Combining Metal & Wood

By David J. Marks

Designing furniture that uses a combination of metal and wood can give your work a very contemporary look.  Architects and designers often will look for craftspeople that have the skill and knowledge to work with both of these mediums.  Well, the good news is that if you have a shop/studio that is set up to work with wood, then you probably already have most of the tools to work with aluminum, brass, copper.  These metals are much softer than steel and can be cut on the band saw using a metal cutting blade.  They can also be machined with a router using carbide bits at a slow speed and taking light passes.  One of my favorite metals to use is copper.  I like copper because it oxidizes easily and takes a beautiful patina finish.  Brass also will oxidize and take a wonderful patina finish, but aluminum does not react as well with patina chemicals, and requires that dyes and pigments be used to color the metal.  For the Hall Table design, I chose to use copper as an inset panel for the top, framed in black walnut.  I purchased 16 oz copper which comes in sheets and is approximately 1/32 of an inch thick.  To make the thin copper rigid, I attach it to a piece of plywood.  I have found that it glues well with epoxy if you scuff the surface.  Take a disk sander with some 60 grit disks and rough up the back of the metal, going back and forth and side to side until there are deep scratch patterns covering the entire back.  Next, clean off any dust or residue with a strong solvent, lacquer thinner works well.  For the substrate, I used 1/2 inch thick apple plywood.

Most epoxies will bond dissimilar materials such as wood and metal, but check the instructions to see what the manufacturer recommends.  I use a liquid; two part slow set epoxy and once thoroughly mixed, spread it on both the plywood and copper.  If you have a vacuum press, you can use that, otherwise cauls and clamps work fine.  After setting the glue side of the copper onto the glue side of the plywood, I place a sheet of plastic on top and then a layer of eighth inch cork on top and then a piece of ¾ inch plywood.  Set the 2 x 4 cauls across the plywood and clamp it to the workbench allowing it to fully cure overnight.  Once the glue sets you can use the router with a flush trim bit to remove the excess.  A file and hand scraper work well to finesse the fit.