches to the cleats with furniture hardware. One thing to be mindful when selecting hardware is corrosion. As the boat pole is aluminum, it is best to use aluminum hardware whenever possible.
The finished table ready to leave the woodshop. Mahogany has a property that causes it to darken with age, especially when exposed to the direct sun. Since the table is destined for the outside, I espect it to take on a rich red patina.
On the bottomside of the table, I installe three Windline WCL clips. These may not be made anymore, but I found them on the shelf at my local West Marine. I like the Windline clips as they are designed so the more pressure the screw puts on the clip, the tighter the clip holds. The two top clips attach the table to the rail top, and the bottom clip attaches the table to the stanchion in it's storage position. The white clip is made by Beckson, and it holds the table leg in the folded position.
Even if you cannot find the Windline clips, there are many versions available from several manufacturers, and just about any will work. The clips allow the table to be moved to a different section of railing or quickly stowed. The photo shows how the table's cutout provides clearance for the flag.
The table in the deployed position. The leg can be adjusted so that it supports the table at an angle as shown here, or vertically. Now, doesn't this project make you want to get a few tools out?