Cry Me a River
I’m standing in my basement using a chisel to pry my latest woodworking project from my workbench, and I can’t help but wonder where I went wrong. Just a week earlier I was at a local hardware store buying liquid epoxy so I could make a live-edge river serving tray, and I was having a great chat with the guy behind the desk.
“Yeah, a lot more people are coming in and asking about this stuff,” he told me as a bought a litre of it. I wasn’t surprised. A quick search of Instagram reveals woodworkers around the world are experimenting more with liquid epoxy to make river tables, serving trays, wooden spoons, and more. It’s really impressive and quite beautiful work. When it’s done properly that is, and don’t you just hate it when other people make something difficult look so easy?
My first mistake was my choice of wood. I live in Cambridge, and there’s an excellent, independently owned wood mill just two minutes down the road from my house. They often sell off-cuts from larger slabs for anywhere from $8 to $20, and they’re all about 18″ long, 10″ wide, and about 1″ thick – perfect for practicing my resin skills. I spent about 20 minutes looking through a stack of live-edge hardwoods ranging from maple to cherry and eventually settled on a $12 piece of walnut.
I took the piece home and cut it in half lengthwise, and my intention was to use the two live edges to act as the river in the middle. Unfortunately, the ends weren’t cut square at the mill, so when I cut the piece in half and flipped one of the halves over to make the river, it only accentuated the disparity between the two pieces and they weren’t even close to being square at the ends.
Next, I built my dam that would hold the epoxy in the river channel. I used two pieces of 1″-square maple from the hardware store and screwed them to a piece of quarter-inch plywood. I then used red polypropylene tape to cover all the surfaces so the epoxy wouldn’t stick, and placed the walnut inside.
Deep down in my gut I knew the dam wouldn’t hold. The wood needed to be square at the end to make a tight seal, but my ambition got the best of me and with no table saw or mitre saw to straighten the edge, I just went with it. This was my second mistake.
Moving on, I read the directions on the epoxy several times, and it became very clear that if I didn’t mix the resin and the hardener well enough the mixture wouldn’t cure, and it’d be soft and pliable. So I mixed for 10 minutes then stirred in some blue pigment and poured it in the channel.
At first it seemed my fears would be for naught, and it looked like the epoxy would stay put, so I went upstairs to brew a cup of coffee. When I came back, however, the river was only three-quarters full.
“Ok, maybe there’s just a small leak,” I thought. “It’s flowed under the walnut a bit, but it won’t reach the edge of the plywood.” Wrong again. I watched in horror as the epoxy sloooooowly spread from beneath the walnut and flowed towards the edge of the plywood. Then poured over the edge of the plywood. Then spread across my workbench. I managed to shimmy a black garbage bag under the edge of the plywood to stop the epoxy from flowing onto the floor, but I didn’t dare pick up the plywood for fear of covering the floor (and myself) with a litre of epoxy. All I could do now was wait for it to harden.
Three days later, as I stand here with my chisel, scraping and prying the plywood free of my workbench, one happy thought enters my mind.
“At least I mixed it well enough.”