Wood epoxy & steel table top that outgrew its original intent

This is one of those projects that grew in scope many times over as it developed.

I had a soft pine-board topped bench mounted to some kitchen cabinet units for use as a make-shift workbench out in my garage. It was 1&1/2in thick jointed, and edge glued pine board picked up at a big-box store during the years I lived in the mid-west (work related) before moving back to the greater Pugetropolain flood plain.

On various Friday/Saturday evenings, typically summer / early fall, a few neighbors would end up in my garage to hang out, chat, work on projects and generally have fun. From time-to-time car-parts, firearms, engine assemblies, go-kart parts or mechanical assemblies would be disassembled and worked on. My neighbors often noticed I would pull out cardboard, aluminum / steel sheets to protect the poor soft pine top that was getting its fair share of normal working abuse.

This is where the project started. One neighbor suggested steel strips around the edges of the bench. Another suggested L-shaped angle iron over the bench corners. Then we talked about using the AVID CNC to cut a channel to recess the angle-iron so it laid flat with the top surface of the bench. We also talked about flattening surface, and that since we often gathered there for an adult beverage or two after working on a project for one or the other neighbor, we talked about carving an in-lay of some sort to certify it as a ‘man-cave’ table / work bench. :slight_smile: Yup, the list just kept growing…

It started out with the general plan, below in a 25yr old CAD system. I was going to just cut the logo-pattern in a little deeper at the beginning and use the edges to help guide where to mask & paint.

That quickly turned to, … I’ve got the plasma cutter, let’s just drop some steel in-lay in there… The AVIDcnc really does make any steel work on the plasma cutter go so quickly. In the image below you can see that accidentally there is a small amount of sawdust from using the router head, floating on top of the water tank for the plasma.

These are the raw steel parts lined up on hte bottom of the old pine tabletop.

Next up the old polyurethane coating was surfaced off deep enough to take out most of the bigger gouges and also the inlays were carved. I don’t remember exactly, but I think I went in 0.150in, and then an additional 0.0625in for the inlay. Yes, that is way, WAY too much stick-out for that 1/2in end mill. I just ran it slow and let it take its own sweet time. I used that extra-long cutter as the router and ‘Z-axis’ had to clear over the side of the water table for the plasma cutter which this table top is right up against, given that the rotary axis is in the front of the machine. 30in is about the maximum piece I can fit in there.

You can see, below, once I was done with the surfacing and no longer needed to run close to the plasma tank, I swtiched over to a much shorter 2-flute cutter.

I spent a whole bunch of time distressing the steel to get a really great partially machined, partially rough / artifically rusted look with heavy tool marks in it and I was getting ready to shoot them with their first sealing coat of clear lacquer when I discovered that I had weathered / applied the patina to the wrong side of the steel. Rather than take all that time to go through all the steps of that process again, I pulled out the angle grinder cleaned off the back side of the steel, did a light steel wool clean up on the “correct” untouched side and took to the steel with a rattle can. :frowning: Yup, win some loose some.

Next up I turned focus to the workbench edge protection and the angle iron.

I’m always as careful as I can be, but I find that cutting angle iron at a 45 on the chop saw is the most likely operation to break a carbide tooth on the saw. I can cut with a single blade for months and months, but a set of steep angle cuts on angle iron and I’m more likely than not going to start the demise of an expensive blate. Now-days, more often than not, I’ll do these cuts on the abrasive cut off saw and the remainder of the cuts on the chop-saw.

Normally I would go after mill scale like that present on the angle iron with a flap pad, but I was trying out some new extra aggressive paint stripping pads (recommended by a friend) that advertised they could be used for stripping mill scale as well. I had picked up a stack of 15 of these and split them with my neighbors to try so I figured I’d put one to use on this project. As the photo shows, they worked great! That grinder wasn’t new in this photo, but pretty close. It sure doesn’t look that ‘purdy’ these days. :wink: This was during the time I had picked up a few extra grinders so I could leave some different wheels permanently mounted and just pick up the right grinder rather than continuously changing out media.


Here is a quick mock-up:

After this it was time to weld things up. I put a HEAVY bevel on all the edges and went in medium hot with the MIG welder. (…Should have cranked it up further, but this is an okay starting point…)

As you can see above, I needed to re-build the corner and that I put way to much heat into this part.
Should have run the weld hotter and gotten into and out of it faster, imparting less total heat. No worries though, for the next level of refinement, I pulled out the TIG torch. In addition, to rebuilding that corner, blasted away in the MIG operation, I also wanted fillet the inner corners…

Some intermediate photos below: I ended up sanding these down and re-doing them a couple times before i got the look I was going for. I ended up media blasting them to get a really rough finish before the last round and that was just the ticket. (I do not have a close-up photo of that.)

