How To Build A Live Edge Epoxy River Headboard (Not Table!) with LED Lights
I built a live edge river headboard using epoxy resin and a pair of live edge Cherry slabs. This was a ton of work, but I'm super happy with the way it turned out. Enjoy!
Materials Used On The Live Edge Epoxy River Headboard (affiliate):
- Cherry live edge slabs
- Tyvek Tape : https://amzn.to/2JpvH0C
- Silicone Caulk : https://amzn.to/2HXeo7K
- Mold Release : https://amzn.to/2Kdri2i
- 1 ¼" Screws : https://amzn.to/2HXNtJb
- Ecopoxy Liquid Plastic Epoxy Resin (I used 18L at a 2:1 ratio) : https://amzn.to/2qZDWsG
- Mixing Bucket : https://amzn.to/2Hp1CxP
- Rubio Monocoat : https://amzn.to/2I0QfNO
- Battery powered LED lights : https://amzn.to/2HWL6pT
- 2 inch screws : https://amzn.to/2Hsirry
- 4 ½" screws : https://amzn.to/2JmVeaU
Tools Used On The Live Edge Epoxy River Headboard (affiliate):
- Powermatic 15HH 15-Inch Planer : http://bit.ly/Powermatic15HH
- Powermatic PJ-882HH 8-Inch Jointer : http://bit.ly/PJ882HH
- Countersink Bit : https://amzn.to/2vKR76C
- Rockler T-Track Clamps : https://amzn.to/2IKdTNx
- Rockler Bench Cookies : https://amzn.to/2qp8c02
- Festool OF 1400 Router : https://amzn.to/2IJ4FRB
- Festool TS55 Track Saw : https://amzn.to/2HsMcwv
- Random Orbit Sander : http://amzn.to/2GqSRn3
Voiceover Script :
The first step on this project was to flatten the Cherry slabs, and this was no simple task. These two slabs were incredibly twisted and I had to remove a ton of material to get them flat.
There are a bunch of ways to flatten slabs, and you can actually buy them already flattened depending on where you’re purchasing your slab. A router sled is a great, inexpensive way to flatten a slab, if you don’t have access to a jointer or planer.
Because these slabs were already in two pieces and they’d fit through my planer, I used my jointer and planer to flatten them. I started on the jointer, flattening as much of one side of the slab as I could with my 8” capacity jointer. I had to remove the guard to be able to do this, do this at your own risk. Removing the guard allows you to flatten a portion of the bottom surface, you can see how part of the bottom of the slab is being flattened during this process.
I could then attach this flat area of the slab to a piece of MDF, which served as my planer sled for this project. I ripped the piece of MDF from an offcut of the material I was using as the form for this piece.
Next, I fastened the piece of MDF to the bottom of the slab, attaching it to that flatttened section. I used 1 ¼” screws, since the bottom side of these slabs will never be seen in the final piece, but you could also use double stick tape if this was going to be a show surface.
With the sled attached, I started passing the slab through the planer. You can see that I had to put a bunch of pressure on the back edge of the slab to keep it from twisting in the planer, and this was because this board was so twisted. As the twisted material was removed, I no longer needed to put pressure on that back edge to keep the board flat.
I kept making passes until the top of the slab was totally clean, and then I could remove the sled.
After removing the sled, I flipped the slab over, facing the newly flattened face towards the bed of the planer, and then planed down the top of the slab until it was totally flat. I ended up removing about half of the thickness of these two slabs during this process, that’s how twisted they were. I ended up with a final thickness of about 1 ¼”.
I repeated the same process for the other slab off camera.
With the slabs flat, next I needed to clean up the live edges. The bark was falling off and would have made a mess in the epoxy, so I removed it with a chisel. I then smoothed out the edges using my random orbit sander.
Next, I needed to work on the form for the epoxy pour. I used MDF, since I couldn’t find melamine in full sheets at my local home center, but melamine would be another good choice here.
First, I cut the bottom of the form to size, accounting for the thickness of the side walls. I had the home center rip the full sheet of MDF to length, so I just needed to cut it to width at home. If you’ve never moved a full sheet of MDF, they weigh roughly a million pounds, so it’s really helpful to have the home center break the full sheet down into more manageable chunks for you.
Next, I ripped the strips that would make up the sides of the form. I made sure to add about ½” of extra height to the sides to account for any excess epoxy.
