Epoxy resin has become an incredibly popular material for DIY woodworking projects. When combined with wood, epoxy resin allows you to create stunning pieces like river tables, live edge tables, charcuterie boards, coasters, and more. While working with epoxy resin may seem intimidating at first, it’s actually quite simple once you understand the basics. In this comprehensive guide, we’ll walk you through everything you need to know about working with epoxy resin and wood.
What is Epoxy Resin?
Epoxy resin is a two-part adhesive made up of an epoxy polymer and a polyamine hardener. When combined, these two components chemically react and harden into a rigid plastic material. Epoxy resin is valued for its strong adhesive properties, durability, water resistance, and high gloss finish.
Unlike other adhesives, epoxy resin doesn’t just sit on the surface of materials, it actually bonds at a molecular level. This makes it incredibly effective for adhesion, protection, and coating. When used with wood, the epoxy resin penetrates the porous structure of the wood and hardens, acting as a sealant and glue.
Benefits of Using Epoxy Resin with Wood
There are several key benefits that make epoxy resin ideal for woodworking projects:
The molecular bonding of epoxy resin to wood creates an incredibly strong, long-lasting bond. This allows you to adhere nearly any materials like wood, glass, metal, fiberglass, stone, ceramics, etc.
Durable & Water Resistant
Once fully cured, epoxy resin forms a hard, durable plastic that is water, chemical, stain, and scratch resistant. This makes it perfect for items like tables, bars, and countertops that will see heavy use.
High Gloss Finish
Epoxy resin dries to a brilliant high-gloss finish, allowing you to achieve stunning effects. It really makes the wood grains pop beautifully.
When used with techniques like live edge tables or river pours, epoxy resin adds incredible depth and dimension to wood surfaces. This eye-catching effect just isn’t possible with other adhesives.
Easy to Color
Epoxy resin can be tinted with pigments, dyes, and other media. This allows you to add color effects to wood projects. Metallic powders can also add a shimmery iridescence.
Epoxy resin can be poured or used as a coating. You can make anything from jewelry to bar tops with this versatile adhesive. It also comes in various formulations for different applications.
Safety Tips When Working with Epoxy Resin
While epoxy resin is relatively safe to work with, there are some important safety tips to keep in mind:
- Work in a well-ventilated area – Epoxy fumes can cause dizziness, headaches, and nausea if you inhale too much. Opening windows and wearing a respirator mask helps.
- Wear gloves & safety goggles – Epoxy resin can irritate bare skin and eyes. Always wear gloves and goggles for protection.
- Avoid skin contact – If epoxy does get on your skin, wash off immediately with warm soapy water to avoid rashes. Don’t wear exposed jewelry that resin could get stuck under.
- Check for allergies – A small percentage of people are allergic to epoxy resin. If you’ve never worked with epoxy before, do a small test first.
- Clean up spills immediately – Don’t allow epoxy to sit on surfaces as it will be nearly impossible to remove once cured.
- Follow manufacturers safety instructions – Read product labels and MSDS sheets carefully. Follow all safety warnings and directions.
- Avoid ingesting epoxy – Don’t eat or drink near resin. Wash your hands after use. Epoxy resin that has not fully cured may be toxic if ingested.
With some basic safety precautions, you can safely work with epoxy resin. Just be sure to use common sense and work in a clean, organized manner.
Types of Epoxy Resin
There are several different types of epoxy resin available. Choosing the right formula for your project is important:
Standard 5:1 Epoxy Resin
This is the most common ratio of resin to hardener, with 5 parts resin to 1 part hardener. It cures to a rigid plastic good for most applications like coating and bonding wood. The mixture cures in 24 hours at room temperature.
Fast Cure Epoxy Resin
As the name suggests, fast cure epoxy hardens much quicker than standard resin, in just 6-8 hours. The downside is it has a shorter working time and the end result is more brittle. Great for small repairs and jewelry.
100% Solids Epoxy Coating
This is a thick non-drip formula used as a coating for bar and table tops. It self-levels nicely and is more durable than standard resin. Cures in 5-7 days.
UV resin cures in just minutes under ultraviolet light. Most often used for jewelry, crafts, and small repairs that need to harden quickly. Limitations are that it has to remain shallow and clear.
An epoxy putty made into a moldable dough. It air dries in 24 hours and is sandable and drillable when cured. Perfect for gap filling and repairs.
For most woodworking projects like river tables, live edge tables, and charcuterie boards, a standard 80-90 minute cure time epoxy resin is recommended. This gives you enough working time while still hardening fully in 24 hours.
How to Choose the Right Epoxy Resin
When selecting an epoxy resin, there are a few key factors to consider:
- Intended Use – Select an epoxy suited for your specific project like coating, bonding, gap filling, etc.
- Cure Time – Fast cure epoxies work best for time-sensitive projects while standard cure epoxy provides longer working time for large pours and coating.
- Viscosity – Thicker resins are great for coating as they are less likely to drip. Thinner viscosity works well for absorption into porous material.
- Temperature Resistance – If your project will be exposed to high temps, choose a high heat epoxy.
- UV Resistance – For projects exposed to sunlight, opt for a UV resistant, non-yellowing formula.
- Color – Some epoxies cure crystal clear while others have a slight yellowish tint. Choose accordingly.
- Budget – Be aware of the price difference between budget and premium epoxies in terms of quality.
Test any new epoxy on scrap material first before committing to a large project. This helps familiarize yourself with the resin’s properties.
