Building a Table In Boat-Builder Style

Here's an discussion of costs, pricing, and technique concerning a unique table made using methods inspired by the boat-building trade. August 26, 2008

Below is a table I am finishing up that is marketing toward the enthusiasts of the mahogany boat (Chris-Craft, Century, and Gar Wood). The table is made of dark red meranti. It is finished with Smith's CPES, and 7 coats of Epiphanes varnish. The legs are 5" diameter turned meranti. The chrome piece on the top is a polished stainless deck plate that provides access for an umbrella or you can screw the cap back on for a finished look when not using an umbrella. A navy blue Sunbrella umbrella is included and a custom table cover (made of navy blue sunbrella too).

I have a design of custom chairs but have not fabricated them yet and they would not be included in the first sale. The table is 4' x 6' and the arched legs allows for 6 to very easily sit at the table. So I am looking to sell a couple of these. Where would you start the pricing?

Click here for full size image

Forum Responses
(Furniture Making Forum)
From contributor P:
Start by figuring out what it costs you to make one.

From the original questioner:
Wood $533
Routing $550
Finish $100

Deck Plate $60
3m 5200 $16
Labor 50 hours
Optional umbrella $275

From contributor D:
Keeping the costs listed and adding my hourly shop rate ($75), I'd charge $ 5009 not including the umbrella. Awesome table!

From contributor H:
The wood is only $550? 50 hours - whoa! Routing - isn't that a labor item?

From the original questioner:
The wood is dark red meranti dimensional lumber ($5 bd ft) and meranti marine lumber (BS1088).

Labor is for cuts on dimensional lumber (not much here, some cuts on the radial arm and adding the splines) gluing the ring frame, trip to and from the CNC router house, turning the legs, sanding, staining, coat of Smith's CPES, 7 coats of varnish, and the caulking in the grooves.

Routing is not direct labor as I used a CNC house for the profile cuts, pocket for the plywood, and grooves in the plywood.

From contributor H:
My price would be close to DCW's for a single table. If you can get someone to pay that then more power to you. Since you are looking to sell a few your total cost does not increase at the same rate as the numbers of tables you produce. This allows you to lower your selling price and still profit.

Merenti may be in the mahagony family but it’s not mahagony. How long will you guarantee the caulking stays in the grooves? What about the bond between the caulking and the varnish, which at seven coats is over kill to say the least.

From the original questioner:
I understood that Meranti is not mahogany. The original Chris Craft boats were made with Phillipean mahogany (also not a mahogany, but rather a luan). Trying to source (and pay for) phillipean mahogany is difficult. The recommended wood for the restoration of the old boats is now Meranti.

Epiphanes is also one of the most common varnishes used on these boats. Epiphanes recommends seven coats with the first couple of coats thinned. Although Chris Craft used to ship their boats with three coats, many of the builders/restorers these days are going 10-20 coats. I went to a show up in Meredith, NH last weekend and saw boats with 17, 30 and 24 coats. The desired look is glass. I am banking that if they are paying 90k for a boat that something along the same lines will be attractive.

The caulk process is actually not required, other than to keep with the authenticity. The typical deck planks would have (3) 3/16" kerfs in them with caulking in the "fake" seams, as well as in the real seams between the boards. In my case, I have a single piece of plywood so I really do not need the caulking. I do, however, want the look of the antique boats so that is why I have it there. The process is to put all but the last coat of varnish on, put in the caulking, let it set, put the final coat of varnish on. Now I can either leave it like that (with a slight yellow tint on the white from the last coat) or I can mask and paint with white paint. This is the typical process you see on the old boats. (Sometimes the caulking is under more layers). 3M -5200 needs a UV protectant so that is the reason for the coat of varnish.

From contributor M:
Where is the plywood? Have you tested this design in the environment where you expect customers will place it?

From the original questioner:
There is a hexagon frame of dimensional lumber that has a pocket milled in it. The plywood is the center section with the straight grooves in it. The plywood is BS1088 marine plywood. It has been completely coated in Smith's CPES and finished with varnish (including the bottom). The intended location is indoors or outdoors. I have a cover for times that it is not in use to prolong the life of the varnish.

From contributor M:
That's what I was thinking - I was concerned about cross grain situations. It looks as though the corners of the frame are at most risk for opening up due to seasonal movement. It might work out ok.

From the original questioner:
I was concerned about cross grain movement between the dimensional lumber and the plywood and also the end grain gluing. The plywood is routed to be .06 all around smaller than the pocket it fits into. (Part of the beauty of the caulk joint is how it hides this).

