Thinking about building your own live edge river table? Check out this project where I show you exactly how to build your own, and walk you through each step 1-by-1!
I met Brandy Aube a few years ago at a Makers conference and checking out her work, it just blew me away so when I was asked by Make48 to pick a partner to collaborate on a project with, she instantly came to mind.
Watch HERE for a great video covering Brandy and her work if you want to hear more about her story.
We started this adventure by three of us moving out the 500 lb slab that I’ll use to make the top of the table. It’s a piece of Tulip wood brought all the way from Missouri and I’ll tell ya this, it was one stunning piece of wood.
If you’re going to be picking a slab to make your own table, then one thing I would recommend is checking it’s moisture content first. If the slab is not properly dried or all the way dried, then it’s going to move on you and create problems.
I personally use a Wagner Pinless meter. A lot of meters have pins that stick slightly into the surface of the wood but this can be misleading. Pinless is not only non damaging but it gives you a reading that measured moisture IN the wood and not ON the wood. This particular meter, the Orion 950, will also calculate if a slab is at the critical threshold where it has reached its equilibrium with the environment and will no longer gain or lose moisture. I say slab, but you can also use this on wood flooring or any other wooden projects. You can also connect it to your phone using Bluetooth and get all sort of data.
Thankfully, this slab was donated and driven down by Millers Rustic Sawmill for this charity build, and was not only dried perfectly but Bucky also flattened it for me so I could hop straight into work on it.
An organization called Make48 set up this entire build.
The primise is Makers have 48 hours to complete a project, then that project typically gets donated to an organization or charity.
The receiving organization in this project is the River Kelly Fund. A family very unfortunately lost their 3 year old son to a drowning accident. His name was River so I’ll be making his family a river table as a tribute to his life.
The tricky part here is river tables take a very long time because of how long it takes to cure the epoxy used. To meet within the timeframe, I thought instead of cutting the slab and having 3” of epoxy to pour for the river, what about just engraving my own river? Then I would be able to dictate not only it’s placement and flow, but also it’s depth.
It’s easy to place a square object on a CNC and cut whatever intricate pattern you want, because you have references to tell the machine exactly where to start and stop. HOwever, you don’t have that on a live edge slab. So the first challenge to figure out was how to get an accurate cut on an organic piece of material.
Well thankfully, ShopBot CNC also came to Texas for the build to assist and the expert suggested taking a photo of the slab so that it could be imported into the computer then I could draw directly on the image to create the river I wanted.
The Tulip slab had so many beautiful colors and voids over on one side so I drew the heaviest part of the river on the opposite side in order to try and balance it out. I let the natural grain of the wood dictate the flow and mostly the width of the river so that the added feature looked also naturally intergrated. If that makes sense. The CNC then got to work on the river by cutting out the channel.
Now before removing the slab, we need to somehow mark it’s exact (or as exact as we can get it) location because the family wanted scripture along the river bank but hadn’t yet decided which ones. If we weren’t on a time crunch, I would have let it sit but a way to keep moving but still be able to come back to it’s placement is to screw blocks down to the spoil board and mark where each one aligns with the slab. And how this works might make more sense later on when we place it back on the CNC.
For now though, I had to get started on epoxy or there was no way I would make the 48 hour deadline. So bring out the TotalBoat! TotalBoat wasn’t sure exactly what I was doing when they agreed to be a part of this build so they sent a little bit of everything. Thankfully, they have such a broad range in everything epoxy and also agreed to also come to Texas in order to provide their expertise in the challenge.
We first started by experimenting with colors for the river and also the voids. We were aiming for a grayish tone to the river…I didn’t want it to be clear but I also didn’t want it to be black. Once the mixture was figured out then TotalBoat worked on the black which I did want for the voids.
The voids were a huge tricky point. The slab is 3” thick and when pouring epoxy, you should only pour about 1/4” at a time so if I filled the voids completely we would be looking at around 18-20 hours of just pouring.
To get around this, I’m going to cut out a pocket on the underside, larger than all of these voids and make a bottom that goes halfway the depth of the void. That way I only have about an 1.5″ pour, rather than a few inches.
Before trying out the idea, Brandy and I got together to chat through her design of the base and make sure the dimension she had in her design would work with the live edge slab and also the placement of the organic features like the voids.
Once I got the go ahead from her, we let the CNC do it’s thing by cutting a pocket larger than each one of the voids. The only way to get this done in the timeframe was to reduce the depth….and the only way I could see to do that, was to create a bottom.
Now for a choice on material for this plug or faux bottom, I went with plywood. If I had extra Tulip around, then I would have chosen that but I didn’t and I didn’t want to go with a different species because of looks but also since different woods expand and contract at different rates.
As ShopBot cut plugs, I got to work on sealing the slab with TotalBoat.
We first needed to clean everything up really well, we used compressed air and a shop vac for this. Then we started sealing.
The CNC cut this negative. And then these two pieces of plywood glued together are the positive to make this plug. I’m test fitting it here and it feels good. So not we are going to seal the inside.
This was actually new information for me and something I was very excited to learn. If you seal all the areas you’ll be using epoxy then it won’t be able to constantly release gas and cause those pesky air bubbles. This step is quick and you only need to let it sit for 15-20 minutes.
Then to stick the plugs into the hole, we used Total Boat’s Thixo, which is a fast setting epoxy which comes in a syringe. I made a pass around to seal the corners then set the plugs in place. I temporarily glued handles on the top to make setting them in place easier.
Then I caulked around the edges with a fast setting epoxy so that we can flip it over and start the epoxy pour.
