In my last article, I showed how I constructed the two pieces that make up the base for my slab coffee table.  In this article I will show the steps I took to get them from rough shells into two sculpted and fully textured furniture parts that are ready for finishing.  There were some real surprises with the tools.  I will also tell you which tools worked well AND which tools did not work out so well!

OK, spoiler alert!  The least expensive machine here was one of the best.  And that was the Porter Cable 4-1/2″ grinder that I got on Amazon.  It’s only $27.95! PORTER-CABLE PC60TAG 6.0-Amp 4-1/2-Inch Angle Grinder

Carving tools I used, or at least tried to use, on this project

There are actually two different textures on each of the base pieces.  As I said in the article about constructing the base pieces, Constructing a coopered tree trunk , I intended it to look like a tree trunk that had split in half.  I wanted the texture on the inside faces to look like rough, weathered wood.  I textured the inside pieces prior to assembly, but I wanted to show all of the texturing in a single blog article.

Adding a Rough “Weathered Wood” Texture to the Inside Faces

Rough weathered texture on inside faces

To get the weathered wood texture I began by cutting a bunch of lines in the wood.  I did some of this on the table saw and I did some of it with a 3″ circular saw.  Why a 3″ saw for this?  Only because it was handy!

Cutting lines with circular saw

I used to think these little saws were a joke, but I have changed my mind about that because this one was great!  Rockwell RK3440K VersaCut Circular Saw

I especially like that it can be used as a plunge saw.  I had to use an adapter to hook it up to my vacuum, but once I did the dust collection was excellent.  After the lines were cut I used that circular saw to get the texture.  This is the part that really sold me on this saw. The way I used it for texturing was to keep plunging the saw into the wood at different angles.

Plunging saw into wood to create texture –  Rockwell 3-3/8″ VersaCut Circular Saw

Sculpting the Pieces into Shape to Prepare for Texturing

I intended for the texture on the outside faces of the base pieces to be sort of a stylized texture.  I really didn’t care if the texture on the outside looked exactly like tree bark.  Maybe it would look like tree bark and maybe it wouldn’t.  My only goal was for it to look good.

The two pieces had been glued up, but the surfaces were very rough.  I had to smooth out the roughness and sculpt them into their final shape before I could start texturing.

Base before sculpting

The larger base piece (above) wasn’t too bad, but the smaller piece (below) was really rough before I started sculpting it!

The small base piece was especially rough before sculpting

I used a 4-1/2″ angle grinder for the sculpting.  At first, I tried sculpting with a 4-1/2″ Arbortech carving wheel.  This wheel has three carbide teeth and it cuts like crazy!  However, it was very hard to control and to tell the truth it was kind of scary to use!

Arbortech 4-1/2″ Carbide Cutter

After trying the Arbortech I bought a Kutzall carbide coated carving wheel.  This wheel is covered with sharp little nubs.  The Kutzall was easy to control and it worked GREAT!  These are available in different grits.  I had no problems with the medium grit.Kutzall Extreme Carving Disc – Medium, Tungsten Carbide Coating – 4-1/2″

Kutzall’s Extreme Carving Disc worked Great!  Kutzall Extreme Carving Disc

One thing about carving with an angle grinder is that it produces a LOT of dust!   I have had a Trend Airshield for several years.  It has a small battery powered fan that draws air through a filter and then directs the filtered air on to your face. Besides keeping the dust out of my eyes and my lungs the air from the fan helped to keep me cool. Honestly, I don’t use it very often, but it was perfect for this job. TREND Airshield – Powered Face Shield

Sculpting with a Kutzall carving wheel

Trend Airshield Powered Facemask TREND Airshield – Powered Face Shield

Small base piece needed a lot of fill before I could start texturing.

The small base piece looks pretty bad, but I had anticipated this and was not at all concerned.  Regular automotive body filler, Bondo, is great for wood, too!  I don’t use it much though because it doesn’t look like wood.  In this case, I planned to use a painted finish so this was a great choice.  If your clients knew you were using Bondo it would leave a bad impression.  So, be sure to call it “Polyester Fill” if it ever comes up in conversation!

