Introduction: Recreating the Universe in the "Cosmic Rift" Table; AKA: How to Build a Resin Table Like a Boss!
This is an entry in the
Pro Tips Challenge
After building several resin river tables, each one more elaborate than it's predecessor, I struggled to figure out how to top my last one... I wanted to build something epic, something that I had never seen before that I hopefully shouldn't have to struggle too hard to sell upon completion. Ive always loved space, and found all the imagery of stars, galaxies, nebulas, etc to be about as visually stimulating (and epic) as one could imagine. This is why I decided to build a galaxy themed dining table (or conference table) as an homage to one of my favorite, and most mind blowing NASA images, the Hubble deep field image. This photo shows what first appears to be a shot of a bunch of stars in the night sky, but what you are really seeing is a huge cluster of galaxies!
I had been wanting to do some more experimenting to push the limits with epoxy resin and figured this could be a good opportunity to try something that I had not seen before...
Step 1: Turn the Slab Into the Edges of the 'Rift'
I had a nice large offcut piece of 8/4 Walnut from a previous dining table build that I had been saving for the perfect project, so I decided it was finally the time to use it. The piece was a little awkwardly tapered in width from one end to the other, so I cut a large wedge out of the center of the slab, to create two more or less parallel pieces, to create the two halves of the "Rift". Luckily the original slab was quite flat from being planed at the mill and I had already filled all the knots with black resin and sanded both sides when I had done the other build with it's sister slabs.
Step 2: Build the Support Structure and Fill the Extra "space"
This is probably the most complicated step, involving several components that will never be seen!
Most resin river tables save on resin costs by creating a small river between the two large live edge boards, but in my case I am trying to use the center portion as the main attraction. I wanted my river to be large and in charge. This meant that I needed to devise a new way to save on resin. I was also a little concerned with having these two heavy slabs being supported solely by such a large expanse of resin. This is why I decided to utilize some large bowties to help hold the slabs together. I utilized my homemade CNC router to mill the pockets in each slab. My CNC wasnt large enough to mill both slabs at once, which would definitely be the easier "route" (pun intended). Milling the two halves independently involved some tricky alignment on the machine to ensure that it would all fit together in the end. I also used the CNC to cut the actual bowties from some figured .5" walnut that I had also been saving for the right project. I typically offset inlaid parts about .005" to make a tight but not impossible fit. After all this milling, I was pleased to find that everything fit together very nicely, with the correct spacing and alignment.
Since I was ultimately trying to recreate the darkness of space, I was obviously planning on using a completely opaque black tinted resin mixture... This opened up the opportunity to fill as much volume of the Rift as I could with plywood since the black resin would not reveal anything below its surface. I laminated two pieces of 1/2" Baltic Birch plywood into a 1" slab and then roughly cut it down and shaped it so that it would fit and fill as much of the "space" between the slabs as possible. I had this slab stop plenty short of the ends so that I could fill those spaces entirely with resin; Thoroughly encapsulating the plywood slab. I cant be sure without making calculations I dont care to do, but I estimate that this plywood filler piece would save me up to 2 gallons of resin! I also believe that it added quite a bit of strength and stability to the whole assembly as well.
Once the plywood slab fit nicely in the middle, I took it back out and spray painted the top with matte black. This was a fail safe measure to ensure that the 1/4" of black resin I allotted for the on the top surface of the plywood would not show any of the light colored wood below. After the paint was thoroughly dry, I set it upon the top of the inlayed bowties and glued/screwed it down to each piece.
Next I flipped the whole assembly over and used 1/16" louon plywood to fill the gaps between the shaped plywood and the actual live edges of the Walnut. I accomplished this creating narrow strips of the louon and then scribing the shape of the live edge with a spacer and a pencil. Once those strips fit nice and tight, I glued and stapled them down to the plywood. After this, there were only very small/minor gaps that would allow the the resin to fall through from the top when I poured it in to cover the plywood. A little caulking filled those gaps and created a nice seal.
The last step in preparation for the first resin pour was to create forms for the two ends of the table. I made the forms out of Melamine, which has a hard shell type finish with releases resin quite nicely. I stuck the form pieces together and to the walnut slabs/bowties by using double stick carpet tape. This tape holds strong, but also releases from the wood nicely without leaving any residue, nor does it tear out the grain. Once the form was fully built and attached, I sprayed the inside surfaces with Aquanet hairspray. Yeah you read that right; this hairspray works great as a mold release, and does not affect the curing of the resin!
Step 3: Start Pouring and 'genesis' Up Some Galaxies!!
Before I start this section, I'll answer your inevitable burning question of which Epoxy Resin I use. I use "ProMarine Supplies Table Top Epoxy". Ive found this product to be very affordable compared to other options, and it works very well. They have great and friendly customer service, and offer free shipping. On to the next step!
Even though I filled as much of the space as I could with black painted plywood, I still needed to pour a significant amount of resin to fill the leftover voids. I accomplished through several separate pours. I knew that I would end up spilling small amounts of colored resin all over the walnut slabs, so I masked them off with transfer tape.
