Making an epoxy resin river table can be a challenging process, but when finished properly, the table will speak for itself. We get a lot of requests for custom river tables and epoxy is among the most popular of all the finishes we use. If you want to build a trendy table for your dining room, keep reading this guide!
What Is A River Table?
A river table is a table made from two pieces of live edge slab, often from the same slab, with epoxy resin poured in the middle. The epoxy hardens and creates a “river” of epoxy through the center of the two slab pieces. Below is a picture of a finished river table.
How To Make a River Table – Step By Step
Time needed: 3 days.
Below is the step by step process for making an epoxy river table!
- Choose Your Wood Slab
The first step to making a live edge river table is choosing a slab for your top. Make sure it’s both air and kiln dried, especially for larger tables so that it doesn’t warp. The most popular slabs our customers ask for when we’re building river tables are black walnut and maple, but many species of slabs are available. For larger tables, two slabs may be needed.
- Cut the slab
Cut the slab in half down the middle using a track saw. Then, square the edges so that you can put your table inside of a mold.
- Flatten the Slab
Flattening the slab is a process of using a slab flatter or router with a track system to remove the high spots on a slab. This ensures your slab will be flat when it’s made into a table. A flattener will remove any warping that occurred during the drying process.
- Remove the Bark and Sand the Live Edge
This is an important step as it will help the epoxy bond to the slab. We typically start sanding the slab using an 80 grit sandpaper. After each pass, we work our way up to a finer grit, until we finish sand it with 220. Be sure to remove all bark or lose wood from the edges of the slab.
- Create a Mold
This step is essential to the finished result. Place 2″ thick wood around the pieces of slab once they’re positioned where you’d like them. We use a flat piece of 3/8″ plastic under the wood so that the epoxy will dry on a flat surface.
Please note, the wider you put the slabs apart, the more difficult the pour of epoxy will be and the more expensive you’re project will be. Epoxy is about $80 per gallon, so it adds up quickly on large river table builds.
To build the mold, use wood covered in sheathing tape. We use 2x4s for the ends and 1x4s for the sides.
- Caulk the Ends, the Bottom, and the Top of the Slab
You’ll want to use caulk to create a dam so the epoxy doesn’t flow over the entire table when you pour it. Caulk will help keep this from occurring. Caulk should also go on the bottom of the wood slab and on the ends of the mold.
- Clamp the Wood Slabs In Place
Next you’ll want to use parallel clamps to hold the wood in place. We put these vertically to hold the slab flat on the piece of plastic. We use small blocks and long 2×6 lumber to apply pressure to each size and hold the tabletop flat.
The picture below is from the first layer of epoxy, but shows how to set your clamps.
- Mix Your Test Coat of Epoxy Resin
Mix your epoxy resin according to the instructions provided by the manufacturer. Each manufacture can require different instructions for mixing the resin.
If you plan on coloring the epoxy, this is usually the time to do so. If you bought a pigment, simply follow the instructions on the packaging to add it to your epoxy. You can choose from many colors for your epoxy, including blue, turquoise, red, yellow, green, purple, orange, black and more.
We pour a thin first coat and let it dry to ensure we have the correct mixture and the color the customer likes. This also shows us if we have any leaks that need to be fixed in our mold
- Mix Your Deep Pour Epoxy and Pour Into The River Until Filled
We use a deep pour epoxy so we can pour our entire piece in one pour. Typically this will take 5-15 gallons depending on the size of the table and width/depth of the epoxy river. The table above used 10 gallons of epoxy. Be sure to mix it for at least 5 minutes to ensure it’s thoroughly mixed. If the epoxy isn’t mixed properly, the epoxy may not get hot enough to harden or may overheat and break. Pictured below is epoxy made by Woodwright finishes after it’s mixed.
- Let the Epoxy dry overnight
The epoxy should dry overnight. Typically the river will harden, but the overflow of deep pour epoxy will be sticky. This may harden with time, or can be sanded off.
- Remove the Mold
This step is as simple as it sounds. Simply remove the clamps and any screws from the mold after your epoxy has hardened. We typically let the tables harden overnight in a room that’s sealed off to ensure we won’t have any bugs or flies in the epoxy when we arrive the next day.
