You can always pick out an epoxy table top by the deep, glossy finish that's clear as glass. The finish is created by mixing epoxy resin with a hardener, which begins a chemical reaction. The resulting mixture is poured onto a prepared surface and allowed to dry. The most difficult part is the wait time between coats. You can customise your epoxy table top by covering the surface with decorative items before pouring the finish. Old pictures, coins, beer and bottle caps, baseball cards, recipes -- your imagination is your only limit when it comes to customising your table's new look.
Sand your table top, either by hand or with a power sander. Work from coarse to fine grit, sanding with the grain to avoid scratches. Remove as much of the old finish as you want; you can leave most of the scratches and gouges and traces of the old paint for a rustic look, or completely sand and smooth it for a more cultured look -- or any degree in between. How you sand the table is one way to express your own style.
Wipe the table down to remove sanding dust, then apply a coat of stain or paint as desired. Again, this is a matter of personal style and you can get as creative as you want. Allow the table top to dry completely if you choose this option.
Measure each side of your table along with the thickness. Cut sheets of wood veneer or a similar lightweight material to correspond to the length of each side, making the width of the board the thickness of the table plus the depth you want your coat to form. A table side 4 feet long with a surface 1 inch thick, for example, would require a strip 4 feet long and 2 inches wide.
Apply a layer of adhesive or contact cement to the edge of the table top. Position a strip, cut to measure, along the edge and flush with the bottom of the table top base. Press the strip firmly and hold for a few minutes to ensure it is secure. Repeat with all the strips to form a mould. Allow the glue to dry overnight.
Rub the inside of the form down with petroleum jelly, shortening or any greasy substance. This will keep the epoxy from bonding to the form.
Prepare any items you want to embed in your epoxy table top. Fill objects that can trap air in the epoxy finish, such as bottle caps and sea shells, with glue, silicone or a similar substance. Trapped air can ruin your final finish. Epoxy may cause colours to bleed, so laminate objects printed with ink. Use contact cement or craft glue to secure every object to the original table top surface. Once again, you can get as imaginative or precise as you wish.
Mix the epoxy and hardener, following product instructions precisely. Pour into three buckets to ensure a lot of mixing as you work. Finish blending with a drill and mixer attachment set on low speed to avoid creating bubbles. Make only as much as is needed for each layer; use coverage guidelines provided with the epoxy to estimate how much you will need each time.
Brush on a thin seal coat of epoxy -- less than a 1/4 inch thick -- over the entire table top, including any embedded objects. This coat will seal the pores of the table and any porous objects, preventing them from releasing air into the epoxy. It also helps smooth irregularities in the surface.
Allow the seal coat to dry for about four hours. Lightly sand the surface with a fine-grit sandpaper, which will help the next layer to stick. Dampen a soft cloth and wipe the epoxy down with rubbing alcohol to remove any contaminants.
Pour the next layer directly from the bucket into the mould. Lay a coat about 1/8 inch in depth. Gently distribute the epoxy, moving around the table to help the epoxy level out. Allow it to dry for another four hours, then sand and wipe with rubbing alcohol once more.
Continue pouring layers of epoxy until the finish is as deep as you desire. Maintain drying times to avoid problems. Remove the forms and sand down the table top edges again to complete your new epoxy table top.
As a rule of thumb, use the following coverage guide: 1 gallon poured 1/4 inch deep covers about 6 square feet. 1 gallon poured 1/2 inch deep covers about 3 square feet. 1 gallon poured 1 inch deep covers about 1 1/2 square feet. Use more, thinner layers to help the epoxy resist bubble formation. Apply epoxy in temperatures ranging between 21.1 and 26.6 degrees C. for best results. Avoid temperature fluctuations during the cure time, as well as direct contact with sunlight. Dust, insects and children's hands will leave blemishes in your epoxy surface. Allow the epoxy to dry at least one week before using your table top; while the surface may appear hard and ready to use, it can still be soft enough to be dented and damaged. If a layer of epoxy seems slightly soft even after hours of curing (the result of poor mixing), apply a new, well-mixed coat over the top. The soft layer will eventually harden.
Make sure the room in which you work is properly ventilated and surfaces are appropriately covered.