This is my secret weapon!

If you have clients then don’t call it Bondo! Always call it “Polyester Fill”

Bondo is tough, non-shrinking, and very easy to work with.  You can buy it at Home Depot and at just about any automotive part store.  It is a thin two-part paste-like material.  You just trowel some out onto a piece of scrap wood and mix in a bit of hardener.  Then use a rubber spreader and immediately add it where needed.  After a very short time it will start to firm up.  As soon as it does take a grater type of tool or a rasp if you don’t have a grater and trim it down to where you want it.  I used a Microplane to trim off the excess bondo.  It is very important to trim the excess before it hardens completely because his stuff sets up as hard as a rock.

A Microplane is great for shaping bondo and wood!     Microplane 40020 Classic Zester/Grater

Bondo makes a great wood filler

Base pieces after fill and smoothing with polyester fill material

Texturing the Base Pieces

Sometimes it is difficult to see your progress when power carving.  So, before I actually started cutting in the texture I painted everything grey to make it easier to see what I was doing.

I painted the base pieces to make it easier to see my progress while texturing.

I needed some kind of a guide to keep me on track while I was cutting the texture.  It is a lot easier to change a line drawn on the surface with a marker than it is to change a line that is cut into the surface with a grinder. I used a laundry marker to lay out the lines before I started texturing.

I drew lines as a guide before I started cutting

You can see by the lines on the small base piece what I meant when I said that I was going for a stylized texture.

Tree Trunk Carving Lay Out

Finally, I get to cut the texture into the base!

I bought an Arbortech Mini Grinder specifically for this project.  Arbortech Complete Mini Grinder Carving Kit

What I did use was a little Proxxon angle grinder that I borrowed from a friend. Proxxon 38544 Longneck Angle Grinder LHW/E
The Proxxon was great for the detail work that I doing. I must say, though, that this one has its own set of problems.  The on/off switch is a rocker style switch and a few times I accidentally shut it off while I was using it.  This isn’t such a big deal, but if I can accidentally shut it off then it stands to reason that I could accidentally turn it on, too.  Like I said, I borrowed this from a friend of mine and I don’t know how much use it had seen.  This particular grinder sounded like the bearings were wearing out.  The bottom line is that it was just right for the task at hand.  If I ever have a similar project then I will probably buy one for myself.

Little Proxxon angle grinder worked great for the texturing! Proxxon 38544 Longneck Angle Grinder LHW/E

After I was done texturing I sanded everything down with a 120 grit mop sander.  I tried buying some of the $6 drill mounted sanders that you see in the hardware stores, and I am being generous when I say that they weren’t that good.  There are several places to buy sanding mops and you can even make your own.  The one that I used was from Stockroom Supply:

I tried all 3 of these drill mounted sanders. Guess which one was best.

I used a 6″ Sanding Mop to clean everything up after texturing

Here is how the small base piece looked immediately after I was done with the texturing.  I am quite happy with the final result!

Small base piece after sculpting and texturing

In the next article on the Slab Coffee Table, I will show you how easy it is to add a metallic finish!

You will be surprised how easy it is to add a metallic finish.

Also, please be sure to read the first two articles on the Slab Coffee Table: Flattening a Wood Slab on Your Workbench with a Router and Constructing a coopered tree trunk

I hope you liked my article and I would greatly appreciate it if you would leave a comment to let me know what you think of it!

NOTE: I provide very honest assessments of the tools I used in this project, but I want you to know that many of the links on this page are affiliate links and will earn Jack Bench Woodworking a small commission.   Using these links adds NO COST TO YOU, but helps keep Jack Bench sustainable and ensures that I can continue to offer woodworking videos and articles.  Thank You!

