Coffee Table #3 Construction


Note: The links on the left side of this page and the other Model CT-3 pages will take you to detailed information about the new coffee table's design and construction.

Because of the size and complexity of the coffee table project, Kerry Vesper decided to start the table sculpture by constructing a full-size extruded Styrofoam model of the table, based on the conceptual design sketches that were made by Earle Florence. The foam model allowed us to validate all aspects of the table design before the actual wood sculpture was started. In fact, as the foam model progressed, the actual layout and electronics were placed in the model to make sure that all of the pieces fit together. Also, this gave us the opportunity to study the overall visual experience that the viewer will have when the finished layout is installed in the sculptured table.

Foam Model Construction and Evaluation

In the photo below, Kerry is seen assembling the 19 layers of Styrofoam that make up the model. The inside dimensions of each layer are designed to fit the equipment box and the layout. At this point in the construction process, the outside dimensions of the foam are larger than the final sculpture dimensions, and no attempt has been made to create the free-form shape of the final sculpture.

After each layer was prepared, it was cemented to the previous layer, eventually forming the table model that is shown below.

The next step in the model making process was to place the layout and equipment box in the foam model to make sure that the inside dimensions were correct. At the same time, the general requirements for the built-up top edge of the sculpture were determined. In the photo below, Earle Florence can be seen discussing the visual experience created by the juxtaposition of the Canarywood & Baltic Birch table sculpture and the southwestern landscape of the layout.

This first mating of the layout with the foam model also gave us the opportunity to see the layout rise out of the table for the first time. It was really quite impressive!

With the preliminaries over, it was now time for Kerry to apply his creative genius to the outside of the foam model. Somewhere inside all that foam was a magnificent sculpture waiting to be uncovered. This is where the fun really began.

In time, the sculpture began to appear...

As expected, modifications had to be made to the equipment box, so that it would not be visible below the sculpture. As it turns out, more wood had to be removed from the box than anticipated, so the power supplies had to be slightly relocated, and some of the internal structure of the equipment box had to be modified.

With the equipment box modifications complete, the chief engineer reinstalled the power supplies and the layout's electronics.

Finally, the completed foam model was placed in my living room where the finished table will be located. In the photo below, the foam model can be seen with the actual layout in it. The layout is in the raised position. Note that the original coffee table (Coffee Table #1) can be seen in the background.

When the layout is in the raised position, the top edge of the sculpture will give the appearance of nearby rock formations. When the layout is lowered, the top edge of the sculpture will look like distant mountains. The photo below demonstrates this illusion. The photo was taken at track level with the layout lowered, and the top edge of the sculpture appears as distant rolling hills. The backdrop painting (which will be located below the hills) and the layout's scenery will be designed to complement the table sculpture.

Coffee Table Assembly

With the foam model complete, construction of the actual coffee table could begin.

The most critical dimensions in the coffee table are the cutout dimensions for the layers of Baltic Birch plywood that make up the top half of the table. This is where the layout will be located, so each layer of plywood must have precisely the same size cutout. To accomplish this precision, the top layers of plywood were cut on computer numerical control (CNC) milling equipment (see photos below).

The next step was to glue the layers of plywood together, making sure that the inside walls of the assembly were properly aligned.

When the clamps were removed, the precision cut housing for the layout could be seen for the first time. The inner walls of the housing would eventually be covered with the backdrop painting for the layout.

The next step was to add the lower layers of Baltic Birch plywood where the equipment box will be located. The opening in the lower layers did not require precision milling, because the inside walls of those layers will be under the layout and will not be visible. In fact, much of the material in those layers would eventually be removed to help reduce the weight of the table.

Also seen in the above photo is the Canarywood trim resting on the top of the table. The finished table sculpture would have Canarywood trim above and below the layers of Baltic Birch plywood, similar to many of Kerry Vesper's sculptural bowls.

The Canarywood trim for the bottom of the table can be seen in the photo below. This is one piece of furniture that will definitely need built-in heavy-duty castors, two of which can be seen in the photo.

The final Canarywood to be glued in place was the top trim. At this point, the inside of the table was basically ready to receive the layout and its electronics. Most of it was precision cut to match the specific dimensions of the layout, the electronics, and the glass. As for the outside of the table, it was ready for sculpting. After months of preparation, the really creative work was about to begin—Kerry was about to start the carving process.

Carving the Coffee Table Sculpture

The first step in the carving process was to round the corners and smooth the step-like edges of the Baltic Birch plywood (photo below).

By the end of 2007, detailed carving of the table sculpture was under way. During January 2008, we decided to temporarily place the layout in the emerging table sculpture before Kerry started work on the sculpture's top edge. This was the first time that the layout had been placed in the table, and we were very pleased with the results. Several weeks later, after Kerry had made significant progress with the sculpture's top edge, we again placed the layout in the table. We photographed the assembly with the layout raised and with the layout lowered (see photos below).

Yes, the layout was rotated 180° before it was lowered. Because the table is a freeform sculpture, we wanted to see if rotating the layout enhanced or degraded the visual experience. It turns out that there is a right way and a wrong way to install the layout. The differences are minor but noticeable when the layout is in the raised position.

Work continued on the table during the spring and summer of 2008. As the final freeform sculpture began to emerge, grinding gave way to power sanding.

By late September 2008, the table sculpture was ready to have the finish applied. An initial coat of tung oil produced stunning results as it brought out the rich grain of the Baltic Birch plywood and the Canarywood trim.

The final step was the application of several coats of varnish, after which the 230-pound sculptured table was ready for delivery.

Final assembly of the coffee table could now begin.

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