Even though we sealed the perimeter, we still applied a layer of painters tape just incase the liquid some how made it’s way out. Leaking epoxy during a pour is not fun.
Ok lets flip it over and start on the face! First step is the same as the back, to seal any surfaces coming in contact with the epoxy. We’re moving quickly because epoxy has a limited open time before it starts kicking and is no longer spreadable.
With things sealed, next was to pour the Total Boat epoxy. Since I went with plywood for the voids, I wanted this epoxy tinted to be black so it would hide the look of the plugs completely from the top of the table. Black might seem like an odd choice but it was chosen because of the natural coloring in the slab already.
After pouring about 1/4” in the voids, I poured the grayish tinted river the same depth and then started the waiting game.
All the while, Brandy had been over on a metal table in my shop, knocking out the base. So since I’m waiting on epoxy, let me catch you up on her process.
Brandy started by marking out her steel according to her cut list. Then, she started cutting all of her material square, with the intention of coming back to add the angles.
Brandy designed an absolutely stunning base for this project and knocked it out of the park on the execution, even though she wasn’t in her shop or around her tools.
For the epoxy, I always thought you needed to let each layer cure all the way before pouring the next, but TotalBoat taught me that you only need to let it reach it’s peak of reaction then when it’s over that peak and going down, you can start the next pour.
How you gauge the status of it’s reaction is by taking it’s temperature. As epoxy is reacting it gets hotter and hotter, so if you use a termal reader on the epoxy you can watch it’s progress and know when it’s climbing, at it’s peak, and then when it finally starts to cool down.
This pour’s process was about an hour and 15 mins to 1.5 hours to go through this climb and decent. Each time it started cooling down, TotalBoat would tint another batch for another 1/4” pour then we waited and watched again. Using a heat gun after each pour to get those bubbles from the pouring action, out. Even with my shortcuts to kill some of the time, it was still a time consuming process.
Thankfully, Make48 not only comes stocked with a trailer full of tools and material but also a kitchen and a great cook named Amy! Amy is also a cofounder of Make48, the other founder is her Husband Tom. Amy made everybody on site three meals a day and used my floating deck to set up a beautiful dining area so that we could eat as one big happy family under a string of lights and the big bright stars of Texas.
The night didn’t end there though. We all stayed another few hours as I had to make sure all the pours got poured that day or I wouldn’t be able to start sanding the next day.
As I was pouring and waiting, Brandy continued pushing along on the base as well. She took my Triton Superjaws one room over and began started beveling the edges of her parts to prep them for welding the next day.
It was such a relief to walk in the next morning and see the epoxy had set up perfectly and was rock solid, meaning I could carry on with the rest of the plans.
By this time, the family who will receive the table picked out two scriptures they wanted engraved on the table, so the slab went back to the CNC. I used the blocks I screwed into the spoil board to get it aligned exactly as it was before, then Gordon from ShopBot tool-pathed the file and let it fly.
While that was going on, Brandy was on the other side making sparks and joining pieces together.
I can’t even tell you how many times this slab got moved around….and it is not light. But it made life so easy by setting the height of my Armor Mobile Workbench to just below the height of the CNC. Allowing me to slide it on and off then move the slab anywhere I needed to work on it.
The flattening step was outside. Brandy wanted to grind her parts and I needed to get the epoxy flush, so we both put on our hearing protection and respirators and got to work.
I started off using my Triton electric planer to get down the bulk of over poured epoxy.
This was the first time Brandy and I really got to physically work side by side and it’s hard to grasp through footage alone but there was so much positive energy about how things were looking, and also intensity as the clock was ticking.
I ran into an issue when I started to sand…my paper was clogging up so incredibly quickly. I ended up moving an air compressor out with me and would use a nozzle to blow out my paper while my sander was moving, and sure enough….this worked great!
Although, I was still worried about getting it done in time. Thankfully Kristin who is with TotalBoat offered to hop in and give me a hand. She took my Large ROS Sander while I went through with my 4” Belt Sander. I would knock down the highest points with the belt, then she would fine tune it with the ROS. This went on for hours….not just a few, but more like 6 or 7. Brandy was determined to complete her base so we both worked past sunset and into the dark of night.
The following morning, it was go time. We only had until noon if we were going to meet the 48 hour timeline so we started off hustling.
Brandy wanted to set the base in place on the slab to figure out the position. Things not being a square or rectangle, makes things a little trickier you know. So we stood all over the shop looking at it, but once the position looked perfect with the shape of the slab, she went straight into completing her final welds.
With it now all together, Brandy gave it a through cleaning then used a blackening chemical gel to finish off her portion of the project with a stunning outcome.
While she applied her finish to the base, I was applying mine to the top. At this point, all of us were starting to breath easy.
We were doing good on time, we overcame sooo many challenges and had a blast doing it as a team. After letting both the base and the top dry for a bit, we finally put the two pieces together and got a look at the completed outcome for the first time.
It looked incredible.
And if you can’t tell from my retelling of the event, the process was also incredible. This was a big build to take on with the limited amount of time but by pulling together as a team, we were able to get it done.
Things I Used in This Project:
- ISOtunes Ear Protection
- Wagner Orion 950 Moisture Meter
- Armor Mobile Workbench
- Total Boat Thixo Fast Cure
- Total Boat ThickSet Epoxy
- Total Boat Slow Hardener
- Total Boat High Performance Epoxy Resin
- Triton SuperJaws
- Triton 7″ Planer
- Triton Large ROS
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