I have a very nice walnut slab that I plan to make into a coffee table. I flattened this slab right on my workbench! I am happy to say that flattening a slab of wood with a router was even easier that I thought it would be! Not only was it easy, but the results were great! This is one of those tasks where an adjustable height workbench came in very handy because setting it to a very low height made it easier to reach across when moving the router across the slab.

Walnut slab right before flattening

The slab is a slice out of a tree, some people call this a “cookie”. The dimensions are 26″x38″ and it started out 4-1/2″ thick on one end and 5-1/2″ thick on the other end. I like that it is thicker on one end that the other, I think it will add to the rustic look of the slab coffee table. Keeping it thicker on one end probably made the flattening process easier because I didn’t have to remove as much wood as I would have to make the faces parallel to each other.

The essential steps in flattening a slab with a router are simple:
• Level the top surface of the slab
• Place guide runners on two sides of the slab
• Move a router on a sled back and forth across the runners to flatten the slab

Following is a more detailed explanation!

Level the top surface of the slab

Generally, you want to remove the least amount of wood to create a level surface on the face of the slab. Your slab might be high in the middle, high on one end, or high on all sides and low in the middle. In my case the slab was low in the middle on one side and high in the middle on the other side. I placed small blocks of wood under one end and checked the top of the slab with a level. On the side that was high in the middle I adjusted the blocks until the gaps at each end of the level were about equal to each other.

This side of the slab had a high spot in the center. I adjusted the slab until the gaps at each end of the level were about equal to each other

Place guide runners on two sides of the slab

The guide runners are simply two straight boards that the router sled rides on. I made mine out of 3/4″ plywood. This part was easy partly because my workbench is wider than the slab. If your slab is wider than than your bench then you will have to find a way to mount the runners along side the slab.

Since most router bits are less than 2″ long, you will need your router to ride fairly close to the slab. My slab was about 5-1/2″ thick so I made the runners 6-1/2″ tall.

The runners are 6-1/2″ wide pieces of 3/4″ plywood that I clamped to the edges of my bench.

I didn’t want to take a chance on the runners falling off while I was routing to top of the slab!  So, I glued small blocks on the ends to give myself another place to clamp them down. They were much more secure with these blocks and the extra clamps.

Blocks glued to the ends of the runners aided stability and added another place to clamp them down

The router and router bit

You can use any router with a 1/2″ collet, but it will be easier to adjust the depth with a plunge router. I like the DeWalt 621 router so much that I have 3 of them, but really any good plunge router will be just fine.

You will need a straight router bit that is at least 1-1/4″ long, but preferably one that is 1-1/2″-2″ long so that it is long enough to reach through the sled and still be able to trim the slab. There are specialized surface planing bits, but a regular straight mortising bit will be just fine.

Flattening with go faster and you will get a cleaner finish with a wide bit. The bit I used for this slab was 1-1/8″ wide and it worked great. I wouldn’t go much bigger than that for safety reasons. Speaking of safety, remember to slow your router speed down whenever you use a bit that is more than 1″ wide.

Here are the recommended speed ranges for various sized router bits.
• Up to 3/4″   height=”683″ />22,000 rpm
• 1″               18,000 rpm
• 1-1/2″         16,000 rpm
• 2″               15,000 rpm
• 3″               12,000 rpm
• 3″ or more 10,000 rpm or less

The router sled
The router sled is just a U shaped box. I made the bottom out of some 1/2″ melamine that I happened to have. I chose 1/2″ material to maximize the available plunge depth, and I chose melamine because it would slide easier than raw plywood.  For the sides on this sled I glued a few pieces of 3/4″ plywood that were 2″ wide, these kept the sled stable and flat.

I drilled a hole in the center of the sled and bolted the router in place. The reason I did this is because it is easier to move the whole sled back and forth than it is to reach across and move the router. It is also easier to build a sled with a hole in the middle than it is to make one with a slot all the way across.  Since I was going to move the entire sled back and forth the sled needed to be at least twice as long as the space between the runners. My workbench is 32″ wide so I made the sled about 64″ long.

