Case Study: Unique Wildlife Scene Coffee Table


Master craftsman and experienced user of the Vectric software products Don Thomson, has been using Aspire to design and carve totally unique custom furniture pieces. Some of Don's projects can be seen below:

Don’s latest project was to construct a one-of-a-kind coffee table, with the goal of designing and carving a piece that would suitable for a ranch house, log house, chalet house or a rustic country home. The result was a fabulous table made out of Western Red Cedar and Douglas fir.

The center design of the table that you can see on the right, is based on a combination of several 3D models from Vector Art 3D that were arranged by Don using the component manager in Aspire.

Don explains how this project was tackled.

Step 1 - Designing the wildlife scene in Aspire:

“Here is where the power of Aspire really comes out.  Getting all of the individual models into the background scene, and then getting them positioned in the Z axis was a real challenge.  I wanted the Eagle to be a foreground piece while the elk across the lake had to be made more background. I wanted the elk in the foreground to look like it was running to you from the bear.

"Aspire allowed me to experiment with diffferent layouts, showing me exaclty how the finished table would look when routed on my CNC machine”

To achieve the look Don desired he made extensive use of the Tilt and Fade component modeling features in Aspire to achieve a sense of depth within the design and between each of the 3D elements.

Step 2 – Creating the Toolpaths and CNC Machining

With the table top design completed Don turned his attention to creating the toolpaths to CNC machine his beautiful design.

“With Aspire, creating toolpaths is a very easy operation, especially with a design that is mainly 3D models.”

Don created a roughing tool path and two finish passes. The final pass ensured that little sanding was required. The roughing and texturing toolpaths were setup for a .5" ball nose and the finishing for a 1/8" ball nose.  The first finishing pass had a stepover rate of 10% while the second pass had an 8% stepover. The results with these cutting paramters, feeds and speeds were excellent. 

Don calculated an additional toolpath to apply a carved 3D texture to the outer edge of the table surface…

“ ..This is very easy using Aspires toolpath texturing option. You just need to remember to correctly set boundary vectors to optimize the travel of the toolpaths within only the areas you wish the texture to be applied”

The table legs were also given a 3D texture pattern similar to the borders around the top of the table. The table apron was given a simple ‘worm track’ pattern that were created using the Draw Curve tool.


Step 3 - Hand Finishing

After machining the scene into the table top Don applied some extra visual effects on the design by hand-carving some undercuts that are not possible to create on his 3-axis CNC machine.

“The idea is to undercut parts of the carving that make a feature really stand out.  For example, the elk located center left had a lot of undercutting done to make it really pop out from the background.  The area around the head is undercut by almost a 1/4".  This makes the head look like it is really off the background. The eagle was another area where undercutting really made it stick out from the background.”

As you can see by the photos below the change from before to after the hand-finishing

Figure 10 - Eagle before carving Figure 11 - Eagle after carving

Step 4 – Coloring and Finishing

The last step in the process involved applying a stain technique to certain areas of the design to cause the individual animals to really stand out.

“This is a great way to bring out those parts of the carving that you want to stand out using gel stains.  In the case of the eagle, it took many coats of gel stain to get the black I wanted.  The other animals would start out with a base color and then other colors were used to get the tones where I wanted them to be.  All in all this took about 4 days of staining, rubbing and staining.”

After applying the stain a protective clear top coat was applied to the work. Don used about 5 coats of a gloss oil/urethane mixture. A piece of glass was purchased and the table was complete. 

“All told from start to finish it took about 10 days to complete the table. That included carving, staining, and finishing.  It was a really fun project to work on and when we displayed it at a builders show in Spokane, WA in April, many people stopped to check out this one-of-a-kind coffee table.”

“Without Vectric’s Aspire software, this project would not have happened. Also many thanks has to go to James Booth at VectorArt 3D for the great 3D Clipart elements”

Don Thomson

To see more of Don’s work and follow this project in further detail please visit his websitet: Diamond Lake Wood Works >

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