Ronn’s Coffee Table With Compass Inlay

Viewer Project - By Ronn Winkler from Eden Prairie, MN
Added on November 15, 2012

As usual, I tend to get in over my head and this project was no different. Read on…

The Mariner’s Compass is a pattern well know in the quilting community. My wife made a beautiful quilt with this pattern as the highlight and I have always liked it. So I thought, why not try it out of wood?

The frame (4 sides) of the base is made like cabinet frame using Kreg blind screws. Yeah, I know it’s not real joinery, but I’m on a learning curve. The table is 21″ x 35″ x 18″. All of the wood is finished to 3/4″ thick. The sides of the base are connected to the 45 degree corner pieces with glue. Setting up a gluing jig (which looked more like a jungle of clamps and pieces of wood) was a challenge. Since I am limited by my 6″ jointer, the bottom shelf is 3 pieces of Peruvian walnut glued together with a splined joint. The bottom shelf is supported by dadoes in the 4 legs and is free to float. The main part of the table top is clear alder with a Peruvian walnut border. The pieces of alder are glued with a tongue and groove joint (I was experimenting) and the walnut frame is tongue and groove attached to the alder. The frame is mitered at the corners and then rounded. The alder ribbon inlay in the top was done with a 1/8″ router bit and the inlay pieces were done on my table saw.

Now to the interesting part. The inlay pieces are maple and Peruvian walnut and started out 1/8″. I cut them on my table saw using my home made sled with 400 grit sandpaper fastened to the surface with double sided tape so that the small pieces (and my fingers) would not slip while cutting. I started with the big pieces, glued them together and worked my way out. There was a lot of trimming and re-cutting each piece until they fit well. I am really glad that all the inlay are straight lines. Once the compass was all glued together, I traced the outline on the alder with a scribe and used a router to roughly cut out most of the area to a depth of 3/32″. Then it was just hammer and chisel work. I was delighted with the initial fit. I had very little trimming to do. Now I had to sand the surface of the compass down to the level of the table. I am embarrassed to admit this, but the first table top was ruined at this point. While using my orbital sander on the compass, starting with the tips of the compass and moving in, I did not realize that a part of the sander was always over the center of the compass. Without realizing it, the center of the compass was being dished out (concave). I sanded right through the center of my inlay.

Back to the lumber yard. This time I made the inlay a little thicker and did the inlay after gluing the top together and before sanding. I then found a local woodworking group with a time saver sander and for a couple dozen doughnuts, I sanded the top and the inlay at the same time. I love that machine! The entire table is finished with 5 coats of water based polyurethane. First time I ever used it, but I am happy with the finish. That’s my project. Thanks for the chance to share my experience.