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Mosaic Faded Coffee Table

How I built my mosaic faded coffee table

This is a project I absolutely didn’t need to make. Weird way to start a post I know, but stay with me here. I just made the herringbone coffee table, like, what a couple of months ago? I REALLY like the herringbone table.  Never the less I had this concept in my head and I really wanted to bring it to life. Practicality be damned, I set out to make my second coffee table in as many months!

Before we get into the rest of the post if you havent already, check me out on Instagram! You can find me @zacbuilds or (direct link: https://www.instagram.com/zacbuilds/)

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I think this aerial view best shows off what I was trying to do with the pattern. One corner is walnut, the other corner is maple and then it’s a gradient transition from one to the other across the surface of the table.

I’d love to claim this is a style I invented, but it isn’t. At least I don’t think it is. Let me explain.

Close to a decade ago, before I was even into making my own furniture, I think I saw a photo online of a conference table done in a similar style. That conference table inspired this project and a couple of my other past projects. I’ve tried to find pictures of, or references to, that table since and have always come up empty-handed. If this project reminds you of anything you’ve seen before please let me know because I’d love to find out who made that table, assuming it’s not just some weird false memory!

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I hadn’t really considered that the legs of this table would end up looking like a weird 3D cross until after I had finished building the table. I’m not really a religious person, I just thought the legs would look cool if they were laid out asymmetrically.

That being said, my grandfather is actually a pretty well known Canadian sculptor/artist who utilizes a lot of religious imagery in his work. Maybe there was some subconscious stuff at work there. Hell if I know. If anyone asks I’ll say it was an homage to my grandfather.

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All of the raw materials (excluding the metal for the legs) for this project actually came from breaking down and recycling some of my old projects.

On the left, you’ve got a big walnut bench I made last year. The middle one is a maple TV stand that I don’t need anymore. The one on the left is another coffee table project I lost momentum on and then abandoned, which is also made of maple.

Recycling these old projects was nice because it really kept the cost down. The whole project cost me less than $100, and most of that was just for the steel I used to build the legs.

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Using a rubber mallet, I got to smashing up my previous work.

I had mixed emotions about this part of the project. I mean, smashing stuff is always a great time. There are very few things I love to do more than breaking things with a big hammer. On the other hand, I was breaking projects I had spent countless hours building. You see why I was so conflicted.

I pushed through my emotional turmoil though. Eventually, I had everything broken down into smaller more manageable pieces. It took more force than I expected to break down these old projects (I guess wood glue really does work), still, they were no match for Thor’s hammer (that’s what I call my rubbed mallet).

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Once everything was broken down into smaller pieces I flipped over to the table saw and started ripping everything down into 1″ x 1 1/2″ strips.

As soon as that first piece of walnut hit the table saw blade I know I was committed to this idea and there was no turning back.

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As you probably noticed in the first few photos each piece of wood in the table top is a different length. To achieve that look I used a miter saw to cut my strips of wood to random lengths. They ranged from 6″ to 24″ long.

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Now for the fun part: figuring out the pattern. I had a rough concept in my head of how I wanted it to look. One corner walnut, one corner maple and then a transition between the two. That was about all the pre-planning I did though. I laid pieces down on the table, re-arranged them, scratched my head, stared at the pattern, re-arranged them some more, until finally, I had something I liked the look of.

I wish I could tell you it was a more technical process, but it’s just not haha.

I am however trying to balance a few different factors when I’m deciding on a layout. Obviously, I want the pattern to look interesting, but I’m also trying to maintain an even balance of the two species of wood. The other thing I’m doing is trying to make sure that there are no butt joints next to each other in adjacent rows to maximize the strength of the table.

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Once the ugly business of figuring out the pattern was behind me it was time to glue. I applied some generous beads of carpenters glue to each piece of wood.

A lot of people ask me if I bother gluing the butt joints (when two pieces of wood meet end-to-end) on big glue-ups like this. I’ll set the record straight here: I do not, haha.

