Introduction: Resin Fish Table
I wanted to create a resin table and thought it would be cool to add fish and make it a true river table. This was my first ever table or use of large quantities of epoxy. Plenty of people said you need to start small. I didn’t and have no regrets. This is able to be done with no experience. There is that much info on YouTube, forums and instructables that you don’t really need to guess much these days. Access to a menshed, woodworking guild or similar with the right tooling will make the woodworking a lot easier.
I went looking for appropriate figurines. Very limited options for good aquatic replicas but found collectibles from a company called Yujin and Kaiyodo. Nothing else came close in detail but they have been discontinued so cost a fair bit. My table includes 31 animals plus the Lilly pads and other natural materials.
Other items are made using techniques or info from the net. The railway model guys are good for landscaping ideas.
For the resin I calculated the volume required and purchased bulk to keep it cheap. Eg 30lts @ $500 (or $17/lt) instead of 3lts @ $80 (or $27/lt). I used about 20lts for this table (enough left over to do another, much to my wife chargrin)
I used tinted resin and clear resin. I wanted to have two desinct layers (river and air) and have the turtle and crocodile poking their heads out of the tinted resin into the clear resin as well as the Barra splash. Unfortunately this didn’t work and I wouldn’t worry about doing it again. Just use the tinted resin throughout.
I won’t cover timber construction during this instructable, just the resin art.
I love the finished result. My daughter comes out and says “Ooow” and looks at the figurines. I really enjoyed setting out the figurines and watching the scene come alive.
I didn’t enjoy the fiddly finishing parts. A lot of time was wasted because I wanted it perfect and I didn’t have the experience to get it right quickly. I also didn’t enjoy all the complaining the wife did about how long this took and the mess I made.
I will do another one because it is awesome watching the table coming to life.
The video shows from left to right: Saratoga under the lillys, a Barra, soothes around the rock, croc, the Barra and splash, glitter as silver bait, couple more Barra underneath the snag, turtle and some catfish down deeper. The turtle and surface Barra are my favourite.
There’s bits and pieces I might edit in this instructible but there’s a fair bit of waffle in here already.
- 30lts of ultra clear epoxy
- Various figurines like crocodiles, fish and turtles. Best from Yujin and Kaiyodo.
- Sand and rocks
- Small glass beads
- Modelling clay or play dough
- Cling wrap and baking paper
- All things required to mix epoxy including containers etc. I also used a paddle for a drill(helix mixer) to mix larger resin batches (awesome, mixed super fast and prevented air bubbles, heaps better than hand mixing)
- Heat gun
- Hot glue gun and super glue
- Transparent ink: Pinarta- burro brown
- Clamps and 3rd hand type holder to position figurines.
- Table or large flat surface that won’t flex and timber to make the table mould. I used melamine board as epoxy does not stick to the white coating. It does stick to the cut edges of the board though.
- Orbital sander and various grades of paper
- Vacuum cleaner
- Vinegar and acetone
- Packing tape or similar that epoxy will not adhere to
- Mould release
- Stanley knife, chisel, hammer and gasket scraper
- Lots of paper towel
You will also need access to wood working tools. Table saws and a big drum sander make life so much easier but this instructible will only deal with the resin art side. People have way more woodworking skills than I do.
Step 1: Planning
The most important thing for this project is planning. The better your planning and contingencies for stuff ups the better.
My number one tip: before mixing any resin always do a rehearsal of what needs to happen for that pour particularly if you have a few things to do. Write a list if necessary.
Number two: set an alarm 5-10mins before the resin is supposed to tack off. It just helps prevent getting flustered as the glue starts getting tacky.
A couple of my stuff ups included mixing too much glue and knocking over all my figures into the glue. Keep unnecessary items away from the table to prevent this.
Stages of the build:
1. Design your river including orientation of figures.
2. Build table mould
3. Make the river bed mould unless you want it flat.
4. Make the river bed
5. Start filling table with resin and adding figures as planned.
As stated, have contingencies for stuff ups.
- what to do if you have too much glue.
