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Building a River Table With a Jet Engine in it

Building a River Table With a Jet Engine in it

This has been one of the more unique pieces I had the pleasure of designing and building. The piece of machinery in the center of the table is a compression chamber from a jet engine. The client that commissioned this project wanted a unique way to display the engine. After a few iterations of the design, we came up with a coffee table where a river of glass is flowing out of the jet engine. I made the base from walnut that is dyed to match some of the other millwork in the house. I reinforced the base with a hidden steel frame to help support the weight of the engine. I used one of my favorite design elements to make it look like a bridge, even though the water is flowing over the top of the bridge instead of underneath it, I think the element helps tie the theme together. I made the top from a cottonwood live edge slab, which had some beautiful burls on it. The cottonwood tree was felled here in Colorado and provided by a local arborist, who helped slab the tree and dry the wood. Then for the river, I used real glass versus an epoxy pour.


More pictures on my custom furniture site for custom river tables


SPECIALTY TOOLS I USED (affiliate links)

Stanley shoulder plane

• West Systems Epoxy

• Tracing paper roll

• Titebond CA Glue Medium –

• Titebond Accelerator –

• Japanese Dozuki Saw


Video Recap

One of my client’s called me up and said, hey, I have this compression chamber from a jet engine; we should do something cool to display it.  And I was like you have a what?

So here we go, the engine came in this really heavy crate standing on end, so the first task was to figure out how to get it out of the box and turned sideways.

At this point, I wanted to preserve the crate, so I could use it to ship it back to the client, so I didn’t want just to cut the crate open and roll the engine out.

So to help get it out, I welded up a piece of tubing with a spacer on it to keep it locked into place and hooked it to my engine hoist.

Now the design dictated that the engine needed to be on its side and I didn’t really have a plan on how to do this once out of the box, This thing is probably in the 800lbs range, so I didn’t just want to lay in on the ground, risk bending the fins.

So I built a blocking rig out of some scrap wood to tip the engine on, and after playing a little Tetris, I got is situated.

The center opening that ran through the engine was wider at the front by about an inch, so I welded up a little bracket with out of steel tubing with an offset on one end so when the engine sat in the new crate it sat level.  This was important, so I could take accurate measurements and figure out how it was going to be suspended in the table.

Once I got the engine situated in the crate, I started working on the base for the table.  I milled up some 8/4 lumber for the legs.  I figured I needed something substantial to support the weight.

I took my time orienting the pieces, so when I glued them up, the grain direction would help disguise that it wasn’t one piece of wood for the legs.

I set up a stop block on my table saw and cut all the legs to length.

I oriented the legs, so the nicest side faced outwards and then took some time to lay out all the joinery.

I used my router to cut the mortises; Since I didn’t have a bit on hand that was wide enough to do it in one pass, I just took multiple passes with a smaller bit to get the job done.

Since rounded tenons are lazy, I used my chisel to square up the mortises.

Moving on to the aprons, I milled and cut them to length.  To be sure they came out all the same length, I set up stop blocks for cutting the final pass.

I set up a dado stack to cut the tenon cheeks, with a sacrificial fence, and readjusted to get the length I wanted.  This took a few passes.

The top and bottom shoulders of the tenons are going to be cut at different offsets, so instead of creating multiple setups at the table saw, I decided to cut those by hand.

I used a knife to mark the cut line; this does a few things, severs the fibers, so you get a cleaner edge, and gives the saw something to track against to give you a straighter cut.  To help facilitate the saw tracking against the knife line, I used my chisel to create a channel about the width of the saw bland on the waste side.

Doing a little test fit, it was a bit tight, so I used my shoulder plane and worked down the sides of the tenons until I was satisfied with the fit.

There is going to be a center support that holds one end of the engine up.  This support is going to hang from the apron using a bridle joint pinned with a through tenon.

So I started with a jig the width of the center supports and routed out a dado on each side of the apron.

