Back in college my buddy Jeff and I were pretty big soda fanatics and would try to taste as many different varieties of the bubbly beverage as we could get our hands on. We particularly liked sodas that came in glass bottles and whenever shopping we would see if the store stocked any flavors we had never tried.
In addition to trying as many different varieties we could, we started collecting the caps as well. The caps themselves were usually very colorful and their rarity made them interesting. Eventually we started collecting the caps from other beverages as well (eg. beer) and our collection grew. At every party, we would swipe people’s used bottle caps and add them to our collection. Eventually, our friends caught on and would save us all of their caps as well.
We always thought it would be awesome to showcase our bottle cap collection, so what we ended up creating is the bottle cap table.
Fast forward until after graduation: I finally had the funds and motivation to pursue this project. The finished coffee table came out AWESOME, but it took much more time and effort to complete than I could have imagined. Below are the steps it took to create this piece of art.
1. Collect bottle caps.
A lot of them. The ~2’x4′ table we built uses 722 bottle caps. We had collected many more caps than this, however many of them don’t get used in the final pattern/design because of their colors or because they are too bent out of shape. Be sure to clean them all in some bleach water to kill any bacteria that may be lingering in them.
2. Find your table.
I went with a coffee table from Craigslist.
3. Pick your design.
This is the first step of many that took much longer than I thought it would. Organize your caps by colors and try to figure out a pattern that you will want to use for your table. If I were to do it again, I’m not sure I would bother with a pattern unless I had a very small variety of caps.
4. Glue the caps down.
I chose to use tile adhesive for this step: lay down some of the adhesive and press the bottle caps into it. I also decided it would be easier to attach all of the bottle caps to a piece of thin board first, then secure this to the table later on.
I chose a nice black grout to contrast most of the bottle caps we collected. Grouting bottle caps is similar to grouting tile, except that the bottle caps are not nice and level like floor tile. Be sure to clean up any grout covering up the caps immediately before it dries — trust me.
6. Attach the bottle cap table top to the coffee table.
Since I attached the caps to their own board instead of directly to the coffee table top, now was a good time to bring the two together. I attached the bottle cap table top with some screws and then added some grout over the screw heads so they are not visible in the table top.
7. Cut, stain, and attach side rails.
I wanted the table to have a hard edge instead of just sloping off. I cut some pine to length, stained it to match the existing table color, and attached the rails. I added more grout where needed so the table surface was flush with the rails.
I used a clear silicone caulk between the grouted bottle cap table top and the side rails, as well as in the rail corners. This is to prevent any of the epoxy resin from flowing out.
9. Pour the epoxy resin.
This part was probably the most fun to do. I ordered a gallon of two-part epoxy resin “Kleer Kote” from US Composites. It’s not cheap, but it was highly recommended by others who have created similar bottle cap projects and I do not regret spending the money on it — it is a fantastic product. I poured on a thin seal coat first to prevent any air bubbles from appearing later on. Be sure to use a rubber squeegee to spread the resin around evenly (brush hairs may get stuck).
After the seal coat dried, Renee helped me pour on two flood coats to fill in the 1/4″ inch basin formed between the table top and the top of the side rails. Spread the resin out again with the rubber squeegee carefully so air bubbles don’t form. The resin is more or less self-leveling, so this spreading out doesn’t have to be perfect.
Remove any air bubbles with a blow torch. Either let the resin pour over the top of the side rails to coat them evenly, or if the table is level pour the resin right up to the top of the rails without letting it spill over. If choosing to do the latter, clean up any resin that gets on the top of the rails immediately. Let dry.
That’s it! I am very happy with how the table came out. The whole project probably took 40 hours of work total. I was fortunate enough to have the help of many people — Jeff who helped with collecting, sorting, and woodworking, Renee who helped with the design and pouring of the resin, my father who helped with woodworking, my mother and her friend Chantal who helped with gluing down the caps, grouting, and painstakingly cleaning the grout from the caps because it dried for too long, and Adam for helping collect a significant portion of the bottle caps.
The finished product looks great and is very solid. It is also very easy to clean. Due to the amount of work, I’m not sure I would make something like this again, but who knows — Jeff and I are still collecting caps.
Originally published at bertwagner.com on July 30, 2012.