- what to do if you spill glue on figurines not already set in position
- what to do about air bubbles
- what to do if figurines move.
- leave glue standing for too long in the pot
Mixing smaller batches of glue was more practical. It does create layers when viewed from the side but unnoticeable when viewed from above. Be sure you read your glue instructions thoroughly. I bought a glue that was specifically designed for pours no thicker than 12mm. If you leave mixed resin in the pot it will over heat and start smoking as per the warnings and first hand experience.
Step 2: Table Mould
Before you commence work on the mould, square away your work area. I used a bit of form ply. Resin won’t stick unless there is damage such as drill holes etc in the coating of the ply. Mine had a few dings in it so I covered the table with packing tape.
The first thing that needs to be built is the mould. Determine the dimensions of your table. I used two stabs of wood both with different thicknesses. I wanted to create a shallow and a deep side for extra effect. This creates a bit of extra work when moulding. I also wanted extra depth in my piece that extended past the depth of my timber.
Make the mould according to your requirements. I cut my mould timber from melamine into 100mm strips. That was going to be the overall height of my table. I used melamine for my mould. It works well however cut edges will stick to the resin. To avoid this place, packing tape on the cut edge. I didn’t do this and just didn’t pour resin above a certain level to avoid issues.
Once your mould is made position your timber and determine how it will sit. I took into consideration things like interesting grain features, colours in the timber and orientation of the river in relation to the timber. Also need to determine the width of your river (wider rivers cost more in resin) and shape of the river eg parallel banks.
Once that is determined place your mould over the timber and orientate in the correct position. Trace out the mould, cut the timber and fit into position. Fit pieces of timber to the top of your mould as stoppers for the timber. This prevents the timber from floating out of position.
Flip the mould and fit the timber. Fit pieces of wood to the mould and secure the timber in place so it can’t move. I screwed into the mould but not into the table wood. Hot glue can be used to help secure in place and also seal gaps glue are likely to leak out of. While upside down, fit the rest of the mould. I used corflute and hot glue. Seal the entire length with hot glue. Place a straight edge on the mould and trim the corflute against the edge so its flat when the table is flipped into position. I also reenforced with small tabs to hold the shape. I wanted a ledge for fish to hide under so moulded that in as well.
Flip the mould.
Step 3: River Bed Mould
For the river bed I wanted to use sand but I didn’t want a flat bottom. The easiest and cheapest way to mould the base was to use homemade play dough. Plenty of recipes online. If I was doing lots of these, I think I would use more expensive modeling plasticine.
Place the play dough or other material into your table mould. Build it up to desired heights. I wanted shallow spots, a deep hole and also to include rocks etc. Cover the dough with cling wrap. The less crinkles the better. You probably don’t need to but I thought it would be easier to remove later. Straight dough won’t leak though. Shape as desired. Doesn’t need to be perfects because it will be covered with sand.
Step 4: River Bed
Calculate roughly how much sand you will need. You can measure the area and multiply by how deep you want the sand to be. I allowed for about 15mm. It ends up thicker and thinner in places.
If you think you will be short just have extra sand on standby.
When mixing resin you need about 1 part resin to 4 parts sand. This should get your sand wet but not sloppy. Sand should be just coated. In any case pour your resin in as required. If the sand is swimming in resin it may be hard to hold in place.
If you plan to add logs and rocks, now is the time to do it. Completely submerge the object in the resin to seal them and prevent air bubbles during later pours. Once covered in resin, position rocks either into the sand of on top.
Always keep in mind the height of any pour and make sure it does not effect the positioning of figures, for eg I could build the sand up on the shallow side because my Saratoga wouldn’t fit. Again have a good plan before mixing resin.
Mix up the sand and spread into position.
As the glue is curing, keep an eye out for air bubbles. Hit them with the heat gun.
My first big mistake was here. I mixed up 500ml of resin, I only needed about 200ml and left it in the pot. It started to get hot. I panicked and just poured it straight on the sand. It created heaps of bubbles and a lot of work to remove them. A little resin goes a long way when mixed with sand. You want it fairly dry other wise it won’t stand up the sides.