Then I marked out the location of the bridle joint on the pieces that are going to hang from the apron and used the table saw to establish the outside edges.

This is a key joint, so I wanted it fit as snug as I could, so I chiseled out by hand the waste creating a flat bottom to seat against the apron.

That’s a very satisfying fit.

Moving onto the support piece, this is what the end that the engine is going to rest against.

These are going to be through tenons, to give it some decorations as well as strength. So to keep the shoulders looking excellent and sharp instead of using the dado blade to cut the cheeks, I stood the workpiece up on end and cut them with my shop jig.  This is a much cleaner cut than using the dado blades since it doesn’t leave a bunch of lines on the tenon sides.

Then I reset the saw to cut slots for wedges to wedge the tenon in place when I do the final assembly.

I, of course, did a test to be sure I was happy with the fit.

Since this is going to carry some substantial weight, and I didn’t want the weight to blow out the bottom, I set up my router table to rout out a grove in the bottom of the supports so I could glue in a spline across the end grain.  I think this added a considerable about of strength.

Then it was time to glue up the sub-assembly for the aprons.

Even thou it was a good snug fit, I still clamped the joint to be sure I got good contact between the two pieces.

Once that piece was dry, I glued on a support strip that is going to be attached to a steel frame to add more strength to hold the engine, as well as some rigidity to prevent the aprons from sagging over time since it will be under constant load.

I used a piece of angle iron to be sure I was spaced out properly when I glued it all together.

While that was drying, I moved on to figuring out how to suspend the engine in the base so that it was level and so that the glass top would pass directly through the center.

I scribed the shape of the engine onto some plywood and cut it out at the band saw.  I kept refining the shape with the spindle sander until I had a nice fit around the engine and was perfectly centered.

I did a dry fit of the frame and used a strip of plywood the thickness of the tabletop, to suspend my plywood template.  This gave me the exact location where I need to cut so the engine would be cradled in the perfect position.

I marked its position on the cross brace and routed out a ledge for the engine to sit on.

The front of the engine was stepped, so I recut my template to create a step effect and routed it out again.  I continued this process until I routed all the steps into the cross brace, and it fits snugly to the engine.

So now, before I do the final glue up of the base, I needed to take care of a few final details.  I wanted the legs to have a slight taper on the outside, so I made a quick makeshift jig and cut the tapper on all the legs.

Then I wanted to put a peg in the center of the bridle joint, so I made another quick jig.  This peg adds another layer of ornamentation to the pieces as well as a layer of strength if the glue bonds were ever to break.  Once I had the bulk of the waste cleaned out, I finished the final shaping by hand with a chisel.

I milled some stock to fit my peg and cut a slot for a wedge.  Then cut them to their final length and glued them into place.

I glued the center support piece up as a sub-assembly and then moved on to gluing up the legs.

When I cut the tapers, I made sure I saved the wedged-shaped cut-offs so that I could use them as a clamping caul.  It is a lot easier to clamp against a square surface than it is to clamp against a tapered surface.

Once the sub-assemblies were dry, I broke out the long clamps and glued the assemblies together.

At this point, I did do a test fit to be sure the engine sat in their nicely and discovered that the wood frame held the weight just fine; it didn’t even grow or grunt.  But I still wanted the reassurance that over time, the apron would not sag from the constant weight.

So I cut some angle iron, drilled some attachment holes, and fitted it to the base.

I marked out the shaft location and cut the arch out using my angle grinder.

Anyplace where the edge of the steel could be seen if you were standing back from the table, I cut a decorative arch to dressing it up.

Then I set everything in place to make sure it fit then tacked it up.

I pulled it outdo the final welds, and weld on some clips to screw the top down when I get to that point,

I cleaned up the welds and painted the whole thing black.

I screwed it in place and dropped the engine in to be sure everything was just right.

I packed the base up out of the way and went to work on inlaying the engine into the slab.  I used a flexible curve finding strip to follow the general curve of the engine and plotted it out on a plywood template.

