Ceramic Insets


I have a request from a neighbor to make a couple of tables for her club group. Her group paints nice-looking ceramic plates of various shapes. They want the finished plate to be inset (recessed and glued) into a wood table top. The plates are various sizes and shapes. I suppose a template could be made for each plate, using router collars and various size bits, but there may be a better method. Any suggestions??
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In a word, DON'T!!
Lots of potential problems with this one. The most obvious one is that you are glueing in something breakable. And as soon as something breaks, you have a very damaged table that either must be repaired instantly or you have somebody who is very upset because their one of a kind table is irrepairably damaged. And this is assuming that the table will still be loved and appreciated for years into the future.
I have seen all of the above scenarios take place.
The simple solution is to make a table with some standardized openings for their ceramics. Price it so the more differrent size openings they require, the costlier the table becomes. And then cover it with a peice of glass. That way they can mix and match anything they want, any time they want. And the worst that can happen is that the glass breaks. Which can be easily replaced. And if one of their precious plates break, these also can be easily replaced.
I have made a fair amount of custom furniture for folks in my time. One thing I learned. It may be a real fun challenge to make something that is different and unusual. But if it complicates the life of the customer, you will never hear the end of it. And the angry words spoken will damage your reputation.
I developed my own criteria for what I would do. I made sure anything I built could be shipped across the country without getting broken. And it could be assembled/moved by two ham fisted morons. Anything more exotic than that was asking for trouble. And yes, I am a crumudgeon.
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On Tue, 11 Oct 2005 18:58:17 -0400, "Lee Michaels"

I'll second that (not that you're a curmudgeon, you sound eminently sensible - the caution thing).
I'm retired and - when health permits - strictly an amateur woodworker (in rural Scotland). But my son works at refurbishing houses and occasionally asks me to help make the odd custom item. And the difference between what a customer wants and what's practical at the price they're thinking of can be astonishing. You just have to laugh or you'd lose it entirely.
What we call the cost gap and imagination gap are two items my son and I have learned to be seriously careful about.
The cost gap has probably been experienced by almost everyone in this group - the punter sees some item in one of those shops that sells cardboard furniture or imported airport art - and they imagine they can have another custom made in decent timber, to size, by a craftsman for the same price or even less. Quote them a reasonable price, and you don't just get refusal, you get outrage - as often as not from seriously wealthy people (I suppose that's how they stay wealthy).
The imagination gap can be even worse. The customer imagines a design - either a piece of woodwork or an interior design scheme - that can bear no possible relation to eventual reality. You can make what they're asking for, no problem. But you just KNOW it cannot possibly look the way they think - you'll get the blame and end up whistling for your fee. They're picturing a thoroughbred horse but asking you to make a donkey - at discount. Often, they seem to think that if you combine all the 'best bits' from other designs, the result will be super. Of course you know it's going to look terrible. Do you turn down the work, or try to explain the realities of life? Or just make it, stand back, and hope you're going to be paid?
I've never found the definitive answer. All I know is that my son now reports that if he sees "House and Garden" or some other glossy design magazine lying around, he's tempted to do a very quick runner. He just knows they're going to want a Paris penthouse that cost 500,000 to fit out, translated into a suburban house, all for about 500 pounds.
Fortunately, about one customer in 10 has both taste and an appreciation of real costs. Otherwise I think we'd all have given up years ago. Wish there was a formula to tell the difference in advance, though - preferably a telephone attachment <G>....
John
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Michael P. Hunter wrote:

if the plates are reasonably round, a trammel for the router base will work fine.
the suggestion of making the table as a glass top display cabinet is a good one- it protects the plates and gives them leeway to rearrange the contents.
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This is completely iconoclastic, and will probably have me burnt at the stake by the participants, if not hunted down and shot, but here's a suggestion based on an absolutely wonderful such table that I saw once:
Choose a table size that would accommodate, say, eight place settings. Take eight large dinner plates and eight sets of flatware - preferably old silver plate. Take the plates, sandwich them between two hard surfaces such as dense wood or metal, and smash them, experimenting until they fracture into large pieces. Preserve the layout of the shards and arrange them on the table surface, which might be fresh tinted concrete or maybe epoxy over wood, and press them into the surface. Crush the flatware the same way and press them into the surface similarly, knife and spoon on one side, salad and dinner fork on the other. Smooth to suit. Let it cure and finish according to your notions. For extra points, do cup saucers, appropriately placed, and maybe a fish knife crosswise above the plates.
Too weird? Eh? Let it simmer, and think about it.
With delight and, I'll admit, some trepidation,
Tom Dacon

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Using the plate, scribe the template to include the collar and about an eighth of an inch for differential movement. Saw and smooth the opening, and use for template routing. Make sure you doublestick a support in the middle if they're large, or the router can tip and run.
Though I've used thinset, I consider silicone a better choice. Less trouble finishing the "frame" that way, and fairly easy to cut out if you have a break.
You can cover the whole with a protective piece of glass, or take the risk. If you're up front with the customer(s), you've done your duty. Collect your fee and press on.
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wrote:

Buy tables (Ikea, or wherever these people would shop normally)
Insert plates, using a router, guide bush and slightly oversized template with a hole in it.
Attach plates, using some spongy bouncy foam stuff (tape or mastic). Don't mount them rigidly, as timber moves with seasonal changes and ceramics don't. Trim the edge with commercial plastic strip (kitchen fitting supplies).
If they do happen to have soem taste, look at the Stickley catalogue and make a repro of the old Grueby tiled top tables. This is solid oak and costs proper money, but they're nice tables when done right. Set the tile on a ceramic shower cubicle backing board (Versapanel or Aquapanel etc.) and make the whole panel float in the wooden frame, like a framed panel door.
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