If you spend a large amount of time on social media, it may be likely you have seen videos of colored liquid being poured into molds and onto wood slabs. And though it’s satisfying to watch the shimmering epoxy resin flow like water into various gaps and channels, spreading into every nook and cranny, these videos hide a secret war that has enveloped the craftsperson community.
So what even is epoxy, and why is it so damn popular? Without getting into the chemistry of it, epoxy resin can be thought of as a hardening liquid plastic. It’s traditionally used as a fastener (in place of glue or screws) or as a finish and sealer. More recently, however, epoxy resin has begun to be produced and sold so that it can be poured into larger quantities and thus fill much more space. This “deep pour” epoxy can take several days to weeks to fully cure, and it dries crystal clear, meaning it can be dyed or poured over various objects for creative effects.
In the woodworking world, the epoxy river table has become a popular trend, with epoxy of various colors poured into a ‘river’ formed by two live edge faces of a wood slab. These can range from simple, understated tables with black or clear resin, to colorful, ‘look-at-me’ pinks, greens and purples. Some makers mix colors to create wave effects or to fill a void with nontraditional materials (pennies, colored pencils, trash, etc.). The possibilities are endless.
And here’s the wonderful thing about epoxy: There’s almost no limit to its application. It allows for an incredible amount of creative freedom and often leads to interesting and innovative results. However, there are some woodworkers who believe epoxy is either a) a stain on the woodworking community or b) a fad that can’t disappear fast enough. There seems to be a general consensus among such makers that epoxy is ugly, and that covering beautiful wood grain and live edges with plastic is bad. Even some craftspeople feel a genuine hatred for epoxy.
It’s fairly easy to see their frustration when a beautifully-figured walnut or redwood slab is beset by a gatorade-green stripe down the middle. And I confess, I agree with the traditionalists on a lot of key points. I don’t think I would ever own a river table in my home, certainly not one with the bright, garish colors that seem to captivate the wealthy, post-millennial trust fund crowd. Though they seem to make good Instagram content, their actual aesthetic appeal is debatable.
That said, I don’t think epoxy should go away. Creativity is always a mixed bag. It brings both beauty and ugliness, successes and failures, but it’s always better to have more lines being crossed and more rules broken than stagnated. There will always be someone who likes what you make and someone who doesn’t. The smart maker will do what they enjoy most, whether it be intricate live edge joinery or buckets of plastic, and find their audience after the fact.