If I left the MDF as is and poured the epoxy, the MDF would absorb the epoxy, so I needed to create a waterproof barrier on the MDF. I used Tyvek sheathing tape for this. I only needed one strip for the sides, and after adding the strip, I used the side of a screwdriver to make sure it was well secured to the MDF.
I folded the tape over the bottom edge, to make sure it was completely waterproof in case there was a little leaked epoxy.
Next, I applied the tape to the bottom of the form, making sure there was overlap on each strip. It would have been really nice if I could have found wider sheathing tape locally, this took awhile since the strips were so narrow.
While I’m adding the tape, let’s talk about one of the sponsor’s of this week’s video, Powermatic, the gold standard. I upgraded to the Powermatic PJ-882 helical head jointer and 15HH helical head planer a few months and it has been a total game changer for my woodworking. The surface finish off of these machines is absolutely amazing, and I know they will last me for many, many years to come. Learn more about these machines by checking out the link in the video description below.
With all of the inside faces of the form taped off, I started attaching the walls to the bottom of the form. I used 1 ¼” screws, making sure to clamp the sides in place to keep them from moving. I also pre-drilled and countersunk the holes to make sure I didn’t split the MDF.
I repeated this process for all four sides, making sure there were no gaps under any of the sides.
Next, I added a bead of silicone caulk to the inside corners of the form. This will keep the epoxy from leaking out of the form. I used a caulk tool to clean up the excess caulk.
Before adding the slabs to the form, I sprayed on a layer of mold release, to keep the form from sticking to the epoxy.
With the form ready, I cut the slabs to length, based on the dimensions of the form, at the miter saw, and then added the slabs to the form.
To keep the slabs from floating in the epoxy, I attached them to the form using screws from the underside. I first clamped the slabs in place to make sure they were tight against the form, and then added 1 ¼” screws, making sure to pre-drill and countersink the holes.
With everything in place, I leveled the form, to ensure the epoxy was even along the entire surface of the slabs.
Finally, after all of that prep work, it was time for the big moment, the epoxy pour. First, I needed to calculate how much epoxy I needed to mix. To do this, I measured the inside area of the form, measuring the width, depth, and length of the area where the epoxy would be. Multiplying these three measurements gave me the area in cubic inches and I converted that number to liters.
In total, I mixed 18 liters of epoxy. As I said in the intro, I was trying to replicate the blue green color of the first river table I built, so I decided to do a two color pour.
The epoxy I used was Ecopoxy’s Liquid Plastic, which is designed for this type of thick casting. They recommend a 2 to 1 ratio for this type of work, so I mixed 6 liters of the resin and 3 liters of the hardener in each bucket.
For the coloring, I used Ecopoxy’s pigments, using their blue in one bucket and their green in the other bucket. I also added a little bit of their metallic pigment to each bucket as well.
These pigments are incredibly concentrated, so I made sure to add a little bit at a time. After adding the pigments, I mixed each bucket thoroughly, for about 3 minutes each. The metallic pigment tended to clump up, so I made sure to mix it until there were no clumps left.
Finally, the moment of truth had arrived, the pour. I poured the blue epoxy first, and I’ve gotta say, I was a little surprised by how light the color looked.
Next, I poured the green epoxy, starting at the other end, and I luckily left a little epoxy in the bucket in case I needed to make some adjustments to the color.
This ended up being my saving grace, because I was not digging the look of the blue and green right out of the buckets. They were way too light and way too clear.
I added some more blue pigment and metallic pigment to the remaining epoxy, mixed it well, and then added that as the final pour, and this totally made the look of the piece. The extra depth of color from the pigment and the mother of pearl look of the metallic pigment really made the river come to life.
I used my mixing stick to incorporate the last pour, adding some swirls and really trying to make the resin look like moving water, and then took a second to admire the piece. A friend of mine said it looked like glacial melt, and I think that’s the perfect description.
After letting the epoxy sit for a few minutes, I came back with a propane torch and popped any bubbles that formed on the surface, and then gave the piece about three days to fully cure.
Once the epoxy had cured, I removed the form, starting with the sides. Even with the mold release, these were pretty well stuck to the epoxy, but a few taps with a dead blow mallet loosened them up enough to peel them off.