I played around with the idea of burrying some LED lighting in the table top but when I saw what an incredible volume of epoxy that would take and how much $$$ well that was right out for something that was supposed to be a work bench out in the garage. :rofl:

This last one was taken with the lights off as I noticed how the particular frequency from these LEDs interacted with the foam board insulation on the garage doors.

Another step I didn’t capture was a few coats of polyurethane to seal the pours and seams of edge glued pin. The idea was to keep parts of the epoxy from soaking in at different rates and leaving a rough top on the pour. I left the rattle can painted steel in-lay in-place and applied the polyeurethane right over the top. Slowly in hte weeks that followed there was a small chemical interaction between the paint and the polyurethane. It had the effect of slightly discoloring the light machine-grey color I had selected for the gear design. It isn’t a huge amount, but I notice it.

A neighbor had several tubes of construction adhesive that were several years past their expiration date. We figured why not use them to seal the gap between the wood and steel to keep the slow cure epoxy from draining out. That turned into a multi-week mess. (Swearing deleted.) The ‘bad’ way way past pull date construction adhesive never hardened. it is still trapped in there and I ended up just scraping out as much as I could get to with a putty knife and then capping it with a bead silicone. Eventually it “dried” but it never cured. Mostly the moisture content just got sucked into the pine.

Once I was back to my senses, after the construction adhesive fiasco, it was time for epoxy. Did you notice how epoxy finishing crept into this project? Did you also have the same thoughts that I did that hey epoxy isn’t that hard and scratches pretty easily? Okay, good, if you thought both of those things you may have some experience working with the stuff. :slight_smile:

There was a significant worry that the top edge of the uncured construction adhesive would interact chemically with the epoxy, back under the steel lip and fail to cure, but I just go lucky there.

In the photo above I’ve got a set of 3x leveling machinists’ jacks that I used along with my starrett spirit machine level to dial this thing in absolutely level. I’ve got a few sets of these jacks and they come in handy all over the place.

This next photo is out of order, but you can see the spirit level and some of the epoxy that spilled out over the steel, discussed, further below.

Degassed the epoxy twice in the vacuum chamber and that really helped with all the trapped air bubbles.

After that, it was a quick tyvek moat and away I went. I was originally going to only fill up to the edge of the steel and not cover the steel.

I poured a tiny bit too fast and the height of the epoxy pool ended up ever so slightly above the edge of the steel. I considered sanding it back, but knew that that would go into the black- oxide and media blasted surface and that one’s eye would be instantly drawn to it. So I bit the bullet, re-sanded the full top after a week of curing time and did a double thick pour.

It came out great and then it was time to put a small chamfer on the edges into the epoxy, but not deep enough to go into the steel.

A-Violla! You might gues, at this point I was grinning big time.

Once I saw how this was coming along I realized I wasn’t going to be pounding nails or disassembling go kart engines on this table. I’ve got a breakfast nook up in the kitchen and a friend had a trashed old table that had a good base but needed a new top and some miss-matched tall chairs in good shape so I decided to go down that route and make a riser for the table.

First up, I threw some aluminum on the AVIDcnc plasma table. This is always fun for me. I never get tired of blasting out parts on the plasma table. It is just so darn fast and the parts clean up great!

After rough clean-up the parts are cleaned 2x more times with ever cleaner shop rags and acetone and then with a bit of blue painters tape they are held in place while spot welded and then fully welded out. One step I am not showing here, but because this is only ~3/16in thick aluminum I used a map-gas torch to pre-heat each seam. I’m not a great welder when it comes to aluminum. I welded the seams solid, both in-side and out with MIG. I was going to go back and “reflow” it with the TIG torch even though those are fairly heavy welds, but I stood on the assembly, bounched up and down on it a few times and decided it was “good enought”

This is one seam after I hit it with a wire brush…

I swept the welds with some hi-temp lab metal to smooth it out and then went on to powder coat. You can see how smooth the part looks in the background in the photo below. The powder has not be reflowed in this step yet. The ‘hi-temp’ version of lab metal is used as the powder I am using needs a kick temp of 450F for full reflow for 5~10min or until it fully flows out and then is reduced to cure to 400F for an additioanl ~20mins.

After that it was a matter of bolting the riser block to the existing table post, then bolting the tabletop to that.

After those leaves go yellow, Red, brown and drop it has a very different feel.

Truth be told it was a little weird to have a big “Max’s” logo for the man cave/garage, but out in the breakfast/lunch nook it is kind of weird. I am not Jimmy Diresta, so that last photo above bothers me some.

This last image gives a good feel for how well that last epoxy pour turned out. No sanding, no polishing, etc… Perfect? Nope! Good enough? You bet!

Lastly, the ironic part of this story. Since this was meant to be an upgrade to the bench top out in the garage and now that it is no longer out in the garage. I have yet another soft edge glued (even thinner) pine board with a sheet of cardboard on top in place of this one out in the garage. :rofl: