Help with tabletop construction/New project advice

Hi all, started work on a new project for a game room, and I am not sure how best to handle this.

So I wanted to do an inlaid design that takes on the appearance of pixel art, and realized that I could essentially do black and white pixel art if I took two contrasting woods (say maple and walnut), and worked in set increments, which resulted in this a mockup:

The only issue is, this would be used as a coffee table and a board game table, and while I don’t foresee it bearing a lot of weight, when I go to glue up the tabletop, I had always heard not to glue end grain to end grain. What would be the best way to go about this so that the tabletop is usable and the glue-up goes successfully? Also, why should one not glue end grain to end grain? Weight-wise, it would need to support a couple pairs of legs resting on it (or a few heavy board games). Each “pixel” in the mockup is 2"x2", and currently, I have plans to extend the table in both width and depth, but I don’t know about exact size yet. Please bear with me on the roughness of the mock-up as I threw this together in about 15 minutes.

@CLeininger Would this be a good project for your mentor series?

Wood glue does not provide a good bond, end grain to end grain. Dominos will solve the problem. Maybe tongue and groove the sides, and Domino the ends.

1 Like

Alright, thank you.That sounds like a good plan, but both of those are things I would definitely need to learn first. Alternatively, would it be more efficient/effective to cut a sheet to the table size and then glue the design on using a thinner set of wood tiles cut to make the design?

Gluing thinner parts to a sheet of plywood would also work. It can help to keep it flat as well. Tongue and groove is a simple router job, requiring two bits. You also have to cut your width wide, to accommodate the tongue. Depending on how thin you go, you could still possibly use Dominos for the ends, though if you install them like a wood floor, with urethane adhesive, you could avoid the dominos, or even tongue and groove the ends. That said, if you run the ends through the router, you increase your chances of tear out.

All good advice from Charlie.

Re: butt joints - Butt joints are weak because glue gets sucked into the ends of the wood fibers before it fully sets. (Think of a board as a series of straws along the length.) Dominos or dowels give strength by creating more face grain for glue adhesion. In your design, most of the butt joints will be supported by the flanking boards that overlap the end joints, and so the strength issue is greatly reduced. In terms of strength, you could likely get away with simple butt joints. Alignment is going to be difficult, however. Dominos, biscuits, dowels, and/or tongue and groove will greatly help keep everything flat during the glue up.

Another issue is different seasonal expansion and contraction rates between different species. It may be fine, but there is potential for the table to crack over time. Laminating a veneer of the different woods over a plywood substrate is a common method address this.

1 Like

So to make sure that I understand properly, the best method handling this would be to use a plywood substrate, and then on top of that, also use dominos/dowels/biscuits in order to keep the pieces aligned while gluing? Would adding some form of frame around the edge help?

You wouldn’t need dominos etc if doing a veneer over plywood. You will, however, need a vacuum bag or lots of clamping cawls. You’ll want to cover the plywood edge with edge banding or wood edging.

1 Like

Thanks for all the advice!

My $.02:
I wouldn’t bother with dominoes or biscuits to join bits of wood. Laser cut some veneer and apply that to plywood or solid wood.

1 Like

My 2 cents: in my opinion, looking at your photo, you’re parctically joining edge to edge for the most part. If your board is 3/4" or thicker the end graing pieces should have enough support from the sides (edge). Start in the center row and once you have the whole row you can work yourself outwards on either side. It just going to be a PITA keeping the pieces flat and having enough clamps. You would use a lot of dominoes if you go that route and a lot of time. If i was doing this project, i would make sure you have squared pieces, plenty of glue on the edges, and start the puzzle at the center. Baby wipes are excellent for cleaning glue squeezed up or a damp old washcolth or rag.