cottage renovation: turning a slab of wood into a countertop

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When last we left off on our upstate cottage renovation, we had just purchased two pieces of slab wood to use as a counter in the kitchen. A lot has happened since then! The kitchen is complete and we have much to show off. But first, here’s the tale of how to turn a slab of wood into a countertop that will last and last, by Chad.

One of the reasons I didn’t want to do a butcher block countertop, even though we loved the look of them, is because of a conversation I had with our contractor. When I told him we were thinking about going that route he looked and me and said; “I’ll do whatever you want but I recommend you don’t do a butcher block countertop.” He went on to explain that although it looks great when first installed, time will not be kind to a wood countertop. He said he is constantly called upon to fix water damage around sink and facets.

With that in mind we decided to compromise and do only the peninsula in wood.

After picking out a gorgeous piece of wood and having it cut to size (making sure the “live edge”  was preserved), I did a lot of tests with different stains on a scrap piece.

The stains I tried really brought out the natural wood grain, but the wood itself is loaded with natural cracks, grooves and knots. All of those details looked interesting, but I wondered about the practicality of it as a kitchen surface.  I was also worried that a matte wood surface might not flow with the slick granite countertop beside it.

“I’d epoxy it,” our contractor Eric said.

My only experience with epoxied wood tables is what I’ve seen in theme restaurants — you know the kind: a bottle cap collection embedded in the thick clear coating on a tabletop like bugs trapped under an inch of amber. Coating it with epoxy was a hard sell; all of the stains I tried were so beautiful but the fact was that this piece of wood was going to be a kitchen surface. One coffee ring or spilled glass of wine and our beautiful planned wood would be ruined.

After watching a few YouTube videos on how to epoxy tables I became convinced this was a project I could handle.

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You can pick it up epoxy at Home Depot or Lowes in the paint department . It is sold in a box which contains two bottles, one is the hardener and one is the resin. There are detailed instructions on how much to use depending on the square footage of your table. Ours is roughly 3ft x 6ft and the directions called for about 3-4 quarts.

Step One: Prepare The Wood: The first step is prepare the wood for application. I had to flip it over and work on the underside of the countertop. I filled all the cracks and anything that looked like a hole with Bondo brand Body Filler. This sealed anything that would have caused the epoxy from simply dripping through the countertop in spots. I was surprised at how many cracks there were. Once it was dry and sanded, the counter top was ready to be flipped again.

Luckily, our floors are still covered in paper and thin plywood to keep them protected during construction, but as an added measure I also covered the entire working space on the floor with plastic. I placed the wood on two saw horses and leveled it. This is important because epoxy is self leveling as it dries. If the countertop is not level the epoxy would not be a consistent thickness.

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Step Two: Mix The Epoxy  The next, step is mixing the epoxy, and it is the most important part of the project. Improper mixing will cause soft or tacky spots in the surface. First, I separated the containers of hardener and resin, so I would not confuse the two. Be sure to wear safety glasses and rubber gloves. This stuff is hard to wash off and you don’t want to accidentally get any in your eyes. Make sure you are wearing shoes that you don’t care about because it will drip.

Take a look at the instructions and see how long they recommend to mix the two parts before you start pouring. Mine recommended 12 minutes. After putting on my safety glasses and gloves I poured three bottles of Resin into a new, clean pail. Then I poured all three Resin containers in and began to stir with a clean painting stir stick for 12 minutes.

Step Three: Pour The Mix Onto The Surface  Next, I poured the epoxy onto the table right down the middle. It has the consistency of maple syrup and stinks. You want to make sure the room temperature is at least 75 degrees so it will set up and cure properly. Using a paint brush I smoothed it out over the table and it dripped naturally over the sides. (Make sure you don’t use a cheap brush that will lose hair fibers in the epoxy.)

Step Four: Get Rid of Air Bubbles What surprised me at this point were how many bubbles there were in the maple syrup like epoxy, not just from stirring but also bubbles that were rising up from air pockets in the hundreds of tiny cracks in the wood.

To get rid of them I used a straw to blow directly on the bubble and pop it. The epoxy around it fills it in and I moved on to look another bubble. It took about an hour for the epoxy to set up to the point that blowing on a bubble would cause a dent on the countertop.  So I left it to cure.
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Step Five: Let It Cure The directions say to let it cure for 12 hours before applying another coat. At this point I wasn’t sure what to do about the bubbles and air craters that appeared from overnight. I took an orbital sander and sanded it smooth with 400 grit sandpaper. Wiping it clean with acetate and a clean rag.

Step Six: Apply Second Coat Now the table was pit marked with craters and also had a foggy appearance to it from the sanding which I didn’t like because I couldn’t see the wood grain clearly. I decided to do another coat of epoxy. This time I would be more diligent about finding bubbles with my straw. I walked around the table for about an hour as it set up. and I couldn’t see any bubbles. But the next day there were 3 small ones right in the middle. Those bubbles would wreak havoc with my OCD if I left them so I decided to do one more coat. This time if was perfect, like a smooth sheet of ice once it set up.

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Step Seven: Clean The Edges  After this was all done, there were a ton of stalactite drips that had formed on the underside of the counter. I used an orbital sander to remove those, but was careful not to sand the top

Step Eight: Wait To Marvel At Your Work It will not be fully cured for 14 days, so be sure not leave objects on the surface until then.

The end results, as you can see from the photos above, are pretty gorgeous. The grain shines through and the wood is smooth to touch, and safe for coffee cups and wine glasses alike. Phew!

 Want to see more about our cottage renovation? You can follow our progress here.

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