First I filled the nearly 2" thick end sections via a few separate pours until it they were level with the black plywood surface. Then I did a flood of resin to level out the whole void of the "rift" to just about an 1/8" below the surface of the walnut slabs. All of these pours up until this point were done with clear epoxy resin mixed with black pigment and color shifting blue/green auto paint glitter. The glitter creates a twinkling star effect that is quite dramatic, especially against the deep black of the tinted resin. I affectionately refer to this mixture as "Space Black"
Now that the rift's void was fully leveled out with a nice consistent black canvas of 'space black', it was time to start forming galaxies! I mixed up a large batch of the black epoxy with sparkles along with some smaller batches of blue and white. The Blue epoxy had a higher concentration of sparkles than the black, and the white had even higher concentration of the sparkles than the blue, along with a ton of glow powder. The glow powder appears white under normal lighting, but glows blue in the dark!
To form the galaxies, I first poured a thin full flood layer of the space black. While that was still viscous, I poured a splotch of blue which expanded into a circle. Next I poured a splotch of the white in the center of the dollop of blue which created a white core within a blue outer ring, within the blackness of "space". Next I used a small pencil sized piece of wood to turn these dollops into a galaxy. I started in the middle and spiraled all the way out into space over and over again until I had something that resembled a galaxy surprisingly accurately. I had started with the main center piece galaxy, and them made several more on either side at different sizes and angles, just like in NASAs Deep Field Image. After this layer containing the galaxies dried, I noticed that the glitter I had used in the blue and white had not shown up as dramatically as I had hoped. I was hoping the higher concentration of glitter would simulate the high density of stars within each galaxy. To solve this issue, I mixed up a large batch of clear, and a small batch of clear with a high concentration of glitter. I poured a full flood of clear over the Rift portion of the table, and then added dollups of the glittery clear over each galaxy and spiraled them out a bit. This added the concentration of glitter I was looking for. Turns out it only takes a couple days to form a universe out of the blackness of space!
I then flipped the table over and filled in the leftover voids underneath between the bowties in order to complete the illusion of one solid layer of resin throughout.
Step 4: Pour the Final Flood Layers for a Durable and Stunning "bar Top" Style Finish.
Now that the inner rift portion was complete, it was time to work on the final finish over the entire table top. This is obviously an important step, as a wavy or imperfect finish will throw off the aesthetics of the entire piece. Not only is this step important, but it is easy to screw up, so pay attention to the details! Here is a checklist of how I do a successful table top flood coat:
-Make your work area as dust free as you can! Sweep up, keep the doors closed, run an air filter, etc. Or better yet find yourself a clean room/laboratory to work in... and you'll still find some dust and bugs in your finish!
-Always level the piece to be finished as well as you can, the epoxy flood will level out according to gravity, not your desires.
-Warm up the epoxy! This is very important. Ideally you are working in a climate controlled environment between 75-85 degrees. If this is impractical for you (like it is for me), at least warm up the resin to around that temperature by placing the the two parts in front of a space heater, or submerge the jugs in warm water for a while. If the two parts of the mixture are cold, they will be much thicker and impossible to mix without introducing a huge amount of air (bubbles). The warmer the mixture is, the easier it is to stir without bubbles, and the better the bubbles will rise and release, and the better it will flow into an even layer.
-Have a torch handy. A propane (I use map gas) torch will help you pop the bubbles and level out the resin. Just make sure you never dwell in one spot too long. If you apply too much heat/flame, the resin can burn and develop a "skin" which will look bad and also keep the bubbles from releasing when the reach the surface. Just do quick sweeping passes with the torch, without actually touching the surface with the flame.
-When mixing, use a flat bottomed container, and flat bottom stirring sticks. Stir slowly and make sure to scrape the bottom and sides often to ensure you are mixing thoroughly. As an added precaution when doing an very important pour like this one, I mix as well as I can in one cup, then transfer the mixture into a new cup and stir again. This helps ensure you dont end up with non mixed A or B parts that are stuck to the walls of the cup.
-When trying to build up a thick layer on a porous surface (like wood), it is important to do a skim coat or two before the final thick flood layer. Mixing up a smaller batch of resin and skimming it over the surface of the wood helps to seal the grain in. If you do a thick layer to begin with the pores of the grain will continually release air which create bubbles that will have to rise relatively far to the surface, which results in bubble clusters that continuously need to be popped with the torch. These can continually occur until after the resin has set enough to make bubble releasing impossible. The skim coats fill the grain while being thin enough to allow any bubbles to easily release since they dont have to travel as far. To achieve a skim coat, pour a relatively small amount of epoxy on the wood, and spread it around with a piece of cardstock or something similar until the whole surface looks "wet" with as thin of a layer as possible. In this case, I really didnt want to screw my final pour up this late in the game, so I ended up doing 2 separate skim coats before my final flood layer.
-It can be tricky to get epoxy to consistently coat the edges of a table, from my experience it will continually drip and create an irregular and inconsistent finish on the edges even if you try to brush it out continually. To alleviate this on my table, I made a masking tape "damn" around the perimeter of the table so that it would build up instead of drip down the edges. I decided to treat the edges differently later on...
