A coffee table featuring the crest of Hyrule made from over 1500 cubes of Walnut, Sycamore, Oak, Ash, and Iroko.
I wanted to try something ambitious using the cubes I had made for chopping boards, so decided to take it to the next level and make a table top!
Making this table turned into a labour of love and I'm really chuffed with the result. It takes quite a lot of tools and is a massive effort, but if you do want to make one I've done my best to document the process for you. I generally did things the hard way with this project, so if you've got any tips on how to make it easier & better please comment as I welcome the feedback!
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Step 1: Stuff I Used & Design
A fair few tools going on here I'm afraid. You may be able to do it with a more limited workshop, but these are the things I used....
- Planer Thicknesser
- Mitre Saw
- Table Saw
- Belt Sander
- Random Orbit Sander
- Mitre Trimmer
- Chisel & Mallet
- Pull saw
- Gorilla Wood Glue
- Resintite Wood Glue
- Sandpaper (80/120/240/400/800)
- Danish Oil
- Clear Wax
I picked up most my timber from Bristol Wood Recycling Project, or used bits I had kicking around the shed from other projects. I used a combination of Ash/Oak/Walnut/Sycamore/Iroko for the pixel art table top, and Walnut for everything else.
Knowing the size of my pixels, and a rough size for the table top, I set up a 51px by 31px canvas on Photoshop (the odd number gives a middle point for the Triforce triangles), and clicked on it about a million times until I was happy with the layout.
I'd like to say I planned every detail and it came out exactly as I imagined...but to be honest I pretty much winged it once I had the table top design locked down! I find that if you can work like this you're not fighting the limitations of materials & tools, and a nice design tends to emerge organically if you take your time.
Step 2: Make Your Pixels
My pixels were 15mm x 15mm, and around 20mm deep. I already had a fairly well stocked shoebox because of my chopping board escapades, but with over 1500 needed I had to make more.
It's kind of hard to figure out how many cubes you'll get out of a chunk of wood, but from an 8ft plank of sycamore I got around 500 cubes. This step is basically turning the wood you've got into 15mm square rods as efficiently as possible, then slicing them up.
I started by gathering up my woods and ripping em to strips around 17mm wide on the table saw. These were then thicknessed down to just above 15mm on my planer/thicknesser.
After planing square the un-thicknessed edge on the planer, I cut each strip down to 17mm again. At this point I knew I had 3 planed edges that were square, and one sawn edge. So it was now just a case of thicknessing the sawn edge down, rotating the rod 90o on the last few passes until the rod was 15mm square (or a few 1/100's of a mm off anyway).
I then took to the mitre saw and cut my rods into roughly 20mm bits. I cut 3 or 4 rods at a time to save time and minimise breakout. It's likely you'll lose a fair few pixels to breakout, so make sure you're making more than you need. Finally, I inspected each bit and tidied them up with a sanding block before stacking them OCD style in shoeboxes....oof!
Step 3: Prep for Gluing
Before getting stuck in with the gluing, I made a surface to lay out the design on using some ply and softwood.
Then it was just a case of sitting there with my design and placing the cubes in place. Something I had to account for was the variation in shades from the Iroko. I ended up taking it all apart, going through all the Iroko and separating it into 4 different colours, then redoing it.
The last step in the prep was to make a jig for gluing the cubes together. This was a chunky perspex covered square edge. Just look at the picture...that's what you're going for!
Step 4: Gluing Phase 1
From making chopping boards, I found that if I glued more than 4 or 5 rows in one chunk error would sneak in and things would go wonky later. So, I broke the design down into chunks that could be squared up and glued together later.
I made a video to show this step so I'll let that do the talking, but basically glue one row at a time being careful to keep things square and flat under the force of the clamps. After each row clean excess glue from the edge with a chisel so that the next row will sit nicely next to it.
There's no less than 102 separate gluing sessions to do a 51x31 design! If you want to try and do more in each chunk go for it, but the slower you work the better the results so try to be patient.
Step 5: Gluing Phase 2
Now we need to square up our chunks and glue them together.
To do this this I ran each chunk through the table saw, just skimming the edge. I worked each column at the same time so they'd line up nicely later.
Then it was just a case of gradually gluing the chunks together, resquaring, and building it up into complete surface.
To support the surface I made a frame from ply and cedar, and glued it all to that. Take care get this square and even as the top edge will be cut to match it later.
Step 6: Sanding & Edging
I went at it with my belt sander sporting an 80grit belt. The belt will get pretty hot after like 5mins, so I worked in bursts allowing the sander to cool for an hr or so.
At this stage we're just getting the surface glue off and making it even.
Once the surface was relatively smooth I cut the edge to match the ply&cedar support surface using a templating bit in my router.
The edging was made from walnut, thicknessed to 18mm thick. I cut them to length, and cut the mitres using a mitre trimmer. These were glued in place using Resintite glue (similar to urea-formaldehyde) and some clamps.
Step 7: Legs
Given how square the table top is, I wanted to have legs that were angular with a bit of a gentle curve. After some time on Google I ended up taking inspiration from the lush table shown in the pics.
There were a lot of angles going on here so I worked it out in autoCAD, jotted down the key measurements, and stuck to the plan as firmly as possible.
First I planed/thicknessed my remaining walnut to 20mm x 45mm. I then cut the pieces to length with the appropriate angles shown in the sketch above.
I didn't think gluing alone would have enough strength to hold each leg together, so I trimmed down a biscuit that slotted a hole I made with my router on the join. Then clamps and Resintite to glue one together. The other 3 legs were glued together using the first as a template so I'd know they all matched.
Now for the fun bit...shaping the legs. A spindle sander or a band saw would have been super useful at this stage, but all I had was a belt sander and a vat of elbow grease. I just went at it with the belt sander and sandpaper until I had a leg that looked pretty. The other 3 legs were shaped to match using a template bit in my router.
Step 8: Fit Legs
To attach the legs I cut shoes into the cedar frame using chisel, knife, and pull saw. I was going to tenon them but it felt like overkill for the amount of extra work.
To make them solid I made some walnut stretchers that were attached with through tenons. These were cut to fit so I can't give you a dimension I'm afraid.
The tenons were made with pull saw & chisel. I forgot to take photo's, but to cut the mortices in the legs, I used my morticer with a 30o wedge.
Annoyingly I focused on the position of the exit holes for the tenons so then had to shape the stretchers quite dramatically. Although it took a tonne of sanding, this ended up looking pretty swish.
Everything was glued in place with Resintite.
Step 9: Sand & Finish
Now for the stage that'll really test your resolve...the finishing sand! There's no secret here. Just sandpaper & patience.
I started with 120grit and kept at it until any machining marks, scratches, and glue were gone. To tease scratches out, give it a wipe with a damp sponge which will raise the grain.
Then I worked my way up through sanding grits with an uncompromising eye stopping at 800grit. I spent a ridiculously long time on this...seriously...I lost my finger prints!
Before putting on the finish I tested a bunch of oils, waxes, and varnishes. My favourite was Danish Oil. Each finish has it's own set of instructions, so read the tin for how to correctly apply it.
Following a few coats of oil that had been left to fully soak in, I polished it up with clear wax until it was shiny and lush.
Step 10: The End
So there you have it. There's not much I'd change if I did it again - maybe switch the sycamore for maple, and dovetail the corners of the edging, but overall I'm super proud of this piece.
I'd love to keep it but I've already got a cool coffee table, so this is for sale! If you'd like to buy it or commission me to make something similar please get in touch. I'm not sure how much for...make me an offer! haha