I don’t really think there’s much point. End grain glued to end grain is never going to give you a very strong connection. Instead, as I said in the previous caption, I just make sure that there are no butt joints next to each other in adjacent rows. That way I know each butt joint is being locked in place by the rows on either side of it.

Hopefully, that settles the non-existent controversy.

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The key ingredient in a glue up like this clamping force. Once the glue was applied I grabbed these big bar clamps and used them to squish all the strips of wood together.

If you’re ever doing a similar project one of my favorite tips to give people is to pre-set all of your clamps to the right size before you start applying glue. Once the glue starts flowing, the clock starts ticking. You have to get everything assembled and clamped together before the glue starts to dry. Most wood glue dries in about 20 minutes, so from the first drop of glue to the last twist of the clamp that’s all the time you have.

Pre-setting the clamps to the right sizes allows you to save time and avoid fumbling with the adjustments while that imaginary stopwatch floats above your head. If you’re anything like me, your motor control goes to shit whenever the pressure is on. I was totally the guy who would choke playing sports in the last few seconds of the game. Which is probably a contributing factor as to why I do woodworking now instead of playing sports for a living haha

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Try as I might to arrange everything perfectly before clamping the wood together I know that there will always some pieces of wood that sit too low and some that sit too high.

Normally I use a big belt sander to sand down the surface of these big glue-ups, but it’s fairly time-consuming to do it that way. On this project, I wanted to try using an electric planer instead. The electric planer has a spinning blade on its bottom that removes thin layers of wood. I figured I could use it to do most of the heavy lifting and then finish things off with the belt sander.

I’d say I was moderately successful. It’s no replacement for the belt sander, but it did help to knock down some of the really high points. Be careful with these electric planers though, it’s very easy to plane off more materials than you want to. It happened to me in a couple of places, don’t worry though, I just hid them on the underside of the table, no one will ever look down there.

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To really get things nice and smooth there’s no substitute for the belt sander. I threw an 80 grit sanding belt on it and spent the next couple of hours slooooowlllly sanding down the surface of the table. Eventually, it was smooth enough that I couldn’t feel the individual pieces of wood anymore. The whole surface of the table top felt like a single, uninterrupted, piece of wood. Perfect.

These big long sanding stints are a great way for me to crush audiobooks and podcasts while I work. It’s basically the only way I “read” books these days so try not to complain about how long it takes me to sand things.

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Once the surface was smoothed over I was ready to cut the table top down to size. You’ll remember I said I cut each strip of wood so that it was 1″ wide. I had 24 rows of wood strips, so my table top ended up being 24″ wide.

I like to use the golden ratio (1.618:1) to figure out the ratio between the length and width of my tables. Supposedly the golden ratio creates the most visually pleasing rectangles, but I really just do it because it’s a fun talking point for these posts.

So to calculate the desired length of my table top I multiplied 24 by 1.618, which I then rounded off to 38 3/4″. I set up my track saw, which is a track guided circular saw, and used it cut the table top down to 24″ x 38 3/4″.

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Cutting the table top with the track saw left it with sharp, square, edges. While I actually liked the way it looked with the square edges it’s wasn’t exactly the most ergonomic design for a coffee table.

I don’t know about you, but I like to rest my feet on my coffee table when I’m sitting on the couch. So to make the corners a little bit more forgiving on the underside of my resting feet I used a 1/4″ round over bit in a trim router to put a small, subtle, radius on the edge of the table top. Much more comfortable for resting my feet on.

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You guys know about raising the grain, right!? No? That’s ok, I didn’t either until very recently. Here’s the idea, you spray your wood down with warm water, the water gets absorbed into the wood and makes any loose grains “pop” up. After the water dries you sand down the surface with high grit sandpaper and that remove all of those popped grains. Rinse and repeat a couple of times and you have a glass smooth wood surface.

I was really surprised at how well this worked. It was my first time trying it, but It’s definitely something I’ll keep doing from now on.

