The River Runs Through It




About: Freelance woodworker by nights and weekends.

One of the things I love about freelancing is that I can let my imagination go wild and crazy at times. And this project definitely falls into that category. For a few months during my long travel back and forth to work I thought about making a unique coffee table and eventually settled on one that incorporated LED lights and water. The only problem was that wood and water are not a good mix and I had to do a lot of research as to how to permanently waterproof wood. My endeavor finally landed me at boat making shops where I was able to ask a lot of questions. One shop was using fiberglass cloth mixed with liquid fiber glass. These material dry like glass and provide a barrier between the wood and water. Another place I looked at was using epoxy resin and similar to the fiberglass, it dries like glass and it can be sanded very well. At the end, my choice was epoxy resin because the seller convinced me that it had a much better penetration. So, not only it creates a barrier, it also penetrates into the wood fiber. This will ensure the epoxy does not sweet and cause damage to the wood.

The first thing I did was to choose my wood. Several years ago, I purchased a sassafras tree that was unusually big; I mean huge. It was over 29” in diameter! Here is what these slabs looked like.

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Step 1: Dragging the Beast Near the Shop

One nice thing about sassafras is that it is fairly light

and easy to work with although one has to take preventive measures to avoid inhaling the dust due its toxicity. I ended up baking my truck to the storage shed and dragged the slab on the truck bed and drove it to the site which is only about 80 feet away.

Step 2: Flattening

There were a few dips on the slab that needed to be made level with the rest of the surface and that is where the good old hand plane can come to use. This is a tedious job but it does provide a good cardio exercise. There are other methods of flattening a surface like this with for example a router sled but as I mentioned, the dust is toxic.

Step 3: It Takes a Beast to Cut a Beast

I don't know if you've ever seen one of these or not but a saw like this deserve a lot of respect during the operation the kickback can be fatal. The blade is more than 6" bigger than a regular table saw.

I wanted this to be a "waterfall" table meaning the leg grain follows the surface grain. In order to do this, the leg has to be part of the top and to achieve that, the leg section is cut at a 45 degrees angle. I measured the leg section, used a board as a guide, took a deep breath and made the cut with all my fingers and the rest of my anatomy still intact.

Step 4: Final Planing.

Switching to my smaller planes, the surface was cleaned out and ready for the fun part.

Step 5: Let's Make It Flow!

Initially, I was going to cut a winding river along the surface and be done with it but as the project gets closer to the end, I have a tendency to do whatever it takes to prolong it. Instead of one river, I ended up cutting enough grooves to have two lakes and two rivers. Then the thinking was, two lakes and two rivers with water inside; BOOOOORING! Then the light bulb came on; make the water flow!

There were several issues to consider:

1- How to circulate the water

2- What type of plumbing to use

3- How to calculate the volume so the amount of water circulates correctly

The picture above shows the leg area with on orifice cut out for the water to flow down.

Step 6: Why Not Make It Shine As Well??

The next thing that helped me prolong this project even more was the idea of incorporating LED lights under the lakes and rivers so the flow of water can illuminate and perhaps make some cool looking images. After much thought again the light came on in my head. I ordered a few 1/4" Plexiglas rods to direct the light from the LED bulbs to the surface as well as providing support for the glass top. As it can be seen, there needs to be a ledge for the glass to sit on. These cavities were created using a router.

Another tricky part was aligning the orifice from the top to leg so none of the jointed wood get exposed to the water. As is shown in picture above I ended up overcompensating to ensure the wood would be in contact with water. It was imperative that the this opening to be large enough as to not create water pressure during circulation.

Step 7: Oh, No. Almost Finished!

Cutting the 1/4" glass was very difficult especially at the ends where it rounded off. No matter how hard I tried and pushed the cutter down, the piece at the ends would not break lose without a help of the pliers. I am convinced that if I had some sort of a pattern it would not have been as hard; 3 or 4 pieces of glass were discarded as the result.

In picture above all the holes to connect the lakes and rivers are drilled out and glass pieces have been dry fitted.

Step 8: May As Well Add Some Jewels and Mica to the Mix

The first picture shows the finished piece. As I poured the epoxy on I decided to add some jewels to it and since it was wet, they adhered to the epoxy. Second picture is the holding tank and it is made of 4" PVC pipe, a lid which is actually the bottom and a screw on top with a 1" fitting for the clear hose to go through. The hose is epoxied to the table top where the water begins to flow from the first lake. The third picture shows the plumbing process which compose of 3/4" PVC with a drain plug slightly at an angel to drain all the water as needed. The other end of the PVC from the water tank goes straight into the waterfall area. The third and 4th pictures show the wiring that travel through routed grooves. Ans the last picture is the entire table. When I filled the tank with water I thought heck, why not add some mica which is like glitter to it. After all, if I don't like it, it can easily be drained. I have provided two videos one with the pump running and one without it running.

Thank you for looking and all comments and votes are welcomed.

One word of caution. If you plan on making something similar to this, be advised that just as wood and water are not necessary a good combination unless done correctly, electricity and water are definitely a bad mix if you are careless.

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    2 years ago

    This project is awesome well done. Want to try something similar.

    1 reply

    Reply 2 years ago

    Thank you. Please feel free to contact me for details.