It was sometimes kind of hard to see exactly where the bit was cutting.  To make it easier I drilled a 1-1/2″ “window” in the bottom of the sled next to the router.

1-1/2″ hole in bottom of sled made it easier to see exactly where I was routing.

Dust Collection
I attached a 4″ dust hood directly on the sled directly behind the router. I then attached a flexible hose from the hood to one of the lines on my dust collection system. This wasn’t perfect, but it collected about 80% of the dust.

4″ dust hood screwed to sled right behind router

Flexible 4″ dust collection hose connected to DC system

I used a “climb cut” when I flattened the slab to reduce tear out and to direct the chips into the dust hood. Climb cutting simply means moving the router in the same direction as the cutter.

CLIMB CUTTING CAN BE DANGEROUS BECAUSE YOU CAN LOSE CONTROL OF THE ROUTER OR THE PIECE BEING ROUTED!!  However, due to its mass there was little chance of the slab uncontrollably jumping off the bench.  And, with the weight of the sled and the fact that the walnut was fairly soft there was little chance that I would lose control of the router either.

Pulling the router in the direction of the arrows will result in a climb cut

That said, PLEASE DO NOT USE THE CLIMB CUTTING METHOD UNLESS YOU ARE FAMILIAR WITH IT! There is not enough room in this blog post to go into much more detail about climb cutting, but there are excellent explanations about it on the internet.

This walnut slab cut very easily.  I took off about 3/8″ of material on the initial passes, but on the final pass I reduced that to about 1/8″ to improve the finish.

One other tip is that adding wax to the top of the runners will make much it easier to move the router sled.

Finishing up
I am very happy with the results of using a router on this slab! It just needs a little cleaning up (including repairing the crack!) and it will be ready for a finish.  Please don’t hesitate to contact me if you have any questions about this!

Here is how the slab looked right after I finished flattening with the router

I visited Michael Cooper in January of 2016.  Michael is an unbelievably creative and talented guy.  His body of work is so impressive that you will have to see it to believe it.  He and his wife, Gayle, are as friendly, nice, and down to earth as Michael is talented.  If I had to sum them up in one word it would be “Wonderful”.

Entrance to Michael Cooper’s Shop

Michael has a 2000 sq. foot shop in northern California.  The setting is gorgeous.  Six rolling acres boarded by a creek on one side and wooded hills on the other.  Michael has another large building just a few feet away from his shop that he built to store some of his sculptures.   He called it a storage building, but it looked more like a gallery to me.   One side of that building is sectioned off for a weaving studio for Gayle.

His shop is split into two rooms, a small room serves as a machine shop and everything else is in the remaining space.  The shop has adequate natural lighting, very high ceilings, and an extra set of doors that are big enough to drive a forklift through.

Mike has an unbelievable collection of old, heavy, cast iron machinery.  Sanders, jointer, planer, etc.  He also has a 42″ wide belt sander, 7 drill presses, a 36″ bandsaw, a horizontal mill, and a selection of huge heavy duty sheet metal tools.

Just 4 of Mike’s drill presses

This are just four of Mike’s drill presses!  This is for efficiency so he doesn’t have to change the set up for repeated operations.

Mike made this giant carving duplicator

It is hard to see in this picture, but that is a giant duplicator.  Mike built it for duplicating large sculptures.  It took him 6 months to make it.  It is easier to see this in the video.

Femi Bandsaw. One of Mike’s favorite bandsaws\

Mike swears by this little bandsaw.  But, wow, is it expensive!

Collection of grinders and sanders

You can never have too many grinders!  Actually, this is the same reasoning as the multiple drill presses.  He can keep working and not have to keep changing cutters.

36″ Bandsaw

Holy smokes, look at that bandsaw!  36″ throat and up to a 14″ cut depth.

Michael’s Vertical Mill

The vertical mill in Mike’s machine shop.