You’ll likely need to use a wooden wedge to get the top off of the plastic.
- Flatten the Slab
This step is typically recommended if you have any low spots on the slab or epoxy river. Flattening the slab is faster than sanding, so it’ll save you time if you have any low spots that need to be addressed.
- Sand Your Tabletop
This step is essential to getting a beautiful river table. We typically sand the finished tops on our wide belt sander up to 220 grit. Then, we will sand it using an orbital sander until smooth. This usually requires going up to at least 400 grit.
- Cut to Exact Size
We cut our tables to exact size after epoxy is poured. We typically make them 3-6″ longer and wider than needed to have a little margin for error during the epoxy pouring process!
- Router the Edges
Unless told not to by the customer, we always router the edges on the tables so they have a 1/8″ rounded edge. If you don’t do this, the edges are sharp. The rounded edges are then sanded using 320 grit sandpaper making them smooth to the touch.
- Finish the Table Top
Now that your table is about complete, it’s time to finish the top. There are many options for this, including a clear epoxy resin finish, using oil, or even using polyurethane.
Typically for these, we will use a thin coat of clear epoxy, then polish it with a buffer and polishing compound.
Other finishes you can choose from include oil and polyurethane. Oil will give your table a beautiful finished look, that appears more natural.
Polyurethane will give it a shine similar to clear epoxy.
- Sand the Bottom
If you used polyurethane or epoxy, it’s likely that there are small drips on the bottom of your table. Simply sand these off and touch up the bottom with the finish if needed.
- Mount the Legs or Base
Typically we use metal legs that we have fabricated at a local machine shop. There are many suppliers of legs for these tables.
For the bases we use, we router the bottom of the river table, then we attach it using bolts.
Be sure to mount it across the entire table to help hold it flat for years to come.
We also recommend using furniture felt on the bottom of metal and wood bases to keep the table from scratching hardwood floors.
The particular river table pictured doesn’t have a metal base because we put it on top of a custom built kitchen island!
Now, your table is complete and ready to enjoy for years to come! Below is how the top looked once it was finished!
Common FAQs About Building River Tables
A river table’s cost will vary based on the wood type you use and amount of epoxy you need. For a dining room table, you’ll typically spend $400-$1200 on the live edge slab, and up to $1200 on the epoxy, as it costs about $80 per gallon.
The average river table we build costs around $2000 before labor.
This answer will vary based on who you ask. There are many brands and suppliers of epoxy that will work for your project, just be sure to follow the instructions provided for that specific brand, as they do vary.
At Lancaster Live Edge, we typically use Woodright epoxy for our river table projects.
Yes, the process for this is very similar. When the slab is in the middle and the epoxy is on the outside, it’s known as a “reverse river table”.
You can if you have the right equipment. Cutting live edge slabs is a labor and time-intensive process. If you’re interested in cutting your own slabs, click here to read our guide.
Often live edge slab dealers will offer this as a service for a fee. We offer this as an option for every slab we sell.
Making a river table will likely take you at least 6 hours. This doesn’t include the time for the epoxy to dry.
When we build river tables, it typically takes a few days since we pour the epoxy in multiple layers and also have hours in the flattening, sanding, and finishing processes.
Need To Hire A River Table Builder? Trust The Experts At Lancaster Live Edge.
At Lancaster Live Edge, we specialize in custom live edge slab tables. This includes epoxy river tables, reverse river tables, and more. If you’re interested in seeing our work, click here to view our inventory of dining room tables or request a quote online!
Nolan is one of the original members of the team at Lancaster Live Edge. Formerly, Nolan was the Marketing and Sales Manager at our company, and he also spent several hours a day building tables and custom furniture in our shop. Now, Nolan helps with our marketing initiatives. Prior to his time at Lancaster Live Edge, Nolan worked for years for his family’s custom home building company and has built everything from custom furniture to cabins to home additions.
Have questions about building river tables? Drop us a comment below and we’ll respond as quickly as we can if we have any insights to share.