Introduction: Live Edge Maple and Epoxy Table
Turn a slice of raw wood into a durable coffee table! This guide follows my process for finishing a cross-cut maple "cookie" slab with epoxy resin and attaching hairpin legs.
This live-edge piece of wood had some holes on top that I wanted to fill, and something had to be done to hold the bark on. So I decided to use bartop epoxy resin to finish the whole piece.
Epoxy resin doesn't stand up to high heat, so use coasters for coffee and cocoa and never put a hot pan or dish directly on the table.
This slab of maple came from my parents' property in Connecticut. I was told the spalting (pigmented ring patterns caused by fungi) made this wood very desirable.
Before beginning the transformation from slice to table, this cookie dried out in my parents' barn for about two years.
The supplies used for this project include, but are not limited to:
wood slab, reclaimed wood, or other planar surface
varying grits of sandpaper
hairpin legs and matching screws
drill and wood bits
polyurethane wood finish and foam brushes
Liquin or other finish for raw steel legs
stir sticks and/or mixing drill accessory
plastic drop sheet
E6000 or hot melt adhesive
dust-free curing area above 75 degrees F
This project is very messy and uses materials capable of causing permanent property damage and bodily harm. Follow all the manufacturer's instructions and safety warnings.
Step 1: Sanding
One side of my slab was smoother than the other to start out, so I picked the smoother side of the wood to start sanding. The underside does not need to be sanded, but it should be relatively flat.
I started with a rough grit of 60 or 80 and worked to smoother grits until it was satisfactorily flat and smooth.
Wear eye protection and a dusk mask while sanding, and hearing protection if your sander is loud. Sand outdoors if you can!
Step 2: Under Side Prep
After the sanding dust has settled, set your hunk of tree upside down on a soft surface like a table covered with a blanket.
Arrange the hairpin legs in your desired stable orientation. I chose to use only three legs because I knew it would be challenging to eliminate wobble due to the more uneven underside surface of the wood. A tripod never wobbles!
I was not concerned with making the table perfectly level-- if you are, you'll have to plane and/or sand the underside first to make it flat!
Mark the position of the mounting holes with a pencil.
Drill holes to match the recommended pilot size of your screws. You can use a piece of tape on the drill bit to limit the depth of each hole (and helps prevent you from accidentally drilling all the way through).
Sweep off the surface and finish using polyurethane. This water barrier will help prevent the table from swelling unevenly in humid weather, since the raw wood would absorb moisture while the epoxy top would not.
Step 3: Finish & Attach Legs
Arrange your hairpin legs on a protected work surface.
Unless you bought them finished, your steel legs will still be grimy from production.
Steel has traces of oil and welding dust that can be removed with rubbing alcohol.
Pro tip! You can also use solder paste stencil wipes if you happen to work in an electronics factory.
Keep wiping them down until the cloth is clean to be sure you removed all the dirt and oil.
Use a foam brush to apply Liquin oil paint coating on the newly-cleaned legs. Coat all surfaces and allow to dry for 24 hours.
Attach the legs to the table using #10 panhead lag screws and the holes you drilled earlier.
Whoo-hoo, it's almost a table! Carefully flip it right side up and look at it, isn't it pretty? But don't put anything on it. Especially not beverages. Any stains the wood gets now could be emphasized by the epoxy finish. Cover the table with plastic if you can't epoxy it right away.
Step 4: Epoxy Prep
Get your workspace set up! Don't skimp on proper prep, or you'll end up with rock-hard epoxy permanently stuck to your floor. Since you'll be pouring the epoxy over the edge, you need to prepare for lots of epoxy to land on the floor. I laid down cardboard under plastic sheeting. In case the plastic tears at all, the cardboard can absorb some drips. However do not use cardboard alone, as the epoxy can soak through!
Second, think temperature: this epoxy will only cure properly at 75 degrees or more. So your cold garage might be out unless you have some space heaters handy!
Third, think dust. The table needs to cure for 72 hours, and anything that lands on it in the first 10 will stick. Since I don't have any outdoor space and I have a cat and dog with hair, I built a makeshift dust tent using plastic drop cloth, masking tape, and a few chairs. If you've been sanding in the same space, wait at least 12 hours after vacuuming for the dust to settle before doing any epoxy work.
Not only does the room and wood need to be 75 degrees or warmer, but your epoxy should also be acclimated to the same. I stored mine in an upper cabinet in the kitchen for a day to ensure it was over 75 degrees the whole way though, and measured its temperature with my multimeter's IR thermometer.
Wear rubber gloves and safety glasses when working with epoxy! Work in a well-ventilated area and/or wear an organic fume respirator.
Now it's time to test the whole process. This was my first time taking on such a big, unforgiving epoxy project, so I wanted to practice to make sure I had prepared for all the problems that could occur. So I mixed up a two-ounce batch of epoxy (always pour the thicker epoxy into the thinner hardener) and mixed for five whole minutes, scraping down the sides.
