Introduction: The Amazing Beer Bottle Cap Coffee Table

About: I am an art history nerd who just happens to have a deep, devote passion for beer and trying to make interesting things from the objects that remain long after the beer has been digested.

During winter break of 2003-04, I made a trip to Sacramento, CA, to visit the then girlfriend and then meet her family (don't ask how that visit went). One of the real highlights of that trip, to be honest, was a visit to the Jelly Belly factory. While there I noticed a really cool portrait of George Washington made entirely out of jelly beans. Being the art history nerd that I am, this totally rang my bell. Even then, I had this thought: if someone could make a portrait out of jelly beans, might I be able to do the same with something smilar, say, bottle caps?The answer? No. I'm not an artist; I'm an art historian. There is no way I could do something like this.

But this didn't stop me from collecting beer caps. Lots of beer caps. Lots and lots of beer caps. I finished at the University of Maryland in 2006, got a job during that academic year, and from that time onwards, I saved all the bottle caps from the beer that I drank. When I moved Missouri to Iowa, I packed up all the beer caps and brought them with me. When I moved from Clarke Drive to our new house, I packed up the caps and brought them with me again.My wife, god bless her, has completely embraced (well, perhaps not 'embraced.' Perhaps it's better said that she has 'accepted') my odd penchant for collecting odd stuff.

A couple of Christmases ago, she bought me some kick ass Beer Cap Maps (the Belgium map, atop, is completely filled with Belgian caps; the United States map, still a work in process, has nothing but caps from American breweries). But I still had bottle caps left over. Hundreds and thousands of bottle caps. So I needed another art project. I waited. Patiently.And then this past spring, I had an idea. I had a coffee table in my office at Clarke Univeristy--it belonged to my grandmother--and the long edges had a nice raised edge. I thought it might be interesting to fill it with caps and then find a way to seal them in. I didn't want to wimp out and do glass, so I consulted Jessica Teckemeyer, the sculpture professor, and she finally recommended a product called ArtResin. It has two parts; the resin and the hardener. You simply mix them together in equal measure and pour.This was within my skill set. So I set to work. Here was my process.

Step 1: Press and Sort the Caps

I first sorted caps by brand and color. It was staggering in some ways to see how many different kinds of beer I have drank over the past decade, and looking at the caps makes it clear that I have some clear favorites. I measured the bench and put forth a solid guess as tho how many caps I would need, both width and length. From there, I began to press them with my bottle capper so that bent caps could be made as straight as possible.

Step 2: Arrange the Caps

I knew I couldn't do anything as fancy as a picture (as, no George Washington in bottle caps!), so I aimed for a symmetrical design that played with the length of the bench and utilized a interesting color arrangement. I decided to split into left and right halves, and then do several long rows of Samuel Adams and New Belgium caps on the outside perimeter. Needless to say, this took me hours; not only to make sure that things were straight, but also to make certain that the caps were perfectly symmetrical.

Step 3: What I Should Have Done (but Didn't): Glue Caps Down

A friend of mine told me I should have done it. In the back of my mind I knew I should have done it. But I didn't do it. But, man, I wish I had. I should have glued those caps down when I had them where I wanted them.

Did I mention there are almost 750 caps on the table? Yeah...I should have glued them down. But the idea of gluing down 750 bottle caps seemed a bit more painful than I could bear.

In hindsight: I should have glued them down.

Step 4: Make Sure Its Level

Because of the product I was using--Art Resin, which I highly recommend--I had to ensure that the table was perfectly level. I did so, but with one small problem. The level clearly didn't work so well (more on this in a second). In any case, as the self-leveling resin works really well (in that it is very self-leveling), you need to have your surface level (a chalenge to me, given the 150-year-old house, and the aforementioned broken level).

Step 5: Build Dam on Short Edges

Once the caps were all in and the table was level, I needed to create a 'damn' for the short sides (there was a raised edge on the long sides of the table). I did this with painter's tape (I did a pass on the bottom so as to seal it). I then created a reinforcement with foam core and packing tape (just in case the force of the liquid was too much for the painter's tape.

Step 6: Art Resin

In theory, the application of the Art Resin should have been the easiest step. But this was a learning process and I had made many mistakes in the process, so this turned out to be rather challenging.

In theory, all you need to do with Art Resin is mix the resin and the hardener in equal measures, still for three minutes, and then pour. Because I had calculated how much resin I would need (depth of the table x length of the table x height of the caps), I could calculate how many cubic inches of the art resin I could need. Just about two gallons. So I mixed up two gallons of the stuff in a metal bucket. This was the exact amount I had purchased.

I knew I needed to be careful about how I added the resin to the table, as I didn't want the application of the liquid to upset the pattern of the caps. So I grabbed a kitchen spoon and began to use that to pour it onto my surface. After a few spoonfuls I began to notice that the air under the caps began to lift them up, and when more liquid was added they began to float, And then the caps began to move. Everywhere. And because the table was not perfectly flat, they began to drift to one side of the table. Panicked, I began to add the liquid more quickly until I had just about all of it on the table. And then I had 45 minutes to get the caps back where I wanted them to be.

This took about 75 minutes. Thankfully, the resin on the table remained in a rather liquid-like state and this allowed me to move the caps around with large wooden skewers. As the resin became a bit more viscous, it became easier. At the end of this time, I had almost all of the caps where they originally were, more or less, but because the table was not perfectly even, not all of the caps were completely covered.

No worries, I thought. I have more resin in the bucket. And that's when I tried to pour some more onto the table,a and I realized that my metal pail and kitchen spoon had been transformed into a Marcel Duchamp readymade work of art. Score.

Step 7: Hand Torch to Remove Bubbles

Honestly: one of the coolest parts of this project was blasting the table with a small hand torch to get rid of the bubbles. In doing so, I the table became covered with a really amazing glossy shine. Three days later, totally cured, it was ready to use. I suppose. but I have one step left...

Step 8: Apply Another Coat of Art Resin

Because not all of the caps are covered with art resit--some of the tops break through the surface--I bought some more art resin to cover the rest of them. To make this happen I need to do couple of steps.

  1. Make sure the table is level. And I mean really level this time. I hope I am smart enough to do this.
  2. Lightly scuff the surface with some sandpaper; I have been told this will not be noticeable, and that it's only to give the resin something to adhere to.
  3. Mix more art resin, pour on table.
  4. Again, blast it with the torch (yeah!).