Steep sides might require larger pieces of gravel to build up first.
Step 5: Resin
Mixing your resin needs to be done properly or all sort of issues will result.
As previously mentioned, some tips I picked up were to set an alarm 10mins or so before your glue will start tacking off. Not so important for a straight pour but if you are moving things about once the glue is mixed it really helps.
Don’t leave quantities of resin sitting in a container like the first photo. It will start smoking. If you pour onto a large flat tray, pot life will be extended.
For this project I chose to tint the resin a tannin brown colour like a lot of freshwater rivers and creeks. For consistency I mixed the tint into part A. I still got layer variations but would have been near impossible to get consistent results adding the tint to each pour.
Ratio: 20lts part A: 7ml Pinarta Burro brown
Mix to your preference but that’s what I did.
To mix large batches I really like using the drill attachment Helix mixer. Awesome for large batches but introduces to many bubbles for small batches. Once the batch is mixed, pour into another pot and hand mix to get a perfect mix.
WARNING: if you beat the bajesus out of the glue, millions of tiny micro bubbles will appear. They will not come out even with a heat gun. This actually creates a really cool effect for your final pour.
I’m not going into all the ins and outs of mixing. Just follow the instruction. The 2nd photo is the glue just mixed. The 3rd is the glue mixed. The last photo is the Helix mixer. You can see part B floating on top.
For clean up I found the best and cheapest way was to use plastic pots etc and let the glue bang off. Crack all the glue off a day or two later. Glue cracks off the Helix mixer as well.
I used vinegar for spills on the floor. It stops the glue from curing. Makes a mess if you try and clean tools.
Acetone is too expensive to clean tool etc with considering it will just peal off in time.
Step 6: River and Figurines
The fun part.
Once the sand has cured, check for air bubbles. If they need to be removed used a drill to drill it out.
I did notice the square edged drill holes were noticeable. I was using a 6mm drill bit. I would suggest counter sinking the hole a bit or chamfer the edge to conceal the drill hole.
Before every pour, vacuum your table to prevent contamination being forever trapped in your masterpiece.
Continue to pour layers of resin as required positioning your figures.
When pouring it’s not so critical to check levels but for the final pours it is important to check or results might look funny.
Stick to your plan. Using a straightedge will help determine when a particular figurine needs to be added to the pour (water coloumn). I wanted my Barra to be right at the surface, so I kept check and new exactly when it needed be added.
Use clamps, glue and what ever else you can think of to help position things and hold in place. Glue will pus your figurines around if you just dump the glue in. For each newly introduced figurine, I poured glue over it to seal it and also the extra glue helps to hold it in place for the next pour.
Plug any leaks as you go. If you notice a gap some where in you mould, a neat trick is keep a bit of resin aside. Wait until it tacks off. Scrap some resin and mould into the gap. It will be invisible once the next pour is done.
Step 7: Figurines
Positioning the figurines for me was very important. The whole point of doing this was to create a 3D piece of art. And though the figures themselves are 3 dimensional, by positioning them in the right way you can give them extra life and really animate the scene.
To hold them in place during curing I used a number of methods including hot glue, superglue and holders.
I made a 3rd hand using an alligator clip and a piece of wire. I also used clamps. Making a 3rd hand or using a clamp on a flexible arm makes positioning really easy
I used lilly pads in my river so getting the height right to allow a layer of clear reason was important. I also had to position the reeds below the top of the table a straight edge is handy.
You can see in the pic with the Saratoga, the clear resin above it. I wouldn’t bother with the clear next time
I cast additional figures using silicone moulds. It was really easy and was the first time had tried making moulds. Can save money doing this instead of buying multiple figures that are the same.
Step 8: Epoxy Splash Effect
I really wanted to add a splash effect to the scene like the first pic. Barra are well known for their surface strikes and it would add a lot of theatre to the piece. I spent a lot of time trying to make the splash with very limited knowledge out there. In the end there was not enough contrast and the splash has been lost once the clear resin was poured onto it but does look like a surface disturbance. I was going to do a seperate instructable but a search should be able find it here.