With the sides removed, I could move on to removing the bottom of the form, which was a little more challenging. I pried the edges back around the entire perimeter of the piece and the bottom still wasn’t budging, but a crowbar gave me a little more leverage and the bottom finally came off.
Next, I needed to trim the edges to clean off the excess epoxy and also remove the residue left by the silicone caulk. For some reason, this stuff because a gooey mess during the curing process, so I just decided to cut it off rather than deal with it some other way.
I used my track saw to trim the ends, but a circular saw and straight edge would work the same way.
Also, there’s something really cool about seeing that saw blade run through the epoxy. Super cool.
Next, I cleaned up the edges at the table saw, taking off about ½” from each edge. This thing was extremely heavy at this point, and moving it by myself was really awkward.
With the edges trimmed, I started the sanding process. I started on the bottom, sanding it with 80 grit sandpaper to remove the excess epoxy.
Upon closer inspection of the top, I noticed that the epoxy was about ⅛” below the surface of the slabs from it seeping into all of the areas in the form. I could have used my drum sander to clean this up, but, as I mentioned, this thing was incredibly difficult to handle on my own, and I was afraid I’d drop it or damage it in some way.
I called Forest Millwork, a local cabinet shop here in Asheville, and they agreed to flatten the slab on their wide belt sander for about $70, so I headed down to their shop. Their wide belt sander made quick work of the slab and the final result was much better than I could have gotten doing this in my shop. It was well worth the investment to allow those guys to use their skills to save me a bunch of time and effort.
Back in my shop, I sanded the slab with my random orbit sander, starting with 80 grit and working my way up to 180 grit for the wood and 400 grit for the top of the epoxy. I left the bottom side of the epoxy a little rougher, stopping at 120 grit, to diffuse the light a little more.
Between grits, I wiped the piece down with mineral spirits to remove the epoxy dust, and this also showed me where I needed to sand more.
I also chamfered the edges of the piece using my router before the final sanding, and this really gave the piece a nicely finished look.
For the finish, I decided to use Rubio Monocoat. This isn’t a traditional film finish, so it didn’t build up on the epoxy and was easy to buff out. I mixed the two parts of the finish and then applied it, starting with the bottom.
I applied the finish pretty liberally, let it sit for about five minutes to react with the wood, and then buffed it out, removing the excess. And that was it, that’s the beauty of this finish, you only need one coat. I repeated the same process for the top of the piece.
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While I let the finish cure, I worked on the mounting mechanism for the headboard. I decided to keep it simple and use a French cleat, and I decided on a 2x4 for this. I tilted the blade on my table saw to 45 degrees and ripped the 2x4 roughly down the center.
I wanted the headboard to be off the wall a little bit, to allow the lights to diffuse behind the piece, hence the reason I used a 2x4. I attached the 2x4 to the back of the headboard using 2 inch screws, making sure to pre-drill and countersink the holes to keep the 2x4 from splitting.
Next, I started laying out the placement of the LED lights. These lights are battery powered to avoid having any cables running behind the river section, so I needed to make sure the battery packs were easily accessible so the batteries could be changed when they run out.
After laying out what I thought would be a good placement, I removed the adhesive backing and tried to stick the LED strips to the piece, only to find out that the finish I had applied was keeping the adhesive from sticking, especially when making turns with the strips.
I used these little cable clips to permanently fasten the LED strips, and they worked great. I also made sure not to block any of the LEDS when attaching these clips.
I just repeated the same process on the bottom half of the headboard, attaching a 2x4 so that the piece would be plumb when hanging on the wall, and then attaching the LED strips with the cable clips.
Next, I marked out the locations for the holes on the other half of the French cleat, the half that attached to the wall. These holes were 16 inches on center, so that they aligned with the studs, and I was able to hit four studs with the 50” French cleat.
I used these ridiculously overkill 4 ½” long construction screws to mount the French cleat to the wall, so I needed to drill hole big enough where these screws would pass through without splitting the 2x4.
I drilled these holes at the drill press, just to make sure they were perfectly straight, but a handheld drill probably would have worked fine.
Next, I marked out where the studs were on my wall and mounted the French cleat, making sure it was level. This is when I realized how bowed this piece was, and tried to clamp it to the level to straighten it out, which didn’t really work, but eventually I got it mounted on the wall.
Finally, I could mount the headboard on the wall, and this project was done