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A few weeks ago, my wife and I were at a fancy dinner, and all the tables had these tree slices as centrepieces. There was a big plant on top of them. At the end of the evening we took ours home and I thought I’d see what I could do with it.
It was not at all flat. I'm pretty sure that whoever cut them was just expecting them to be a one-time-use item. But also, tree slices (often called tree "cookies") tend to warp and split as they dry, due to the nature of wood grain.
And yes, it had a big split, as these tree slices tend to do. But it also had some interesting spalting and some reddish pink colour. I thought I'd see what I could do to improve the looks and the usefulness of it.
I do not have a router flattening sled, nor did I feel like building one jus for this one small project. You also can't shove a big endgrain piece like this through a planer. I don't think I could handplane it either.
However, I do have a stationary belt sander, so I started with trying to flatten the bottom of the cookie. I would sand for a while ...
... and then take it to my tablesaw -- which I know is absolutely flat -- and check to see what areas still needed work. For the bottom, I just wanted to eliminate the rocking action, I did not care if it was perfectly flat.
With the bottom fixed (-ish) I flipped it over and started working on flattening the top. It was kind of slow going, but did get better once I swapped out the (worn) 80 grit belt on the sander with a new 50 grit sanding belt.
Again, I would sand for a bit and then take it to the tablesaw and check it for flatness with my square.
Very quickly I decided that getting it truly flat was just not going to happen. For that, I think the router flattening sled approach is probably the way to go. But given that this was just a fun experiment, and that this cookie was probably going to remain a plant stand, or a table centerpiece support, ... I was okay with "mostly flat".
I think this is some sort of soft maple, or maybe given the pink streak it is box elder. Either way, it sanded fairly quickly to a reasonable flattness. The edges still dipped away in places.
I applied tape to the bottom of the cookie, to cover up the crack. I mixed up some West System Epoxy, which I already owned, and proceeded to spread it over the piece and fill the crack.
Unfortunately, the painters tape was the wrong choice, as I could see very quickly that the epoxy was dripping through the tape under the crack and not filling it up.
Here is the result at the beginning of DAY TWO of the epoxy pouring: The crack was pretty much empty, but there were several other places that were mysteriously lacking in epoxy. I'm wondering if it just soaked into the endgrain of the piece.
I added more tape -- duct tape this time -- and poured on some more epoxy. I was happy to see that it was NOT leaking through the crack this time.
Here is the cookie at the beginning of DAY THREE of pouring epoxy. The crack is mostly filled. The epoxy does shrink a bit as it dries, so it has settled a bit. But also, there was a pinhole at the exact center of the piece and it was still empty. In fact I could see light through the pinhole, so the epoxy either drained through, or soaked into the wood. I didn't see any drips, so I'm not sure how it could have dripped through.
For my THIRD pour of epoxy, I decided to try something different. I read online that you could slightly warm the epoxy to reduce the viscosity. So I put it in the microwave for just ten seconds, and it came out much runnier.
I also removed and replaced the tape. This time I used clear packing tape, so I could see what was happening. I also paid careful attention to that little pinhole. There were no leaks, and the pinhole filled up. (Almost -- several hours later I came back and added a touch of five minute epoxy to the middle hole.)
That brings us to DAY FOUR of the epoxy pour. The finish was not perfect, but I decided that it was good enough for this experiment. I think my shop must have been a bit dusty, as I got a lot of tiny dimples in the finish of the epoxy. So the finish was not as smooth as I might light, but it definitely brought out the red colour, and highlighted the lovely spalting.
Bearing in mind that this was only going to be a plant stand or a table centrepiece, I decided that it was time to wrap this up.
I do NOT have a lot of very high grit sandpaper or micromesh, but I did have some 2000 grit wet/dry sandpaper. I added some water for lubricant and first knocked down the tiny bumps with 400 grit, and then switched quickly to the 2000 grit.
I was pretty sure that this would kill the gloss finish and leave more of a matte finish, and it did. But it did also give a nice smooth finish.
The end result. All in all, a fun and successful experiment. The spalting and the reddish streaks are nicely highlighted, and the entire piece has a lovely warm amber colour. It's well protected against water (plant stand!) and the big crack has been filled.
I still think there is room for improvement in the epoxy finish, so I'll try again with another project someday.
ps: I applied a few coats of polyurethane to the bottom of the cookie, but that is not really the focus of this article.
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