You can never have too many clamps!


A 30″ disk sander, a 24″ disk sander, and an old spindle sander.  Notice the poster above the spindle sander of Mike’s “Chopper” sculpture.

Friction Drive Drill Press

This is a very special drill press.  It has a domed shape friction drive for continuously variable speed.  Mike did a nice demonstration of this in the video.

Mike’s metal lathe

Actually, this is now Mike’s only lathe and he uses it for everything.  Aluminum, steel, stainless steel, plastic, and wood.

Old reciprocating metal cutting saw!

This is a first for me.  I have never seen a reciprocating metal cutting saw!
I will also have at least two blog posts on Mike’s sculptures.  Subscribe to my blog and get notified as soon as these are posted.

Peter Brown is known for doing crazy things on his YouTube videos.  He combines woodworking tools with unconventional materials to make some of the most creative videos on YouTube.   He melted a box of crayons into a solid block and turned them on a lathe to make a bracelet.  He made a ring out of a bundle of colored pencils, and he made a knife out of some off the shelf epoxy.  The knife wouldn’t cut anything, but that was not the point.  Because for Peter the destination truly is less important than the journey.

I interviewed  Peter Brown at his woodshop in Santa Rosa, California in January of 2016.   Peter’s shop was a tiny little building in the back yard of his house.  I think the dimensions of his shop were something like 12’x16′, but his little shop DID have a bathroom!

Peter’s YouTube channel is wildly successful.  He has 197,000 subscribers and over 18 million views on his videos and I was quite interested to learn how managed to build such a loyal following.

Peter told me that he enjoyed woodworking, but he especially enjoyed working at the lathe.  He also wants his hobbies to pay for themselves and not be a drag on the family budget.   So, when he first discovered and got good at woodturning he decided to sell some of the pieces that he made.  As it turned out he was also quite good at selling and before long his work was selling both on the internet and in local craft shops.  He was so successful with this that working in the shop and running the business became an all consuming endeavor.

One day he decided that he had enough and he just quit.  He told me that “it stole my joy”.  Not only did he quit the business, but he was so burned out on woodworking that he quit going into the shop altogether.

Some time later he was watching a Jimmy Diresta video and he thought to himself “that looks like fun”.  His take on it was that Jimmy did just exactly what he wanted to do.  That was an ah-ha moment for Peter.  He wanted to reclaim the fun times that he had in his shop before the business got out of hand.  The next day he went back into his shop and made his first YouTube video.

I know how much work it is to run a business and I know how much effort some people put into their YouTube videos.  I find Peter’s decision to do only fun things in his shop and on his videos both counter-intuitive and refreshing.

Charlie and Peter Brown

Peter is a great guy and I genuinely enjoyed meeting with him.  His YouTube channel is called Shop Time and I encourage you to check it out at:

I wanted the slab coffee table to have a sculpted and carved base that looked kind of like a tree trunk. I also decided it would look more interesting if the base looked like a tree trunk that had split in half, so I made the base in two pieces. Since the slab had an open crack on one side I positioned the split in the base under the crack in the top to add continuity.

This is how the base looked after I assembled it and cleaned it up with an angle grinder.

I used stave (coopered) construction for the two pieces of the base.

I like working with templates, but usually I can get by without them. This was one of those projects where a template was not just “nice to have”, but absolutely necessary! There is no way I could have kept track of everything without some kind of a road map.

The plywood template was an invaluable tool for this project!

There are six critical pieces of information on the template:

  1. The first thing I did was to trace the outline of the top on to the plywood. That is the outside line on my template.
  2. I also located the crack in the slab on to my template.
  3. I then drew two straight lines to show where there would be an opening between the two halves of the base.
  4. Next, I drew a line showing the outline of the bottom of the base pieces.
  5. It was also important to know the outline of the top of the base pieces where the slab would rest on the base.  I used this information to draw the templates for the stave  pieces.
  6. It was easy to determine how many pieces (staves) were needed once the circumference of the base was drawn out.

