Epoxy Mishaps: A God Damn Sticky Mess
Sometimes when you innovate, you make mistakes. It is best to admit them quickly, and get on with improving your other innovations.
I always have an end idea of what I want a project to be but it never ends up that way. I think anyone creating can attest to that. Along the way things happen that shift the creative outcome in a way that can be glorious and unexpected. It is that creative process that is an entity of its own. And other times it simply just goes horribly wrong. This turned out to be one of those times. I stuck with my gooey gummed resin fail longer than I should have. I didn’t want to give up on this one. My stubbornness and persistence have taken me to great places with projects but sometimes it is best to admit mistakes and move on. I don’t have a final tangible product but I do have some solid epoxy knowledge to carry on to my other creations.
I had this scalloped end table with some significant wood damage to the top from a potted plant. I am in love with the shape of this table. It is classic and elegant. With the raised scalloped edge and damaged top, it was a perfect find to create a wonderful design encased in resin.
I started with peeling away the damaged wood, exposing the second layer. Some of the bottom layer had started to also crack and bubble due to the excessive exposure to water. Since I would be covering this area, it was an easy fix with some wood glue and weights. Using a metal spatula to slightly raise the wood, I squeezed a small amount of wood glue in between the split surface. Weights were placed on the table until the glue was dry.
Once the wood glue had dried, about an hour, I gave the entire piece a light sanding with 150 grit sandpaper. Since I chose a dark stain and there weren’t large cosmetic issues, other than the top, a quick stand was all that was needed before stain. Since the stain I wanted was similar to its existing color there was no need to sand down to bare wood. I just wanted to get the clear coat off in order to freshen up the piece.
For this project. I added the stain using a foam brush and whipped it away as I went. I honestly like using foam brushes for dark stains since it goes on more concentrated than just a rag and I can throw it away afterwards.
I applied two coats of stain in order to achieve the color I was looking for as well as ensure uniformity. I followed this with two spray coats of polyurethane. I love using spray polyurethane for small detailed work like the legs of this table. It is great because I don’t have to worry about drips which can be very problematic with detailed pieces. The downside to using spray polyurethane is that it is not as durable. If I were not applying an epoxy resin to the table top, I would paint a few coats of polyurethane. Since the tabletop sees the most wear, a brushed on poly would be needed.
My grand idea for this table was dried flowers encased in resin. So I needed some flowers. I went to my local grocery store since they usually have pick three deals on flowers. The selection isn’t broad but it worked for what I was looking for. I wanted to make sure to dry enough flowers where I could be picky with the ones I ended up using. Not all the flowers are going to come out looking nice, so I wanted to have plenty to choose from. Also, not all flowers make good flowers to press. The time of pressing will vary depending on the flower. White daisies dried very fast since it is a relatively flat and thin flower compared to the button spray chrysanthemum, that I just had to use. The button spray chrysanthemums are very dense; even when dried, they are on the thicker side. I just feel in love with this color combination and was determined to make it work.
When it came to drying the flowers I used large boxes that I found in my basement. I was moving soon and sold off my dining room table so I had plenty of space to spread out! I cut all the heads off the flowers, placing them face down on one side of the card board box. It is important to make sure all the flowers are spread out neatly and I got creative with how I arranged them. I kept some stems on and dried them from a side view. I wanted to make sure there was variety in placement. I also keep some greens to add dimension and texture to the end arrangement. Once all the flowers had been laid out, I folded the other half of the cardboard on top making sure not to disrupt the layout.
Now this is where the heavy furniture comes in. I turned over my large wooden chest over one and put the second under a long heavy book shelf. I placed the button spray chrysanthemums under the heaviest piece since they needed the weight due to their density. I let them sit, undisturbed for a week then I checked on them. The white daisies were ready to go but the others needed another week. So I continued to let them be. Finally after two weeks I was ready to plan out my plan for the table top. The most exciting part for me!
I started with just laying the flowers out how I wanted them. Making sure to cover up all the damaged area. And actually, I was okay with seeing the two tones of the table top. I think it adds charm to the piece and gives it a sense of relatability that I was really drawn to. Once I had a design that I was happy with I made sure to document it with a photograph so I could go back and reference.
Now onto the resin and onto my troubles.
A little knowledge break down before I get into my F ups.
“Resin” is the term applied to nearly any component of a liquid that sets into a hard enamel finish. Resins exist in nature or there are synthetic resins, such as epoxy resins, derived from petroleum. Epoxy resins only harden when mixed with some form of curing agent. The resin and the harder need to be mixed in very specific ratios in order for the epoxy resin to cure. Each and every epoxy resin differs in instruction so the back of the bottle is real important on this one.
