I inlaid decorative black stars in my slab coffee table.  This is one of those times when the reason why might be more interesting as the how.  The how is good, too but the WHY is a good story all by itself!


The wood slab that I used for the table had a lot of worm holes in it.

I wrestled with what to do with them.  Leaving them just as they were would have been a perfectly good choice, but I couldn’t leave well enough alone.  I decided to fill them with epoxy.

Unfortunately, what I didn’t consider is that the surface of the slab was end grain. As a result, the epoxy bled beyond the worm holes.  Rather than the nice distinct little dots that I had envisioned, I ended up with a bunch of ugly little blobs.

After thinking about it for a while I decided to disguise the, now blobs, by inlaying stars over them.  I didn’t want the stars to look like I put them on with a stamp.  So, to add interest I purposely drew the stars by hand to ensure that no two would be the same.

Then I scored around the edges with a small chisel and an Exacto knife.

Once I outlined the edges, I excavated most of the waste with a Dremel tool.

A Dremel is perfect for inlay work.  Unfortunately, the Dremel base that I had was not.  The base that I used is called a “Cut-Out” base and it is more suited for cutting holes in drywall than it is for very fine detail work.  The problem is that it is difficult to make fine, or repeatable, depth adjustments.  As a result, the excavations were a bit deeper than I would have liked.  No biggie, but I would rather have used a higher quality base.

I used a small chisel and a detail knife to clean up the star recesses after roughing them out with the Dremel.

The detail knife was absolutely perfect for this task!  The one that I use is similar to, but not exactly like the one in the link.

I masked the stars off with some really high-quality masking tape.  It worked well for this job, but after reading the reviews I am not sure if it was the “best” product for the job.

I was a little leery off epoxy after the problems I just had with it so I decided to use something different.  I have had very good luck with a water based grain filler called Crystalac, so I decided to use that instead.

I used regular Rit dye that I bought at the grocery store to dye the Crystalac and it worked great!

Adding Crystalac to the star recesses

Crystalac works great for filling grain, but it is not intended for filling these relatively large recesses.  The downside was that it tended to shrink back and I had to apply multiple layers to bring it level with the surface.

This is how the stars looked like when I removed the masking tape.

The good thing about the Crystalac is that is was very easy to sand down.

I am very happy with how they turned out.  The end result was not only good, but it turned out to be a real conversation starter!

Please check out my other articles on the Slab Coffee Table:

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I met with David Marks while he was still in the early stages of his greatest woodturning project (yet!).  He showed my the specialized lathe tools he uses for very large hollow vessel turnings and some of his woodturning tricks!  He also explained his amazing methods for storing, drying and stabilizing wood for his wood turning projects.


David Marks Woodturning Video Presentation

The scale of this woodturning project is amazing! The blank for this turning project weighed 400 pounds!  Even the tools he used to turn it were oversize, the boring bar all by itself weighs 125 pounds!

Sensei by David J. Marks

David was one of only twenty people who were invited to present at the 30th annual American Association of Woodturner’s Symposium.  This was quite an honor and he wanted to make a special piece for that.  Well, he sure did!

David Marks Sensi Hollow Vessel Wood Turning Project

His deadline for this piece was to have it completed in time for The symposium was in June of 2016 so he only had a few months to get 400 pounds of wet wood turned, dried, finished, and rubbed out and shipped from California to Boston.

David’s incredible method for drying wood includes boiling it in a pot of water and soaking it in alcohol.  This surprising method is very effective in preventing warping, checking, and cracking.  Not only does this produce a great result, but it does it very quickly!

The magnitude of this project is much bigger than it appears and it took David over 1000 hours to complete it. That by itself amazes me.  My thinking goes something like this: If it takes a guy like David Marks a thousand hours then I can’t even imagine how long it would have taken someone like me!

The end result was a true masterpiece. David named the piece Sensei.  Sensei means “Teacher” in Japanese and he chose that name because he learned so much from this project.

Top of Sensei has hand chased threads

David says he decided to title this piece “Sensei” because it means teacher in the Japanese Culture and this vessel taught him one hell of a lot!!

The completed vessel on the stand with the lid is 57 inches tall. The footprint is 22 inches in diameter.

Materials starting from the top down:

  • Betel nut
  • African Blackwood
  • Quilted Mahogany from “The Tree”
  • African Blackwood, textured on the outside and hand chased threads on the inside
  • Snakewood, one of the rarest woods in the world.  The snakewood is segmented with veneers of Holly.
  • Ebony, segmented with veneers of Holly
  • Spalted, figured, Big leaf Maple for the hollow vessel (32inches deep)
  • Snakewood for the caps on top of the legs
  • Wenge and Maple bandsawn and planed and drum sanded down to 1/32 inch thick at the feet. There are 11 layers of wenge and maple all tapered.
  • Wenge segmented with Holly veneers

If you are looking for a showpiece for your living room or your corporate headquarters then you are in luck because, remarkably, this piece is still available.

Inquiries can be made by emailing him at: david@djmarks.com

David wrote an extensive and very interesting article about this piece and I strongly encourage you to check it out!