How to Prepare Wood for Epoxy Resin
Proper preparation is crucial for the epoxy resin to adhere correctly to the wood surface. Here’s how to prepare wood for epoxy:
Sand the Wood
Use coarse 80-120 grit sandpaper to sand and flatten the wood surface. this roughs up the wood so the epoxy can penetrate better.
Clean the Surface
Wipe away all dust with a tack cloth. Make sure the wood is completely clean and dry. Even a small amount of grease, oil or moisture will prevent epoxy from bonding.
Seal Knots & Resinous Wood
Apply dedicated knot sealer to any knots in soft woods like pine or fir. This prevents resin bleed-through in the final piece.
Filling Gaps & Holes
Fill any large cracks, gouges, or nail holes with epoxy paste filler. Allow to fully harden before sanding flush.
Apply Seal Coat
For very porous woods like oak, apply a thin seal coat of epoxy diluted 10% with denatured alcohol. This primes the wood for the final pour.
Lightly sand the surface again with 220 grit after sealing and before pouring final resin coat.
Following these simple steps allows the epoxy resin to fully penetrate and bond to the bare wood for optimal adhesion.
How to Mix and Apply Epoxy Resin
Once you have prepped the wood surface, it’s time to mix and pour the epoxy resin. Here’s a step-by-step guide:
Allow Resin to Reach Room Temp
Always keep epoxy resin at room temperature before using. Cold resin will not set properly. Take it out of storage several hours before mixing.
Cover your work area with plastic sheeting to prevent drips and spills. Keep paper towels and denatured alcohol handy for clean up.
Mix Resin & Hardener
Combine resin and hardener according to manufacturer directions, typically a 5:1 ratio by volume. Stir thoroughly for 3-5 minutes to integrate.
Optional – Add Colorants
Once mixed, you can add liquid or powder color pigments, dyes, or other media and stir into the epoxy to tint it. Metallic powders create nice effects.
Pour Epoxy and Spread Evenly
Slowly pour epoxy over wood surface. Use a foam brush, plastic spreader, or popsicle stick to spread evenly. Cover entire surface 1/8″ thick.
Lightly pass propane torch over surface to pop any air bubbles. Do not overheat. Alternatively, you can use a lighter, hair dryer on low, or heat gun on low setting.
Allow Resin to Self-Level
Leave epoxy to self-level for 30-60 minutes. After this you can still lightly torch surface again to eliminate any remaining tiny bubbles.
Epoxy resin typically takes 24 hours to fully harden. Do not move or alter project until completely cured.
Follow all manufacturer instructions as there may be slight variations between brands. Take care not mix too much resin at once, as you typically only have 45-90 minutes of working time before it starts to harden.
Epoxy Resin Techniques for Woodworking Projects
Now that you understand the basics, let’s go over some of the most popular epoxy resin techniques used with wood:
Live Edge Epoxy Resin River Tables
This stunning style of table features a “river” of clear epoxy resin flowing down the middle to accentuate the live tree edge slab. It adds gorgeous depth and dimension. Use thick coating resin for best results.
Charcuterie & Serving Boards
You can coat these boards with a thin layer of colored or clear epoxy resin to add protection and visual appeal. Metallic epoxy makes a great accent.
Wood Signs & Wall Art
Adding names, quotes, or designs to wood signs using epoxy resin takes them to the next level. You can also coat the entire surface.
Filling Knots & Cracks
Knots, cracks, and defects become a decorative feature when filled with colored epoxy. It highlights the natural imperfections.
Inlays & Decoupage
Small objects like photos, flowers, fabric, or crushed stone can be inset into the wood using dams or tape to hold them in place as the epoxy is poured.
Coating just the outer live edges of a table or charcuterie board with metallic epoxy resin creates a striking gilded frame effect.
Vacuum impregnation of thin epoxy deep into cracked or rotting wood can stabilize and strengthen it. Often used on old barn boards.
There are endless possibilities for using epoxy resin with wood crafts. Let your creativity run wild! Start with small test pieces to hone your technique before moving onto large expensive slabs.
Frequently Asked Questions
What’s the difference between epoxy resin and polyurethane?
The main differences are that epoxy chemically bonds to surfaces while polyurethane sits on top. Epoxy is more durable, water-resistant, and heat-resistant. Polyurethane is low odor and lower cost but less scratch resistant.
Can epoxy resin yellow over time?
Lower quality epoxy resins yellow with UV exposure. Opt for a UV resistant, non-yellowing formula for any projects exposed to sunlight. Hardener mix ratio also impacts yellowing.
Is it safe to use epoxy resin indoors?
Epoxy resin is safe for indoor use as long as you work in a well-ventilated area. Open windows, use fans, and take breaks from the fumes. Those sensitive to chemicals may prefer to work outdoors.
Can epoxy resin go on top of polyurethane?
Yes, you can apply epoxy resin over cured polyurethane. Just ensure the surface is cleaned and sanded first to help with adhesion. Always test compatibility on scrap first.
How do I get bubbled in epoxy resin out?
Lightly pass a propane torch over surface right after pouring to pop bubbles before resin begins to harden. Don’t overheat. A hair dryer or heat gun on low works too.
What wood doesn’t work well with epoxy resin?
Soft porous woods like pine, poplar, and basswood absorb epoxy unevenly. Very oily woods can prevent adhesion. Stick with denser hardwoods for best results. Always test resin on a wood sample first.
Working with epoxy resin and wood may seem challenging when you’re starting out, but have patience. There is definitely a learning curve. With a little practice, you’ll be creating stunning woodworking projects in no time!