Making a Plastic Composite Coffee Table

Coffee Table no. 1298 - The Finished Product

How I made a plastic composite Coffee Table

The following hubpage illustrates the steps I used to make a custom coffee table. I've tried to make it as informative as possible so anyone interested (or with enough time) can make one themselves.

Design

The first step was to design the overall shape and hole pattern. I did the design layout in Adobe Illustrator. There are a total of 1298 holes (hence the name) which create the circular pattern on the top of the table. The shape is a modified rectangle, drawing inspiration from old-style Television sets and grainy pixelated resolution.

A free copy of the Illustrator file I created is available for download. If you have fairly new version of Illustrator for your computer, click here to download the .ai file.

I did not have access to a large bed CNC machine for the drilling, so I had to drill every hole myself. I had the design template printed out, full scale, on a large format printer at Kinko's. I then glued this printout onto a 3/4" thick piece of plexiglas that had been cut to size.

Drilling the Holes

Each of the 1298 holes had to be:

1. Center punched - this allows the drill point to find the center of the hole and not wander.

2. Drilled with a combination drill/countersink drill bit - this drill bit forms the larger, tapered counter-bore which will eventually be visible from the top of the table.

3. Drilled through with a 1/4" drill bit - after the combination drilling is done, the rest of the hole is cleared out with the 1/4" drill bit. Note: try to find a drill bit made specifically for plastics. This will help, especially when the bit breaks through the bottom of the plastic, preventing grabbing and tear-out.

So, in actuality, I had to mark the 1298 holes and then drill 2596 holes. It took me about a week and by the end, I was nearly going insane. If you are willing to try this, you might want to find a friend with a shop bot or some sort of CNC controlled machine to do the drilling.

Drilling complete

After all the drilling was complete, I removed the protective paper from both sides of the drilled plexiglas and cleaned the plexiglas thoroughly. Compressed air works very well to blow out all the holes of remaining plastic bits and pieces. I cleaned both sides of the plexiglas with detergent and from there on only touched the plastic while wearing gloves.

Note: Oil and dirt from your hands and surroundings can interfere or inhibit the curing of the polyester resin.

Build the Mold Box

I used 3/4" melamine covered particle board to create my mold box, making sure the inside dimensions of the box were the exact dimensions of the drilled plexiglas piece. Before placing the plexiglas sheet into the box, make sure to heavily coat the inside of the box with a mold release agent. I used a silicone based spray to coat all the inside faces of the box. This step is critical and will greatly help the release of the cured resin from the mold box.

Mixing and Pouring the Resin

Mixing the resin is a key step. I used a Polyester Resin and color pigments purchased from Tapp Plastics. If you can afford it, I would highly suggest using an Epoxy resin instead. Polyester resins STINK really bad and also shrink quite a bit when they cure. The shrinkage can lead to cracking and inconsistent results. Epoxy resin has a much lower shrink factor, hardly stinks at all, but is MUCH more expensive. I also added a wax curing agent to the resin to seal the open surface of wet resin from air exposure. Since my mold box was open on one side, the exposed resin needed to be sealed off from air to help cure. The wax floats to the top of the poured resin and forms a membrane. This membrane prevents air from interacting with the resin and retarding the curing cycle. If you are going to use polyester resin, MAKE SURE to mix and cure the resin in an EXTREMELY well ventilated area. This is bad stuff and you don't want to breath it in or expose yourself to it for very long.

When mixing the resin, it is a good idea to use some sort of squirrel mixer to help speed up the mix and consistency. Add the pigment slowly and carefully to the resin, following the manufacturers instructions. Note: it is a good idea to add the pigments and fine tune the color before adding the curing agent (or part "B" of the resin mix). This gives you more time to before the curing cycle begins.

After mixing, bang the bucket many times on a hard floor to release any air bubbles that have been trapped inside the resin.

Pour the resin nice and slow to prevent any new air bubbles or pockets from forming. I let the resin flow all over the plexiglass sheet. Gravity will pull the resin down into all of the drilled holes. I helped push as much resin into the holes by sliding a plastic squeegee back and forth over the plexiglass sheet.

Cleanup and Sanding

After a full 24-48 hours of curing, I pulled the newly made plastic composite tabletop from the mold box and started the cleanup process. Resin had flowed everywhere and had to be removed and sanded away from both top and bottom sides of the tabletop. By using chisels, scrapers, files, and a portable belt sander, I got the tabletop to the rectangular condition as seen to the right. This cleanup step took about 2-3 days to complete.

Note: Again, it is very important to do this kind of work in a well ventilated area. Always wear a dust mask or respirator and wear eye protection as well. The sanded polyester resin powder is finer than flour and can easily get in your eyes, or even worse, lungs. Take care and be patient.

Cut to shape

Using the same Illustrator file as above, I printed out a second copy and used the outline to trace the final shape onto the rectangular tabletop. I used a vertical woodworking band-saw to cut away the outer shape of the table. After cutting, there were still band saw marks on the edges. I cleaned the cut marks with more sanding and filing. I then rounded all the edges, both top and bottom, with a 1/4" roundover bit with a hand router.

Final Sanding

The next step in the finishing process is sanding and polishing. I progressively sanded the tabletop with sandpaper grits, starting at 180grit all the way up to 6000. I did most of the sanding with an electric palm sander and some portions by hand. The 1000-6000 grit papers are best used with water (wet sanding) and create a true glass, polished appearance. You can usually find the high grit sandpaper at automotive/autobody stores.

