Introduction: Epoxy Inlay and Rustic Compass Butcher Block Countertops

About: I have an unhealthy relationship with pallet wood. I make fast paced and entertaining build videos on my YouTube channel that are made for everyone, but with the ultimate goal to get the younger generations ex…

So this countertop is actually a set of 3 pieces that are kind of like table leaves. I made these for my friends who live in a fairly small house that lacks countertop space and this is meant to help with that. These will sit on top of a half wall that runs around the perimeter of a set of stairs going down to the basement. There is a notch around the 3 sides that sit on the wall so it basically straddles the wall to hold it in place and there are also pairs of magnets between the sections to keep them from sliding apart. It's broken into sections to be somewhat temporary so it can be stowed away in a closet when not in use.

Step 1: Materials & Tools


> Maple butcher block countertop

> Blue tape

> Epoxy resin

> Grout

> Epoxy syringe

> Ammonium chloride

> Rare earth magnets

> Quick set epoxy

> Waterlox tung oil finish


> ISOtunes bluetooth hearing protection

> Dust mask

> Circular saw

> Drywall square

> Table saw

> Bar clamps

> Glue scraper

> Belt sander

> CNC machine

> Pipe clamps

> Heat gun

> Router

> Table saw fence clamps

> Random orbital sander

Step 2: Project Design/rendering

This is just a rendering of the concept. The size and shape of the countertop pieces was easy to figure out, but the inlay design on the top took a little back and forth to come up with the right idea.

Step 3: Sizing the Butcher Block Slab

And the material for this project is just a couple of big maple butchblock countertop slabs. I grabbed a bunch of these at Ikea a couple of years ago when they were in the discount area. I think they were trying to get rid of them because it was the last thing in the store made from solid wood... good on you Ikea.

The pieces are too big to run through my table saw so I first cut them to length by hand using my circular saw. Also, this is the exact reason my workbench is actually 2 workbenches pushed together, I can pull them apart slightly to make cuts like this without cutting into the top.

The more manageable pieces are then cut to width on the table saw. I need 3 pieces that are about 14" wide and I could only get 2 and a partial piece out of one countertop. Luckily I had a scrap piece that made up what I was lacking so I can glue those 2 thinner pieces together to get my 3 piece.

Step 4: Gluing Up One of the Sections

The pieces are glued together with wood glue, clamped up, and then removed from the clamps after a few hours and the glue squeeze out is scraped off with a glue scraper. This laminated piece is then cut to the same width and length as the other 2 pieces.

From the store the countertops have a butcherblock oil applied to them already. I don't want this on there because it will interfere with my chosen finish, so I take the time to temporarily clamp the pieces together and sand all of the faces with a belt sander until I hit fresh wood.

Step 5: Cutting the Engraving With a CNC

Now it's time to do the engraving for the inlay! I carved it out using my CNC, but this one took some real problem solving to get it to work because all 3 sections won't fit on the bed of the CNC at the same time. So what I ended up doing is setting it up as 2 separate tool paths where I carved 2 of them at once and then slide the center one over, installed the 3rd one, and carved that.

You can see here I used the center of the compass rose as my 0,0 point so that way when I moved the center section over for the 2nd cut, I could use the center of compass rose to line up the next tool path. Even though it shows the cut off the edge of the board in the software (Easel) it will still cut the entire tool path.

Anyway, I clamp the first 2 sections in place, center my zero point in the center of the 2nd sections and let it go to town. The whole cut was done with a v-bit mostly just to get the fine detail on the numbers and letters that were included along with the compass.

Step 6: Inventables Power Hour Challenge

Also worth mentioning that this is part of a contest that Inventables is putting on called the Easel Power Hour challenge. It's all about designing a project that takes less than an hour to cut, and my 2 tool paths clocked in just under the cutoff at a combined 55 minutes. And you don't even need to make the project or own a CNC to enter the contest, just design it using Easel (because the CNC is the grand prize!).

Learn more here:

Step 7: CNC Is Great, But Not 100% Necessary

While you admire this photo, I also want to mention that this is totally doable without a CNC machine if you'd like to do something similar yourself. It's all just made up of lines and circles so all you'd really have to do is set your router up on a long piece of wood and screw that piece of wood to the center of the circle and then spin it around the center while it cuts. For the straight lines you just need to run your router along a straight edge. The hard part for this one is really just the numbers, which I wouldn't attempt with a serif font. It's fairly easy to cut text though if you just pick the right font that looks a bit more organic and just set yourself up with a palm router and v-bit and a steady hand.

Step 8: Cutting the 3rd Section

So with the first cut done, I slide over the center section, install the 3rd section in place, clamp it down flat and square and then zero my tool path on the center of the compass rose.

Then I just take a nap while the robots do all my dirty work (don't believe anything I say).