-After the final pour, I let it dry for at least 3 days so that the finish is hard enough that it will not easy scratch from handling during the next steps.
Step 5: Trim Down to Final Dimensions and Add Leg Attachment Hardware
Now the the resin was finally cured and ready to be handled, I had to do something about the sharp raised edges that form as a result of the tape dam that I had utilized in the previous step. Luckily I knew this would happen from the beginning, so I had built the table up until this point slightly larger than the final dimensions would be. I trimmed about 1/4" off of each side via my table saw and track saw, which effectively removed the upturned edges of the resin and left a nice crisp square corner.
Next I flipped the top over (on a moving blanket) so I could work on the bottom side. For this table I wanted to use some "X" shaped legs which I originally planned on building custom, but I ended up finding some ready made legs on amazon that were pretty much exactly what I was after. I decided to save a lot of time and waste a little money by ordering the prefab legs. I also ordered some Nutcerts and 1/4x20 bolts for attaching them. Any piece of furniture that may be assembled and disassembled more than once should really use nutcerts or something similar to ensure that the leg attachment points don't get worn out. See the pictures for how I installed these.
When I figured the leg placement, I made sure to leave enough space for people to sit on the ends of the table without their legs competing with the table's. Once I had the hardware in place, I did a quick test fit of the legs but them removed them so that they wouldn't be in the way during the next step...
Step 6: Finish the Edges and Bottom Surface
At this point the edges of the table were still raw, saw cut surfaces. I thought about doing an under-bevel to make the top look a little thinner, but ultimately decided that the table should appear as large and heavy as it really was. So I used a firm block and sanded all the edges down from 120 to 320 grit, and then did an ever-so-slight round over on all the corners by hand with a spongy bock. I also gave the whole bottom side one final sand to 220.
Since finishing the edges with epoxy was never going to turn out as nice as I wanted it to, I decided to use a wipe on polyurethane to give it a gloss which would hopefully match the top. A wipe on poly applies very easily, and is hard to screw up, but it goes on very thin and needs many coats. I masked off the top edges of the table just short of the sanded round over on the epoxy. The poly would help make that sanded edge become clear again. This poly finish would obviously never even come close to building up as thick as the top epoxy finish, but it really doesn't need to be as durable or thick on the edges anyway. I ended up applying about 6 coats of the poly (lightly sanding with 320 between coats) on the edges, and 3 coats on the bottom before I was satisfied with the build up.
Step 7: Attach the Legs and Clean It Up!
All that was left to do at this point was to attach the legs and clean the top surface! Final leg attachment was easy since I had already installed the threaded inserts. I used some black oxide button head 1/4 20 bolts, which matched the legs nicely.
One I flipped it over onto the legs, I had to clean all the dust off the resin surface. Resin tops seem to contain a lot of static energy, dust really attracts to that fresh surface. My remedy for this issue is to clean the top off with "Novus" plastic polish. They make this product in 3 different grits from #1 through #3, with #3 being the heaviest grit for removing reasonably small scratches. If you have any slight scratches, you would use Novus #3 and buff out the scratch by hand with a soft cloth, then once you've made your way through the scratch you would move on to #2, then finally #1. If you dont have any actual scratches you need to remove, just use #1. This solution not only cleans and shines the surface, but it also breaks the surface tension of the plastic up a little bit, and makes it attract dust much less. Go out and get some of this stuff if you plan on doing a resin top...
That's it for the build! I'm very happy with the finished product. It was highly experimental, with plenty of opportunities to screw it up, but I luckily managed to finish it up without any huge disasters.
Step 8: Get It Sold!
This step is actually incomplete, but I'm hoping to crowd source some help from you all! I am offering a $500 dollar commission for the first person who finds me a buyer for this piece! Do you know somebody who loves the cosmos and needs a new dining table? Maybe a friend that just started a business and needs a small conference table to wow their clients? Send them my way and if the deal closes Ill write you a check! I am asking $6,800 for this one of a kind piece of functional art. Can ship anywhere in the US! Thanks for your help keeping my business alive and my bills paid!
Details on the table: The dimensions are 65" L x 30" W x 30" T Legs are detachable for shipping/transport/storage The galaxies are glow in the dark, and the stars twinkle and change color when viewed from different angles The resin top coat is extremely durable, the same type of finish often used on commercial bar tops! Can be palletized and shipped freight!
For process photos of more work, please check out my Instagram @partcraft
Check out my Etsy store for more pieces that currently available!
You can also find more examples of my work at www.PartCraftLLC.com
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Please be positive and constructive.
When you said you "sprayed the inside surfaces with Aquanet hairspray" I wondered why when the inside that's never going to be removed? Isn't the resin going to envelope the center portion and hold everything together?
The two ends of the table require some molds which I made from melamine, These molds are where sprayed the aquanet, since they would need to release in a clean fashion.
Thanks for responding. I thought you did the whole table that's why I asked. When using Melamine to do concrete molds it releases much easier.