Sunday, November 22, 2015

Steamer Trunk Coffee Table (with Stealth Cutting Laser)

What beats a plain coffee table? A coffee table made from a steamer trunk. What beats coffee table made from a steamer trunk? A coffee table made from a steamer trunk that hides a liquid-cooled cutting laser inside, of course.

In brainstorming ideas for a permanent laser cutter home, I got stuck on the idea of building it into a table.
Steamer trunk with a hidden surprise
I looked online for ideas and really liked the look and hidden storage of "steamer trunk" coffee tables. The laser cutter was already quite large, however, so I wanted the trunk that didn't have a lot of extra wasted space. None of the existing tables I found came even remotely close, though, so my only option (fortunately) was to construct one from scratch.

Cutting angle iron
Most steamer trunk coffee tables I found were built to resemble a classic steamer trunk resting on some sort of stand, perhaps with shelving below for magazines and such.

I decided to make mine out of plywood and steel and give it a distressed industrial look. I bought about 50 pounds of angle iron from Big Orange to make the frame. To cut the steel to length and miter the ends, I used a portable bandsaw from Harbor Freight that I'd mounted on a small stand.

Sadly, my existing welding skills were pretty sucky, so the next step would be tricky. The project required a lot of welding, so I'd have to step my game up to get it done. Fortunately, it also offered ample opportunity to practice. At the beginning, my welds were a brittle, lumpy mess. After a couple of false starts and more redos than I would have liked, I finally figured out that by carefully cleaning the metal beforehand and keeping the wand close to the surface, I could get a reasonably clean bead.

Full welded frame
Welded base
With that knowledge in hand, I welded together the table frame, creating both the trunk and a base unit that would hold a rack for sheet materials and the water supply.

Adding straps
After the frame was fully assembled, I sprayed it with rust-colored red primer followed by an oil rubbed bronze paint. When it dried, I lightly sanded the edges to give it a faux weathered appearance.

To complete a steamer trunk look, the frame included steel simulated "leather" straps, which I sprayed a contrasting copper color.

Caster wheels
To give the table mobility, I found some nice cast iron caster wheels on Amazon, and painted them the same copper color as the straps.

I didn't want the hard wheels to scratch the floor of my Man Cave, however, so I printed polyurethane rubber treads for them on my 3D printer using Ninjaflex flexible filament.

Corner hardware
From the Rocker woodworking store, I got some very nice streamer trunk hardware to make everything truly authentic, including corners, latches, and hinges.

They really sell the illusion. A light dusting in copper paint helped them blend in.

Staining wood
Distressing plywood
For side panels, I used hardwood plywood, and recuited Little Monkey and Littler Monkey to distress them before staining. Their eyes lit up when I gave them hammers and told them they could let loose with them.

I attached the paneling to the frame with button head cap screws to mimic the look of rivets. The hinges, handle, and corner hardware were fastened the same way. With the addition of some wire shelving on the bottom, and some access holes in the bottom, the table was complete, ready for its new occupant.

Hinging top to base

Installing laser cutter
I modified the laser cutter internally to route exhaust fumes to the bottom of the unit instead of the back, and also added some switched outlets so the fan and water pump could be enabled from the main control panel.

I inserted the laser cutter carefully, routing each water hose and power line through its corresponding hole in the trunk button. It was an incredibly close fit, with less than 1/4" clearance all around. In fact, I had to order a special right angle power plug to replace the one that came with the unit, and even had to shave that to make it fit.

Cutting name plate
Finished nameplate
As a final touch, I used the laser cutter itself engrave a nameplate for its home.

Completed table with Engraver
With the trunk top open, the laser is ready for action in all its blazing glory.

Assembled table
But with the top closed afterwards, all one sees is a handsome piece of furniture with nobody the wiser.

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