I was pleasantly surprised with how the continuity ended up on the whole piece. I almost cut it all by hand just because I was nervous and don't trust robots as much as I trust myself, it turned out alright though, robots might be taking over the world folks.

Step 9: Preparing for Epoxy

Moving along... I install blue tape along the edge where the sections abut one another since I don't want the epoxy to leak out or stick the pieces together.

I then clamp them in place again and shim them up until they are level so that the epoxy doesn't try to run away when I pour it into the grooves.

Step 10: Creating the Epoxy Mixture

For the epoxy, I use a 2:1 mix from Total Boat since it dries nice and solid with a fairly fast cure time.

And then for coloring I mix in some very dark colored grout. Grout is a really fine powder so it mixes into the epoxy really well. I like using this as an alternative to a powdered or liquid dye because a lot of times dye likes to bleed into the wood, which doesn't make for a very crisp inlay (I confirmed this with a test piece of butcher block, it was a mess).

Step 11: Applying the Epoxy

For applying the epoxy, I actually use a plastic syringe. This helps to keep me from making too much of a mess since I can direct it very specifically in the areas that it is supposed to be. It took me about 2 of these cups of epoxy resin to fill in all of the engraving.

After the epoxy sits for a few minutes, bubbles will start to rise up to the surface. To pop those, I just hit it super quickly with some heat and that will pull all of them up and out of the epoxy (so they don't cure in place).

Step 12: Sanding Epoxy Down Flush

After about 5 hours, the epoxy was cured enough to hit it with the belt sander to bring it down flush with the wood surface.

I think I laid it on a little thicker than I had too, because it took quite a bit of sanding to get it all flush, but we got there!

Step 13: Burning the 2-tone Color Into the Compass

So with the surface all pretty and looking the way I want it, it's time to add the 2-tone look that I'm going for. For this, I mix up a batch of 1 tablespoon of ammonium chloride with 100 mL of water and apply that to the surface of all the areas that I want dark.

Then I can just go over all of those areas with a heat gun. Due to the chemicals applied to the surface, this will cause a chemical reaction that will make these areas burn at a much lower temperature than the surrounding areas. This is what enables me to get the selective burnt surface. I actually resorted to the propane torch because I'm impatient but that caused me to slightly char a couple of areas I didn't want and had to sand down later so I don't recommend that.

After charring the surface, I clean everything up with some paint thinner to make sure that the charred wood doesn't streak on the clean wood surface. I use paint thinner because it won't raise the grain (like water will) and it also evaporates very quickly. This also lets me preview the color, and at this point I think the burnt area is too dark, but we'll adjust that later. While it's still in the clamps (after the paint thinner drys) I run a router around the perimeter to give the whole countertop a slight round over.

Step 14: Cutting the Notches Out of the Perimeter

Next I need to cut out the chunks of wood around the perimeter where the wall will sit. For this, I will be cutting some really tall pieces, so I clamp on an extended auxiliary fence temporarily for this operation. I raise up my table saw blade as tall as it will go and set the width to leave a half inch behind for the top of the board.

This is a very very slow and careful cut because it is a bit awkward and we are taking away quite a bit of material, slow and steady wins the race. I cut the 3 sides where the wall will be sitting, the one shown here is the end pieces so I cut the long edge and also the short edges.

Then to remove this chunk of wood, I lower my blade down and cut it off with the table saw. I'm careful to make sure I have my push stick at the ready to push the cutoff piece through the blade, since it can be very problematic once it gets cut off from the main piece and has a chance of getting pinched against the blade and kicking back.

Step 15: Fine Tuning the Compass and Installing Magnets

Now I do a final sanding on all of the pieces. I can smooth out what I just cut on the table saw, but this is also my chance to lighten up the burnt surface a little bit with a light touch with my sander. I also soften down and of the sharp edges so that it's nicer to touch, especially when you're lifting these big pieces up to move them around.

The last step in shaping these pieces is just to install some magnets. I use a forstner bit to cut a recess just deep enough for the magnets and then hold them in place with some quick set epoxy. I use 3/4" rare earth magnets which are super strong, the only trick is to make sure you have the polarity right.

Step 16: Applying Finish!

And finally, what is always my favorite step, finish! I use Waterlox Tung Oil to finish up this countertop. I love Waterlox because of how it always makes the grain pop and gives a nice subtle shine to the surface. It's also food safe and waterproof, so it's perfect for countertops. Learn more about it here:

It doesn't matter how many times I do it, my mind is blown every time I do this. If you don't like that color, there's something wrong with you.

I just love how it pulled the color out of the 2-tone surface on the front of the counter tops. I did a total of 4 coats with a quick sanding with some fine grit (~600) sandpaper in between.

Step 17: Rendering Combined With Finished Project

And that's a wrap! I haven't installed it yet, so this is just a photo combining the rendering of the space with the actual countertop piece that I just made.

Step 18: Glamour Shots

As always, for the full Jackman experience, definitely check out the build video too:


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