Introduction: Table With 3D Printed Tile Inlay
My father's 70th birthday was coming up and I was a bit stumped what to do for his birthday since we couldn't be together due to COVID-19. I knew I wanted to make something for him but what? My father ran the 60 year old family furniture company for most of my life. He is now "retired" and makes custom cabinets and furniture, so the idea of making anything in that arena is a bit intimidating for me. I literally grew up following my father around the factory, but did not pay much attention to the nuances of furniture making since at a young age I was convinced that computers were my future. Now that I have a family of my own I regret that youthful mistake, resulting in a significant amount of self learning over the years. I decided I wanted to make a piece of furniture for him to show him all that I had learned over the years. I thought a small table would be the right amount of challenge vs achievability. After some back and fourth with my sister and wife on the idea of making a small table we thought using my 3D printed Azulejos Tile technique to make an inlay for a table would be a great way to put my own flair on it.
Step 1: Finding an Image for the Inlay
I found this image online from a ski history website. We felt the original 1960s image was not appropriate so my sister found an image of a woman skier and photoshopped it in. This mountain is special to us as it was the local ski mountain where my father taught my sister and into ski. Please note that the name of the mountain has been changed and is now called Moose Mountain.
Step 2: Convert to Tiles and 3D Print
Once you have your image you need to break it into tiles. I used gimp to auto do this for me breaking the image into 12 individual jpeg images. I suggest keeping your tile count on the manageable size as there is a fair amount of work for each tile. Once I had the images I ran each photo through a lithophane converter. There are many good ones out there, I used ItsLitho for this project. Now to 3d print a lithophane it must be done vertically and not flat, this way you can keep the detail of the image. You can use any color material, but since the lettering and image were black in the image, I decided to keep that coloring. I printed the tiles in batches of 4 on my 3d printer. When all 12 were finished I was able to assemble the image for a rough overview as displayed above.
Step 3: Spackle and Sanding
Using the same process that I used to make the Portuguese Azulejos Tiles I covered each tile with spackle and let them dry for 48 hours. Once this was done I began sanding. You can usually start this with an orbital sander until the image starts to appear. You must be careful to not heat up the tile too much or it'll warp. I had not used this particular filament for this tile process before so I decided to hand sand everything. The sanding is done first with 160 grit until most of the image is visible, see video. For the final detailing I used 220 then 320 grit sandpaper until the image was shown the way I felt was acceptable. You can see the first pass and the final sanding pass in the photos above.
Step 4: Making the Table Top
I will admit I cheated a bit and purchased a pre-made panel as the table top. I found this Brazilian teak board at Lowes. I cut about 12" off of it making the overall board dimensions 16"x24". I used the extra for testing. The wood by itself is great, but it needed some extra pop so I tried two coats of each mineral oil and stains. In the end I ended up selecting the MinWax Wood Finish.
I measured out the area the tiles required on the board and drew the dimensions on the panel. I measured the offset needed for the router base and using some scrap wood I clamped them as guides onto the panel. This routing process was a very slow and methodical task. Once it was finished I took a chisel and carefully cut out the corners making nice square edges. The final test fitting of the tiles ended up being nice and tight without large gaps anywhere on any side.
Step 5: Resin Test Piece
I fortunately did a test pour using the spare piece of wood and a test tile. This was highly important as I had never poured resin on a piece like this and made some crucial mistakes. I was able to correct most of the problems before I did the official top. I didn't flame/heat the resin to get the bubbles up to the top of the resin, I did monitor and attempt to pop the bubbles as they formed on the top. I also attempted to sand and shine the piece, in an attempt to get some imperfections out, this was a major mistake as I didn't fully understand what I was doing and ended up causing even more issues. Luckily this was the test piece.
The biggest lesson here is test before you do the final piece.
Step 6: The Official Pour
The most nerve-racking part, the official pour. At this point I had spent about 50 hours printing and 10 hours sanding the tiles. With this I had probably spent several hours at least staining, sanding, routing and chiseling the panel. I carefully mixed up about 28 ounces of the resin and carefully began pouring it. I did this on a Saturday, checking the pour about every 20-30 minute for bubbles and to make sure it was fine. (I now know I need to use a torch to clean up the bubbles on any future projects.) But all in all I only had one small blemish in terms of bubbles. A little bit of it oozed to the right side onto the wood, but nothing that I considered was bad enough to scrap and start over. The amazing part of this is that the resin REALLY makes the black of the tile pop. It took over 48 hours before the resin was truly rock solid.
In the future when I do another table like this I will most likely have the resin cover the entire panel to make the whole top glossy.
Step 7: Mortise and Tenon
Like I said earlier, not paying attention as a child/teen I am paying the price now as I have to relearn everything. Luckily there is the internet, specifically youtube.
I was able to find several tutorials on making table legs and I decided on a simple slot approach for mortise and tenons. The legs and skirt were made using pieces of red oak, the grain and coloring seem to go well with the teak. For the tenon I used the table-saw and chisel method. Found really no issues there as long as I carefully measured everything before cutting. The mortise was a bit more, complicated for me. I finally realized after attempting to use my drill press and chisel to make one that I have a 3D printer and a router. After a few minutes of CAD and four hours of printing I had my router guide printed. I clamped it to the leg piece and using a pattern bit on my router, cut out the slot in essentially one pass. A small amount of chiseling squared out the rounded part of the cut.
I clamped both long sides of the table together and let the glue dry. Then I glued the short sides to the legs. I was feeling pretty good at this point as time was getting short.
Like with the panel I applied two coats of the Minwax Wood Finish stain.
Step 8: The Big Oops!!!
During my scramble to finish up this project I violated a personal rule, to measure EVERYTHING. This resulted in a panic moment where I realized I had mis-measured and never validated the length of the short side of the legs to the short side of the panel. There was about a quarter of an inch on both the top and bottom of the panel where the legs stuck out. After having a brainstorming session with my brother-in-law and wife, the idea of adding a border was suggested. This is a risk ask wood moves and floats around over time, so the border could detach from the main panel, but we were desperate.
I decided to use red oak for the trim as it it would coordinate with the legs and skirt of the table. At this point I had a handful of work days left to finish up, so I carefully measured and cut the needed trim pieces to size with 45 degree ends. With two days left I added two coats of Minwax Wood Finish stain. The last night left to do work, I grabbed the bar clamps and wood glue. I glued up and clamped the trim to the main panel.
Step 9: Completion
In the morning I checked and the trip was still flush with the panel and the glue had set. Using four corner brackets I attached the panel to the legs and declared the table finished.
Luckily being a woodworker my father understand all the hard work and new skills that went into this making it all the more special. All in all it was a huge success.
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