The magic happens as the epoxy tacks off. You can’t work with freshly mixed epoxy. It’s too runny. You want to start making your splash just before it starts to turn. It’s all about timing. You still want to be able to pour it but not run everywhere.
Mix as much air into your resin as possible. The more the better. Place enough epoxy on a piece of baking paper or glad wrap on a flat surface. I found working on a flat surface was far easier. Baking paper is easier to work with but you get better effects with glad wrap. The amount of epoxy will depend on the size of the splash. I only needed about a ten cent worth. Tease out a number of rivulets off the main drop. Just try and keep everything in proportion to your desired effect.
I added small resin beads to the end of the rivulets for added effect. You can add bits of previously cured resin for added texture. You don’t want it looking “made” so the more irregularities and air you can add the better.
If you tease out the rivulets too soon they can all run into one another, spreading into one round blob of epoxy and if you leave it too long it will not look like water but more crystal like.
Once the resin has hardened but still a bit rubbery, place over a marble or similar and allow the resin to drape over it. Using a heat gun, apply heat being careful not to burn anything. Once heated you should be able to push rivulets into the shape you want if it hasn’t already done so. Your done
If you want to add a little more depth or splash, create two or more splashes and glue them together. I created a flatter base splash then glued the second on top. I think it looked sweet.
Photos are a bit crapy but some really cool effects are easy to create. Even bits from your mixing pots can add an interesting spurt of water.
Step 9: Finishing the Table
Once the river is completed, demould the table. Flip the table and start cleaning up the play dough/plasticine. The best way to tidy up the resin that has bits of cling wrap stuck to it, is use a wire wheel on an angle grinder. It cleans quickly and leaves a cool effect.
Once that’s cleaned up you need to square up your table and trim it and run through a drum sander. Make sure you chamfer the edges or you will have all sorts of drama trying to finish it in resin. When cutting near the ends be aware of sand and rocks and sand. They will destroy your saw. Cut around them and then ice a masonry blade on a grinder to cut those areas.
The final pour will be determined by how you want to finish the table. I chose to fully coat the table in resin. I see a lot of tables that finish the timber with a stain or similar. I love the effect the resin has on the colour and grain of the wood. It completely transforms it into a thing of beauty.
To finish the table in resin, finish the sides and underneath first if you need to build up resin in patches, use the sticky tape or similar as a mould. It can let go and start to leak so keep an eye on it and more tape might be needed usually lets go after about 40mins when you think the glue has banged off and you go inside only to come back out with glue dripping everywhere.
You need to fit your legs before the final coat. Don’t do it early especially if you are you different slab thicknesses like I did. Before the last pour, I flipped the table, measured the difference between the slabs and rebated that difference into the thicker slab. I positioned my legs then installed the threaded nut inserts. If you remove too much material or things aren’t level you can raise or lower the nut inserts and removed wood or add glue to level.
While the table is flipped, paint the river section with black paint to prevent light bleeding through the river bed and making the sand look patchy. You could add leds and things like that to this project if you really wanted.
Timber takes three coats of resin to get a good no sanding finish. The second from the right is the 2nd pour. The 3rd pour fills all the voids.
With the legs fitted, flip the table and level. The final pour should be level in relation to the legs. No point if. The table isn’t level but the legs are.
A pour to cover the entire top of the table takes about 1.5lts of resin. Stand your table on clean plastic. If you are short on resin or just tight like me, you can reuse the resin that drips of but you run the risk on introducing debris into your pour.
Pour a pool of resting in the middle of your table. Drag some resin to one edge and working your way around the table, pull resin to the edge and spread over the vertical edge. Try catching as much resin as you can with a pot in the other hand. You want to avoid vertical runs, so keep smoothing until it tacks off. Also scrape the underside of the table. You don’t want drips. Drips equal sanding.
Once cured for several days start sanding any imperfections. There shouldn’t be many. To get a good finish start with 120 or 240grit and then on up up to 2500 and 3000grit. Use water with the finer grits to stop the epoxy heating up.