After figuring out my flower arrangment I poured a very thin layer of epoxy. I used Rust-Oleum Parks Ultra Glossy Epoxy Finish and Preservative Kit found at Home Depot. It is a two part epoxy mix. I chose this one because it came in a quart instead of purchasing an entire gallon online. It is essential to lay down one thin layer first for two reasons. By doing this I sealed off the surface so there won’t be any air bubbles in the top coat and it works as a glue for the encased objects. Without this step, the objects will float to the top instead of being submerged. So this is a very crucial step.
So I mixed the epoxy, per the instructions, using equal portions of each bottle into a throw away plastic cup and made sure to mix them THOROUGHLY (more on this later!) with a chopstick. Chopsticks are incredibly handy. I always seem to have them around to mix up different paints and stains; or maybe that’s due to my eating habits.
After mixing the epoxy, I poured a very thin layer over the entire top of the table. It is self leveling, so I just poured and let it be. Once the thin layer was down, I set in my flower arrangement. Making sure to push the flowers into the epoxy resin. As I would later learn; if the objects are not completely submerged they will float to the top. In my case it was a few flower petals that I simply fished out with a toothpick right away. I allowed this layer to dry for a full 48 hours before topping it with the final coat of epoxy resin.
And here is where my troubles began.
When it was time for the top layer of epoxy, I mixed the remaining portions together from my epoxy kit. I mixed them together very well and slowly poured them over the table top. As I was doing this, I realized that I was not going to have enough epoxy to cover the thickness of the flowers. I had to have the chrysanthemums!
I should have let this layer of epoxy harden fully, wait an entire 48 hours and then continue. But of course, I was not willing to wait until it had fully cured. I was excited and stubborn, per usual, and my heart was set on getting it done.
So I rushed to Home Depot and bought another epoxy kit. I went home and quickly mixed up the second set of epoxy. Epoxy works by reacting an epoxy resin and a hardener. If they are not mixed thoroughly and for long enough, the molecules don’t react with one another and the epoxy will never harden. Because I was too focused on pouring the resin with speed over the already laid layer, I failed to mix this coat properly. What I was left with was one sticky mess and very few things to be done about it.
I waited weeks for it to dry. Trying space heaters to quicken the process, not willing to accept my mistake. But resin is one of those things where if it is not done properly there is not much you can do to correct it. I was left with an incredibly gummy top. Where some parts had hardened, the first batch, and other parts where a sticky toxic mess.
So now it was time to problem solve. I was moving in a few days so I covered it with a trash bag and figured I would deal with it once I moved. And to make matters worse there was a small crack along the lip of the table where this gummy soft resin constantly dripped. I was wiping it with an alcohol soaked paper towel multiple times a day. So I covered it with the trash bag and decided I’ll deal with it after the move. My plan was to mix up more epoxy resin to pour over the top. The middle would never harden but what would that matter if the top did? At least this way the table would be usable. But that still left the dripping crack on the side of the table. So once the resin on the top had hardened, I could turn the table upside down and poor resin all over the underside and sides of the table right. Basically just encasing the entire table at this point. Just to hold in that gooey gooey mess I had made. Sometimes there’s a time to call it.
This was my time.
After I had moved, this table continued to drip resin all over my floor. It was time I moved on from this project. At this point it had plagued me for months. I had put so much prep time into this project and it really was going to be gorgeous. But it was time. I carried my gummy table out my back door, down the steps, with intention to rest in the alley. My new upstairs neighbor stopped me on my way down. She thought it was the most beautiful table she had seen. She asked me why I was throwing it away. After a much shorter explanation then I have given you, she wanted it. She didn't care that it was a sticky mess. She decided she was going to fix it. It’s lovely how things work out like that. I ran into her shortly after she claimed what I had deemed garbage. And she agreed it was one damn sticky table. Her plan was to get a piece of glass cut for the top of the table and just let that baby drip on its side, that’s how much she liked this table. She told me how everyone who came to her house always commented on how beautiful the table is but she always warned them not to touch it!
That flattered me. Though the project was something I view as a fail, someone else was able to find beauty in it. For me, this project was about the knowledge. I might not have the finished product to show for my efforts but I have the trials and tribulations of the process. And at the end of the day, creativity is all about the process. Who knows, maybe I’ll stumble on a beautiful scalloped edge end table in need of some love. That one, I won’t mess up. I admit my mistake and it is time to move on.