The end grain glue joints on the dimensional lumber frame have splines made of the same material to strengthen the joint and add some flat grain surface area to the joint. The joints themselves are not at 90 degrees but rather some obtuse angle. The picture below is a clearer shot. You can see the spline too.

From contributor H:
I would try to build them quicker next time. Can it be done in fifteen hours or $1000 total labor? Remember that a retailer will need to mark it up 50%! Once you get some retailers on board the orders will hopefully become steady. Can you make all the parts yourself using templates rather than a CNC.

Finally, do you have a market? Prototypes are very time consuming. Some of that 50 hours must be the design work. I've gotten a lot of good business by approaching furniture retailers and building their designs. The trick is to be competetive and profit. That requires speed and experience and a strong heart and cast iron stomach. I have lots of my own designs but can't market them properly yet as I need a showroom. A proper showroom will increase the price of sold pieces 50%.

From contributor J:
I'm trying to find 50 hours of labor. I agree with others that some of that must be head scratching time, but once figured out you should be able to reduce that time dramatically.

Plane lumber, cut shapes of edge, assemble, rough sand, mill pocket, cut ply, assemble, detail edge, detail sand. You caulk and finish. This does not include legs or material. I don't do turnings, I sub them out. Bottom of the feet we could do. First one would take longer but I would feel comfortable with that number on 12 pieces.

From the original questioner:
I agree 50 hours was on the high side. This is the first part and there was a lot of figuring out the jigs, and designing the process on the fly. Having done one and learned much along the way I am very confident that the time would be significantly less. The routing house did not want to do some of the features and the finish was a bit extreme. Between outsourcing the legs, having the design and jigs done and a new method of finishing it should be close to the estimates provided above.

From contributor J:
So what would be the final wholesale price and suggested retail?

From the original questioner:
Final prices will be fluid for a while. I will list this table at $5K for now. As I am able to reduce costs, if I want to increase volume I may bring down the price. The response to the $5K price will be the determining factor.

The target markets are another important factor. For example, Center Harbor NH right beside Lake Winnipesaukee is aa major center of antique boats. The price will be a bit higher because the market can support it. I went into a consignment shop last weekend and was absolutely amazed at the prices of the handmade furniture. The yacht market is another profitable one. Their dining tables go for $20k. Just the chrome bases alone cost me $4k each.

If I am not in any of these markets I would say that the target retail will be $4K but I may use an oil finish rather than the varnish as I am pretty sure that the attention to maintenance may not be there.

From contributor A:
How much time are you estimating for the varnishing? It's a big pain because it takes all day to dry and picks up dust like crazy. I would do a pigmented epoxy resin inlay instead of the 3M 5200. The top will end up much nicer. I don't understand why you can't find Phillipene. I have played with a lot of Meranti in my day though. Nice looking table.

From the original questioner:
The varnishing was a good portion of time. Sanding, vacuuming, wetting down the floor, degreasing, tack cloth, rolling and brushing took a while as well. Multiply that times seven. The varnish also complicates the caulking issue because the varnish is yellow and I need to repaint the white stripes.

The changes to the finishing process for future tables are as follows: First, I would offer the table in just an oil finish as an option. My wife preferred the table just after staining over the highly polished format. I believe that just meranti with an oil finish would be a viable product. For the high shine I would go to a PPG Urethane. I spoke to a guy at the antique boat show in NH and he uses clear urethane (no yellowing). He can lay on coats every 15 minutes and be done with the finish in a night. Without the yellowing I can use a white filler and not have any post processing.

In regards to pigmented epoxy, it is funny you said that. I just went to the marine supply shop to get some pigment. I have some west systems epoxy and want to see how that will work instead of the 3M 5200. The epoxy is also not UV stabilized so something will need to go over it.

From contributor A:
The 3M 5200 is going to be a big mess to clean up. It gets all over everything. I believe Lifecaulk (polysulfide) might be sandable when cured? Likewise you would have to wait a few days (at least) before you top-coated it.

I just did a black epoxy inlay job on a teak countertop (faux boat deck). I ran some grooves on the tablesaw mixed the graphite into the epoxy spread it with a squeegee and then ran the entire thing through the widebelt sander. It worked great and was easy to finish.

From contributor S:
I go right along with Contributor A. I've done all types of epoxy fillers. You simply need a white tint and do it just the same way.