Oh, and for bonus points, you can use Febreze instead of water to raise the grain. That way you have a super smooth piece of wood that also smells like a new car! Ok, ok, I’m just kidding, that’s the only spray bottle I could find on short notice. I promise I didn’t spray my table top down with Febreze!

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Like I said, once the water dries, the grains pop up and need to be removed with a sander. I used my random orbital sander and some 220 grit sandpaper to do this job. I really liked the results I got but a few of my Instagram followers were saying that you can get even better results using 320 grit sandpaper, so I’ll be trying that on my next project.

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Ahhh yesss, rolling on the clear coat, this is probably my favorite part of any project. I just love to watch all of the wood tones and grain patterns really come to life. The walnut goes that deep chocolatey brown too, mmm delicious!

I used a water and oil hybrid floor varnish to clear coat the table. It’s a satin finish, and because it’s a floor varnish it dries incredibly hard and is really good at resisting moisture. It’s my go-to finish for most of my projects.

I applied 3 coats to all faces of the table top, sanding with 320 grit sandpaper between each coat.

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Ok, the table top is basically done at this point, it’s time to switch gears and do some metal work.

I bought 20′ feet of this 1×3 tubular steel to fabricate the legs for this table. Have you ever noticed that whenever you’re doing metal work you get to say “fabricate”? If I was making the legs out of wood, I’d just say I was going to build the legs. But because its metal, I get to say fabricate. Feels kind of nice, more sophisticated and mature.

Anyways, the first step was to cut all of the individual pieces I was going to need using my abrasive chop saw.

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I cut 2 pieces that were 32″long, 4 pieces that were 14.5″ long, and 4 pieces that were 8.5″ long. The pieces that were 8.5″ long had one side of them cut square and one side cut at a 45-degree angle. All of the other pieces were cut with a 45-degree angle at both ends.

Ignore the other pieces metal I cut in this photo. Those are for another top secret project I’m working on 🙂

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One tip I got recently from another Instagram follower was to use an angle grinder to put a micro bevel on any pieces of metal you want to weld together. I wanted to try it for this project so I threw a grinding disk on my angle grinder and got to beveling.

I must say I was pretty impressed by the results. Not only does it clean up the rough cuts left over from my chop saw, but the micro bevel really helped to direct and focus my weld.

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I’m pretty new to welding. Well, to be honest, I’m VERY new to welding. This is the second thing I’ve ever welded. I’m definitely still learning, but it’s a lot of fun. I feel like learning to weld has opened up so many new possibilities for my DIY projects. I used to work almost exclusively with wood, but now I have a whole new type of material available to me. It’s really quite exciting for a building geek like me.

Enough blabbing about how I love to weld. I started by tacking everything together with little point welds. I checked frequently to make sure everything was square and liberally used clamps to hold things in place while I was tacking.

Making sure everything was square and true as I went was really important. Once you weld a seem together there’s no going back, so I made sure to double and triple check everything before I tacked it in place.

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Eventually, after I tacked enough piece of steel together my legs started to take shape. The next job was actually welding together all of the seems. The tubular steel I was using was quite thin (1/16″ thick) and I had some problems early on with my welder melting right through the steel. I’d try and weld together a seem and be left with a red hot dripping hole where my miter joint used to be.

I figured out that if I lowered the voltage and increased the wire feed rate of my welder I wouldn’t burn holes in the steel and was able to lay down some sloppy welding beads. Hopefully, I’ll get better with practice 🙂

My leg assembly ended up being 14.5″ tall, 20″ wide and 32″ long when it was all said and done. Once I added the 1 1/2″ thick table top to the legs the finished height of the table would 16″. I’m getting ahead of myself though, there’s still work to be done on the legs.

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Good thing I never put away my angle grinder after doing all those micro bevels, I still needed it to clean up my welds.

I cursed my poor welding skills as I patiently ground away at all of my seems to clean them up.

