We've been collecting bottle caps for what seems like forever anticipating this table. After moving our collection with us to 4 different homes in 3 different states, we now have enough caps for this table plus a few matching stools. What makes this project different than a simple mosaic project is that we covered the table with a thick resin, creating a look quite similar to the tables at your favorite pub.
Step 1: Collect Bottle Caps.
-Become friends with bartenders.
-Cheap date night: Visit alleys behind local bars.
-Buy microbrews based on how cool the caps are, not how good the beer is.
-Get your friends to help you collect.
-When traveling overseas, buy beer instead of souvenirs.
Step 2: Find the Table.
You can do this on any sized surface. I've seen huge bars covered in pennies or old photos, but unless you want to deal with storing wheelbarrows of bottle caps, a bistro-sized or small end table is good for starters.
We used a Noresund IKEA table purchased in the As Is area at our local IKEA. I believe it is now discontinued. Sorry.
Link to Ikea store: http://www.ikea.com/ca/en/catalog/products/10073835
Step 3: Lay Out Your Design.
We started out with a random design, featuring just one bottle cap from every kind we had in our cap stash. This left room for some repeats, so we arranged a pattern around the circular shape of the table.
Step 4: Begin Gluing.
You might be thinking that you can just lay caps down and pour resin over them, but don't skip this step.
Since we were covering our table with clear resin, we weren't too concerned with the type of glue used. I started out with contact cement, moved on to furniture glue, then Liquid Nails for small projects, and even tried siliconized caulk. I ended up using plain old super glue. This was the best option and the one I suggest for you. Since the caps are going to get covered with resin, they just need to stick to the table, so a couple of dots are all you need. Don't go crazy, because messy excess glue will show through the resin when you're done.
Extra information regarding this step:
Although I suggest super glue for this project, the contact cement was truly the strongest adhesive. However, it took some time to use and was less forgiving. The silicone-based glues (Liquid Nails and caulk) seemed to shift or expand as it dried, which ultimately threw our design off. Super glue was the least elegant choice, but it dries relatively quickly and was rigid enough for this project. One note of caution: I discovered that Super Glue reacts with the hexane/toluene base of contact cement. They discolor and create a crystalline growth that resembles a fuzzy, white mold that must be removed with acetone. So pick one glue and go with it to avoid this kind of situation.
Step 5: Prepare Your Surface.
Once everything was glued down, I used blue painter's tape to cover the edge of my table just even with the surface of the table. This is usually recommended to avoid drips of resin from drying to sides of your project, but I did it to keep the duct tape from getting my table all sticky (see Step 6).
Don't forget to also tape up any holes on the surface of your table. I did this from underneath so that the blue tape wouldn't show once the resin was applied. If you have a table surface with lots of openings (like a metal mesh or expanded metal), you may want to get a piece of Plexiglas or MDF and use that for your tabletop.
Step 6: Build a Barrier.
If your table has a rim, you can skip this step. Since mine had no rim, I had to create a way to keep the resin at a depth that would cover the bottle caps without running off the side. I needed something sticky enough that it would create a barrier against resin, yet slick enough that it would not stick to the resin.
6a. I decided to use aluminum foil and duct tape. First, cut some long strips of duct tape to go around the edge of the table. Next, cut strips of foil about 3" wide and 1" longer than your strips of duct tape. Laying the strips of duct tape sticky side up, carefully cover about half of the duct tape with a strip of foil. See photo for details. The straighter you do this the better. You could also do this with wide painter's tape and eliminate the need to cover the edges of the table with painter's tape in Step 5.
6b. Tape the foil/tape strips around the edge of the table, making sure that the bottom edge of the foil falls just below the surface of the tabletop (the actual table, not the bottle caps). See photo for details. The reason: If the sticky surface of the duct tape is above the tabletop, the resin will stick to it and defeat the purpose of making an easy-release barrier. If the foil is too far below the tabletop, resin may seep over the edge, trapping blue tape underneath.
Step 7: Cover With Resin.
I won't get into how to mix the resin since there are instructions in the box, not to mention ample tutorials available online. UPDATE: The resin I used was Envirotex Lite Pour-on High Gloss Finish. You will, however, need to spread the resin to get into the gaps between the bottle caps as well as out to the edges. This is why your caps need to be glued down, as you will be running a rigid piece of paper or plastic over the surface of the caps. This is a great opportunity to use those fake credit cards that come in your junk mail. I used an old insurance card, but any stiff plastic or cardboard would suffice.
Remember that the resin will level itself out, so just make sure you have enough to fill in the gaps and even out any high areas. You may want to cover your work to keep any random hairs or dust from getting stuck. Now walk away for about 7 or 8 hours.
Step 8: Remove the Tape.
After the resin is fully set, carefully begin peeling away the foil/tape. If the foil was kept relatively smooth and the tape was not touching the resin, it should peel away from the hardened resin easily. The only area I had problems was where some resin seeped between overlapping ends of the foil/tape. Also, there were a couple of spots where the resin seeped over the edge of the blue tape slightly. These were both easily remedied using a hobby knife.
Step 9: And Voila!
You have a great new conversation piece for your home or patio.