The plywood template represented the plan view of the base, but I also needed templates for the staves that would make up the sides of the base.

Paper templates for the two sizes of staves

We all know what trees look like, but when it came time to sculpt one out of wood I suddenly had a lot of questions!  I actually walked around my neighborhood and took pictures of trees and then used those pictures as a reference.

Trees flair out at the bottom so my table base had to flare out at the bottom, too.  To make it to look more interesting and realistic I chose to have it flair differently at different points around the bottom.  At some points, the flair was short and steep, and at other points, the flair extended out more.  I decided to make two different size staves so that the rough shape of the base would be closer to the final shape that I envisioned.  Once I determined where these would be and marked them on the plywood I could get a count as to how many of each size I would need.  Assuming 3/4″ material it would take 114 pieces to construct the base!

It so happened that I had a lot of rough sawn ash that had been milled into approximately 1×4’s and 1×6’s so it worked very well for this project.  Since it was rough sawn it did require a lot of stock preparation before I could use it.

The boards were approximately 3/4″ thick after I planed them down.

It was easier to glue some of the boards together BEFORE I started bandsawing out the individual staves.

I glued up some pieces that were 1-1/2″ thick and others that were 2-1/4″ thick

After I removed the clamps I used my paper templates to mark out the individual pieces.

Marking pieces using paper templates

The last thing I had to do before bandsawing the individual pieces was to cut out the blanks on the miter saw

Cutting pieces out on miter saw before bandsawing

Most of the individual pieces would require two operations at the bandsaw.  First was to cut out the shape and next was to cut them at an angle so that when I glued them together that they would match the outline on my the plywood template.

Bandsaws are great machines, but they can be very dangerous.  Notice in the picture that my hand is not in front of the blade.  Whenever possible, I like to pull the last few inches of a cut from the back rather than push it from the front.  This keeps my hands out of harms way at that critical moment when the piece clears the blade.

Cutting the individual staves on the bandsaw

Bandsawing individual pieces at an angle

The plywood template was invaluable when it came to assembling the pieces.  I used it both to determine what angle to cut the individual pieces and exactly where to place them.

Placing Staves on Template

You can see in this photo how the pieces follow the lines on the template

I glued the staves into small sections and then I glued those sections together to form the shape of the base.  I used a variety of methods to clamp the pieces together.  Clamping straight sections together was fairly easy.

Clamping straight sections together was pretty, well, straightforward!

Gluing curved sections together got a lot trickier!  I used a band clamp where possible, but that didn’t always work.  Sometimes I used lag bolts to screw blocks to the outside of the piece so that I would have something to hook the clamps on to.  The screw holes were not problem since the finished piece would be painted.

The blocks screwed to the face of the boards gave me a place to attach the clamps.

I was pretty happy when I got the small section glued together. That was a real milestone!

I purposely made the staves longer than they needed to be.  This way the length of the staves didn’t have to be precise.  Once each of the two halves of the base was constructed I trimmed them down with a jigsaw.

I used a jigsaw to trim the top

The bottom side on each of the two halves was not flat right after glue up.  Again, I made them longer than needed to allow for flattening the bottom.

Bottom of base before flattening with the router jig

Once the tops were trimmed down I flipped the pieces over and secured them for flattening.  Then I flattened the bottoms of the two halves with the same router jig I used to flatten the slab.  I have a complete blog post on the router jig here: Blog Article – Flatten Wood with a Router Jig

Flattening the bottom of the base with a router jig

Ta-Da!  This is how it looked right after construction.

Slab table before base is sculpted, textured or finished

Note:  I got a very good result using the coopered (or stave) construction method, but it was quite time-consuming. If I make a similar project in the future then I might experiment with a different method, possibly stacked lamination.

The next blog article will show how I sculpted and textured the base pieces.  The last thing I will do to the base is to add a metallic finish, and I have a pretty good story about that!