Note: the polyester resin is much softer than plexiglas and will sand down much faster. Use care when sanding to keep the resin layer flush and even with the plexiglas.

Forging the legs

The final step with the coffee table was creating the legs. I used 3/8" stainless steel rod to form the legs. This thickness offers plenty of strength and gives a lightweight yet solid visual appearance.

Making the Steel Legs

To create the forged legs, I tack welded several guide pieces down to a metal table to form a jig. I clamped the beginning of the rod to the top left edge of the jig. With an oxy/acetyl torch, I heated certain areas of the steel bar till red hot and bent and clamped them to the jig form. I started from one end of the jig and heated, bent, and clamped the bar until I was at the other end, creating a complete leg piece. Once completed, I cut the remaining bar off, sanded off the torch marks, and drilled and tapped holes for the tabletop hardware.

I assembled the legs to the tabletop using 1/4"-20 stainless steel screws. That's it!

If you are interested in some other projects I have worked on, you can see my portfolio here. Let me know if you have any questions, comments, or suggestions.

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24 comments

glassvisage profile image

glassvisage 9 years ago from Northern California

That is about the strangest/more interesting hubs I've seen :P


vic profile image

vic 9 years ago

This sure is a beautiful table and an impressive manufacturing process.


livelonger profile image

livelonger 9 years ago from San Francisco

Amazing...what a gorgeous finished product.


Jono Moles 9 years ago

Amazing project!|One thing to note though is that epoxy resin, while certainly less volatile and smelly than Polyester is still chock full o' bad things. You should wear gloves and a respirator when using it (ideally outdoors in my experience) to avoid problems with sensitization (progressively worse dermatological and respiritory reactions which increase with each exposure).I really like the 'snake eyes' security scres you've used to attach the legs too. A very stylish detail.


gooadam profile image

gooadam 9 years ago from san mateo

very cool.


Guru-C profile image

Guru-C 9 years ago

Interesting!


j-c 9 years ago

That's a nice looking table, bravo!

I'm curious to know if the table has warped at all. Resin continues to shrink and cure, even after it initially hardens. If the plexiglas is rigid and has a layer of shrinking resin below it, won't the whole table begin to curl toward the resin side?


cityplus profile image

cityplus 9 years ago from San Francisco Author

j-c, the table has not shrunk or warped in 5 years. After pouring the resin, I let it sit (during summertime) for about 2 weeks before final assembly. Some of the purple dots did shrink slightly inwards (radially). This formed a small gap/ring around the purple dots and the surrounding plexiglas holes. It was small enough that it fills up with dust and is hardly noticeable.


Evan 9 years ago

I was wondering if the resin you poured coverd the entire surface of your plexiglass. I am planning on making a large table from epoxy and covering the surface with about 3/4" of resin. The reason I ask is that I was wondering if I could add a lip around the edge of the table using the melamine covered particle board mentioned in your article. It would be nice if anything that spilled on the table stayed on the table. Thank you,


Monika 9 years ago

Cool!


Cora 9 years ago

It's great! It's good to be broad-minded.


cityplus profile image

cityplus 9 years ago from San Francisco Author

Evan, if you want resin to flow to the sides and stick to the plexiglas, I would cut some sort of groove or channel to allow some resin to flow into the edge and lock it in. Otherwise, I think that one small knock to the hardened resin edge would break it off. Cured resin, unless reinforced with fiberglass or filler is quite brittle. Another concern will be to lock the plexiglas down into the mold box. When I poured mine, the resin flowed underneath the plexiglas and caused the sheet to float up a little. This required a lot of extra sanding and cleanup after it cured. If you have any other detailed questions, feel free to email me. Thanks and good luck!


radoslaw 9 years ago

Yeah.. it is great!


Fitter profile image

Fitter 9 years ago

It's too difficult as for me. If it's not your hobby, i think it's better to buy a table )


RoseMountainArt 8 years ago

YOu helped me A lot....I was wondering abou the sanding and if it creates a glass like finish. Amazing table...


michelle.dragon99 profile image

michelle.dragon99 7 years ago

you are the professionals in this....really a good and informative hub....thanks for your sharing:)


Greg Palmer profile image

Greg Palmer 7 years ago

Instead of welding your jigs to the table, you can consider clamping a jig box to the metal table instead. If you were ever brave enough to do this while process again, that is. Great work either way!


toothache pain relief 6 years ago

wow! nice hub mann... Thanks a lot


longleeeng profile image

longleeeng 6 years ago

great hub!


how to get rid of eczema 6 years ago

looks like an ironing board lol but it is still awesome!


best way to lose belly fat 6 years ago

haha I also thought it was an ironing board!


Acrylic sheets 3 years ago

Very impressive manufacturing product, however Acrylic sheets can also go well for the design, for more information visit- http://www.plastic-craft.com/


novus plastic polish 3 years ago

I was wondering if the resin you poured coverd the entire surface of your plexiglass. I am planning on making a large table from epoxy and covering the surface with about 3/4" of resin. The reason I ask is that I was wondering if I could add a lip around the edge of the table using the melamine covered particle board mentioned in your article,We are distributors of all plastic materials, including complete fabrication of plastic parts, components and assembles like Acrylic sheets, polycarbonate sheet and UHMW.

http://www.plastic-craft.com/novus-plastic-polish-...


Dane Brecher 3 years ago

This is really incredible . you can have real fun with the Plastic . You can make use of the various dips and the acrylic materials . You can find a wide variety of useful products from plastic . We include the Acrylic sheets, polycarbonate sheet and UHMW. you can visit @ http://www.plastic-craft.com/

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