Replacing a cheap 5€ IKEA Lack coffee table with a beautiful wood & epoxy version
The IKEA Lack coffe table is super cheap and looks ok. If that is not enough for you here is the perfect DIY project for enthusiasts: I built a beautiful coffee table out of epoxy & white oak wood to replace the Lack table.
The epoxy table idea
I have been building (small) furniture pieces, like my headphone holders and some shelves, for a long time now. At one point I was looking for a new project and decided to replace my cheap Lack table from IKEA with a better looking one.
The general form factor was quite nice though, so I decided to stick with a square table top of about 55 by 55 cm. I was looking for a thin table top and graceful legs for a subtle piece of furniture.
The color and material was also pretty clear to me. Most of my furniture, as well as the floor, in the room is made from white oak, so I decided to use the same wood here. At the time epoxy “river tables” were THE hype. I had never worked with epoxy before, so I decided to give it a try. I have some black accents in the room, so I was looking to combine white oak with black epoxy.
Now live edge river tables are great… but there are just too many of them. I wanted something slightly different. I have a couple of hexagonal shapes painted to my walls. While watching these I decided to go with the same shape here: easy to produce but still interesting to look at. The idea was to place a set of hexagonal wood pieces into the desk with epoxy flowing around.
I finished the design during the build. I started by cutting the wooden hexagons and placed them on the old Lack table to test out different designs.
During this project I cooperated with a friend of mine. Instead of building just one table we decided to build two: the smaller coffee table for me and a much bigger one in a slightly different design for him. This way we could share materials and work and just in general have a good time.
We started by buying material. He ordered epoxy resin, hardener, black color and various extra equipment from a web store and we went to the local hardware store together to look for some white oak. Fortunately they had some nice rough cut wood available.
We also got some laminated plywood and a lot of tape to build the form needed to pour the epoxy.
Building the forms
The first step was to build a form that we could place the wood in and then pour the epoxy around. The trick here is to avoid the epoxy sticking to that form so that they can be properly separated after curing. We did this by putting the (transparent) tape over all surfaces of the wood. The laminated wood would give us a plane enough surface to properly do this.
The building of these forms was quite simple. We cut a couple of pieces of the wood to rough dimensions on a table saw and screwed them together with wood screws. Actually taping all the (inner) surfaces turned out to take most of the time. The most tricky part was taping the edges without the tape having wrinkles that would show up in the pour later.
The inner dimensions of these boxes will define the size of the tables later. It is also a good idea to not glue them together, but just use screws. That way they can easily be disassembled later when removing the pour from them.
Preparing the wood
The next step was preparing the oak wood. First I cut down the wood to very rough sized squares on the table saw. Then I used a template to draw the final shape of an equal sided hexagon onto each of the pieces. Again using the the table saw with the fence set to the desired diameter of the hexagons I started cutting the first sides. Then turning them around the second opposite side.
Then I built a small jig with a 60° angle to push all pieces through the table saw again to cut another side. Then using the fence to cut the opposite side again. Afterwards I repeated the process for the final two sides.
Then, after a lot of sanding, I had a small tower of wooden hexagons I could work with.
Preparing the wood for the bigger table was done by my friend. This was mostly about finding the best looking parts of the wood, cutting them to size and removing the bark to clean up the edges.
Preparing the pour
Now we had to prepare for the pour. During some tests we learned the first important lesson here: once the epoxy is mixed with hardener and the reaction starts you can not wait too long before pouring. The epoxy gets really hot really fast. Make sure to use proper equipment. We tried once to use a normal plastic cup for mixing and it melted! Also be sure to wear a mask and work outside to avoid breathing in the fumes from the epoxy.
Before pouring I had to decide on a final layout for my table. For testing I put the wooden hexagons on the existing Lack table until I found a version I really liked.
Then it was time to put the hexagons into the form. To avoid them moving around while pouring the epoxy we decided to fixate them with a drop of glue. I also hoped this would avoid getting epoxy under them but bad luck with that. In some places a small amount of epoxy did creep under the wood. If you have to avoid that try sealing the edges with something like silicone before pouring.
For the other table we clamped down the two pieces of wood, making sure to use sacrificial wooden pieces to avoid damaging the nice oak wood.