The nice thing about welding is that (for the most part) it’s non-destructive. You’re adding material to whatever you’re welding. So if you do a sloppy job, as I did, all you have to do is grind away at it until you have something that looks halfway decent.

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This is what most of the seems looked like after I was done grinding away at them. Not perfect, but hey I’ll take ’em! They definitely look better than they did prior to being ground down.

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I slapped some 120 grit sandpaper on my random orbital sander and gave the whole leg assembly a quick sanding.

I’ve found that this step can really help the enhance the look and feel of metal prior to painting. It also helped to further smooth out all of my welds and blend them out better.

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Have you ever worked with steel only to find your hands covered in a weird black oil? I’m not sure why but a lot of raw steel seems to come coated in this oil. I suspect it’s some sort of corrosion inhibitor for shipping and storage, but I’m not really sure. At any rate, this oil will prevent any paint from properly adhering to the steel, so I have to strip it off.

I swapped my face mask for something a little more filter-y and soaked a rag in varsol (mineral spirits). Using the rag I wiped the whole thing down from top to bottom. Within a few minutes of wiping, my blue rag had quickly turned into a black rag. I rinsed and repeated a few times until my rag maintained its blue colour even after vigorous rubbing (hehehe).

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Using some cheap big box store, house brand, spray paint I coated my whole leg assembly with a nice layer of satin black paint. Good thing I was wearing that respirator because this was a really stinky spray paint. I’ve generally found the cheaper the spray paint, the worse it smells. I can’t think of any practical reason that would be the case, but it seems to hold up. Trust me, I’m an expert when it comes to inhaling spray paint fumes. All the typos in this post may, or may not be, directly related to my research haha.

I laid on 3 coats of spray paint. With each coat, I tried to get in and out as quickly as possible. I did my best to avoid overspraying any single spot and creating drip marks. My philosophy with spray paint is it’s better to do many thin coats than it is to try and do 1 thick coat with perfect coverage. The latter almost always create drip marks.

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The last step was pretty straight forward, I just had to attach the legs to the table top.

Using 3/16″ drill bit I drilled 5 holes in the leg assembly and then used 1 1/2″ long #10 screws to secure it in place. I pre-drilled each screw hole in the table top with a 1/16th drill bit to help avoid snapping any screws. I also gave the head of each screw a quick coat of the spray paint so that they would blend into the legs.

With everything fully assembled the only thing left to do was throw the table in the back of my truck, take it home and get it set up in my living room.

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Here it is back in my living room. My TV stand in the background there is also made of maple and walnut so I feel like the coffee table fits in quite nicely.

Oh and this is totally not a staged photo. This is how my living room always looks…

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You know those flat lay photos that people post on Instagram and their blogs? Well, yea, this is my best attempt at one of those. Obviously, I still have a lot to learn haha. But I like to play around with photography and try different styles from time to time.

I spend almost as much time taking all the photo and videos of these projects as I do actually working on the projects. I’m really not sure which part I enjoy more. I’ve always loved photography but never had anything to take photos of before I started woodworking so the two really go hand in hand in my mind. Either way you slice it, both sides of it bring me a lot of joy and I really enjoy doing it.

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Fun fact: The radius I put on the outside edge of the table top is the same as the radius on the tubular steel I used. I like to try and minimize the number of design elements in my projects. I’m not sure matching the radius of the tabletop to the radius of the legs quite counts as that, but you get what I’m saying.

I just feel like having the two main elements, the table top and the legs, have the same radius makes them feel like they go together better.

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I don’t have anything to say about this photo, I just think it looks cool. That’s all 🙂

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Oh and look, you can see the CN tower. That’s how you know I’m from Toronto! (which should hopefully explain to all the American readers why I spell colour wrong).

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Alright, that’s it for this build. Thanks for checking it out. Let me know if you have any comments or questions below and I’ll see you on the next one!

  1. Michele M Colatosti March 14, 2019 at 2:12 am

    Just beautiful a job well done

    Reply

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