I did a few tests fit as I went.

The slab I picked out had some cool burls on it that I wanted to be sure to incorporate into the final design, so I used my template as a guide and positioned it around the burls I tried to save.

Then cut it to length.

The slabs are too wide overall, so I cut out the center of the slab and re-glued the outer edges back together.

I gently clamped them up with my parallel clamps, trying not to break the live edge, then I added some glue blocks down the center so I could be sure I pulled the seam tight.

A slab with all that burl wood was crazy expensive, so before I started to cut into it, I cut out the shape of the engine on some craft paper.  This way, I could position it on the slab and be sure I had it laid out in the perfect spot.

I used my jigsaw to rough cut the shape of the engine out and followed that up with my router and a pattern bit, which followed the template perfectly.

On the inside corners where the router couldn’t get, I cleaned them up by hand with a mallet and chisel.

Now the back was a little interesting; I scribed the gear shaft to get the general shape,

Then I stood it up and clamped it to my workbench and used a pattern to cut the round shape of the shaft.

Then I rough-cut the waste off, and then chiseled to my scribe line.

I set it all back up and cut the top to its final length.

There was a spot where Mother Nature did not want to cooperate with my design idea, so I took a power carver to it and sculpted the edge to fit my design.

Once I was satisfied with the fit, I rolled out some trace and traced the shape of the grain where I wanted the glass to be inlaid.

I sent my template off to the glass company so they could use their waterjet to cut the shape out, so while I was waiting, I started cutting the strips for the bent lamination arch.

I cut all the strips on the band saw and then ran them through the drum sander to remove the saw marks.

Off-camera I used some walnut plywood to create a bending form; I show how to do this in a past video; if you are interested in that process, you can go back and check it out.

After it was dry, I used a card scraper to clean up the bulk of the glue squeeze out and ran it across the jointer.

Then I did some layout to figure out all the angles for it and set up a little jig at the table saw to hold the pieces in the right orientation to the blade.

Once I had the arches dialed in, I milled up some lumber for the cross braces,

I temporarily clamped the arches in place so I could layout the brace locations.

Then it was a matter of just doing some hand chiseling.

The through mortise needs to be at an angle to follow the path of the arch.  So I worked from each side chopping at an angle until I met in the middle.

From there, it was some test fitting and parring until I had a nice fit.

I took care of some final details, like parring a chamfer on the ends of the tenons, and took all the parts into the finishing room to stain them and prefinished before final assembly.

I taped everything off and did the final glue up.

The glass is back, but now there was a slight problem, even thou I sent them a hard template of the shape I wanted them to cut out, they could not figure out how to get such a complex shape into their computer to create a tool path for the waterjet.

So I scanned my original paper template and used it to create a tool path.  There were a few spots where the scan was ambiguous, so I had to redraw them.  I knew these spots would not be me exact to my wood template, so the glass may not fit as nicely in those areas.

So to combat that, I glued some felt to the bottom of my router base so I wouldn’t scratch the glass, and with extreme care and maximum butt pucker factor, I carefully created a new template to use.

I positioned my template on the table and routed out the shape to fit the glass.

One final detail before assembly was to stain the edge.

When looking at slabs, the client liked the contrast of the edge from the bark. But bark doesn’t always stay on the edge after the slab has dried, so I diluted down the stain that I used on the base and stained the edge of the slab where the bark was and sealed it all in with some poly.

Then it was time to set it all up to take some portfolio pictures.   If you want to know more about this project, I have a highlight real on my Instagram that shows more behind the scenes stuff of how all this came together, and of course, more pictures are on there and my website.

Thanks for watching, and of course, like, subscribe, hit the bell, share, follow me on Instagram, and join me on Patreon, whatever you want to do, just do something.

I’m the owner of Benham Design Concepts, a mixed media art studio where I design and build custom furniture and other works of art using wood, glass, stone, and various metals.
In this blog, I talk about the art I create, my journey, and the things I learn along the way.