I couldn't use my special mixing drill attachment for such a small batch, but a wooden chopstick works fine.
I set up some extra bits of maple from the same tree on elevated stilts on the plastic and poured on the small batch of mixed epoxy.
Use a foam brush to get the epoxy into the bark, or even to pick up a bit of the spill over from the plastic to drip it back into cracks. These pieces are for practice, so feel free to overwork them and test out different application methods.
Gently wave a heat gun over the whole surface to pop any bubbles. A blow torch or hair dryer can also work, just be careful not to burn the epoxy with the blow torch or push it around with the forceful air blowing out of the hair dryer (which can cause rippling).
Close the dust tent and let the epoxy cure for 24 hours. It'll take an additional two days to fully cure but can be handled after a day, when the risk of dust sticking to it has passed.
While the epoxy dries on your test pieces, you can do the final prep on the actual table. Flip it up on its side and use some E6000 to fill any through-holes at the bottom. You can use a flashlight or your phone screen to help find the holes and cracks that go all the way through. A toothpick can help spread it around to make a good seal.
Still you may not find them all, so be prepared for epoxy to drip out from new and exciting spots once you pour it on.
Wrap the legs in plastic and tape to protect them from epoxy drips, and get your table into the dust tent. I laid down additional plastic to cover the entire interior after seeing how flow-everywhere it was during the test. Use a dry lint-free cloth or duster to remove any last remaining surface particles.
Step 5: Mix & Pour
Set up your mixing tool in the drill. This thing can mix the epoxy way better than you could by hand. It may cost a few bucks but it can help better guarantee a well-cured result. Undermixed epoxy may form soft spots that are irreversible.
Prepare your first coat, called the seal coat. I prepped up a one-quart batch of epoxy by mixing at a slow speed with the drill for two minutes (time it!), then scraped down the sides and bottom of the container with a disposable mixing stick. Throw the stick away after, as it has undermixed epoxy on it. Then I mixed again with the drill on a slow speed for another three minutes.
Set the mixing tool to the side on the plastic, and allow epoxy on it to harden. You can break it off before mixing up another batch later.
Pour the epoxy slowly into holes and cracks first, then around the whole surface, allowing it to drip over the sides. The main purpose of this coat is to soak into the wood, so you really want to get it everywhere and it doesn't have to be smooth. Use a foam brush to push it around.
Curing epoxy is a going through an exothermic chemical reaction (generating heat), and it will cure more quickly in a small container than when spread thin across a surface. Use caution when filling large holes or cracks, as the greater volume of epoxy will shrink as it cures quickly and trap bubbles. Visit these sites frequently with a heat gun to pop accumulated bubbles.
Epoxy busted through my adhesive seal and slowly oozed from the under side of the table, draining the epoxy-filled cracks up top. As long as its a slow drip that doesn't completely drain, you're good to go; you can fill the holes the remainder of the way on the next coat.
Use that foam brush to paint and smush the epoxy into all the cracks on the bark. Don't worry about drips on the underside, you can sand them of after the epoxy is cured.
You can already see the grain-enhancing effect the epoxy has on the wood, nice! Use the heat gun to gently wave over the epoxy and pop all the bubbles.
Close up your dust tent and let the epoxy cure for six hours (four hours miniumum, 10 hours maximum) before applying the second coat of epoxy. If you wait longer than 10 hours, you'll have to sand the surface with 220-300 grit sandpaper and then wipe it down with acetone or rubbing alchol before applying another coat of epoxy.
I applied an intermediate seal coat to fill the leaky holes and get into the bark more, but it's not mandatory. If you had any leaks that disn't get sealed by the previous coat, you can use a hot glue gun to plug them shut before the next coat.
The last coat is the "flood" coat, and it's thicker, so mix up about three times more epoxy than you did for the seal coat. Slowly pour it in a zigzagging motion over the top surface of the table, allowing it to genrously flow over the edge. The epoxy will self level at about 1/8 inch thickness, but you can push it around a little first to encourage it into all the bark.
Use a heat gun again to get out the bubbles. Check it again every minute for the next five minutes to zap any new bubbles.
Close up the dust tent and allow the table to cure for 72 hours. Check that the temperature stays above 75 degrees the whole time!
Step 6: Finishing Touches
Take down your dust cover, remove the plastic from the legs and dispose of your epoxy-covered protection materials.
You can use sharp flush snips to chomp off any long drips, and use a sander to get rid of the rest of them. (I haven't bothered to do this finishing touch yet.)
Enjoy your new table! It'll easily become the new focal point in any room.
The epoxy surface is extremely durable and water-repellant. Remember to use coasters and trivets for hot things. Supposedly this epoxy could yellow slightly with lots of UV exposure, so take that into consideration for outdoor furniture or light-colored surfaces.