Now here is another very important lesson: make sure your forms (or the tables they sit on) are actually level! Although you can see the spirit level in the picture we forgot to properly check that which resulted in a lot of work later in the process.
Pouring the epoxy
Adding the epoxy to the table tops is a multi-step process. When mixing epoxy and the hardener a chemical reaction takes place which produces a lot of heat. If you pour too much epoxy at the same time the heat will not be able to dissipate properly. According to our research pouring about 1 cm epoxy at a time should be safe. As each table top would be between 2 and 3 cm thick we decided to do this in three rounds.
Each time we would start by mixing both epoxy and hardener in the prepared plastic cups with a certain ratio. Then we could add the black color pigments and start mixing everything for some time. Once everything is properly mixed (and hopefully not too hot yet) it is time to pour the epoxy into the prepared forms.
As the epoxy should still be quite liquid at this point it will level itself out. Still be careful to get the same amount of epoxy to each part of the pour if possible. Then you have to wait for it to cure. While fully curing takes a couple of hours it starts getting solid quite quickly. Until that happens it is a good idea to remove as many air bubbles trapped in the epoxy as possible. We decided to use a small flaming torch for this, which worked quite well.
We also noticed that the color pigments always started to clump together and sink to the bottom. Therefore we also regularly steered the epoxy. This resulted in very interesting patterns.
Second & final pour
After finishing the first pour we waited for a couple of hours to make sure the epoxy properly cured. Afterwards we pretty much repeated the same process.
The third and final pour was also done in a similar fashion. We made sure to pour so much epoxy that it was ever so slightly overflowing onto the wood. This way we could be sure that there is clean epoxy surface later, level with the wood.
It was also important to make sure the patterns from the color pigments in the epoxy looked good for this third pour. Finally we poured some more epoxy over small holes in the wood for the second, bigger table. Then waited again to make sure everything was properly cured.
Getting a plane surface
The epoxy cures very nicely into a pretty flat surface. Still some additional work is needed to get a proper surface where wood and epoxy are on exactly the same level. Also as described earlier, we made the mistake of not properly leveling everything before pouring, so in our case we had a height difference of nearly 5 mm between different parts of the table tops.
We do not have access to a planer or a CNC router so we decided to build a small jig to plane the table tops with a handheld router. It is a very simple construction: a base built from the same laminated wood as the boxes, with two long pieces of wood on each side as a rail. Another piece built from two aluminum angles can be moved across the table top, while the router can be moved back and forth on the aluminum rails. This way it can be moved in a plane parallel to the base of the jig.
This jig is super easy to build and really simple to use. I advice you to get the biggest routing bit you can find though, as otherwise this process takes a lot (and I mean a lot!) of time. It will also produce a huge amount of wood and epoxy chips that you have to remove.
If this takes too long you might get away with just planing one side and just sanding the lower side of the table.
Cleaning up the edges
After finishing the flattening process we cleaned up the edges of the tables. First we cut them to the final size on the table saw, then we used a routing bit to cut a chamfer into the edges of the table.
Finishing the surface
At this point the table is mostly ready. The last step is to finish the surface. This means a lot of sanding. We sanded with a random orbit sander through three different grids and then used polish to get the surface as smooth as possible. It is really important to get this done right to get back the clean and shining surface of the epoxy.
In the end you could use oil or another clear layer of epoxy to seal the surface but mine has help up pretty well without so far (although I still plan on adding some oil finish).
The final step before using the table is adding legs. I believe a lot of legs could work with this table, but I decided to get some black powdered hairpin legs.
While I still very much like the leg design they turned out not to be perfect for this small table. They slightly lean away from the table which puts a constant force on the outer edges of the table where the legs are connected to. Over time this resulted in a small deformation. The table was warping, the outer edges moving up. I was able to fix this by adding two supporting steel profiles under the table top. The bigger table does not seem to have the same problem.
Was it worth it?
Definitely! We built those tables about a year ago and I still think they look awesome. It was a lot of work but none of it really difficult. The tools used were also pretty basic so I am confident that everyone with basic building skills would be able to do this.
The epoxy and wood were quite costly but buying a table of a similar design would have been much more expensive. I can really recommend this to anyone looking for a fun DIY project. There are so many colors for the epoxy and geometries for the wood that you can combine for your own unique table design.