Make a Bartop or Countertop with Cork & Epoxy

DSC_6617A few years ago (January/February of 2012) we updated our basement.  Previously it was a large open space that felt a little cold and it’s shape made it odd to furnish. The room had is where our gym equipment, a sofa and chair, a hutch with a tv, and our piano all sat mismatched together.  Our main level had a small living/dining area that wasn’t big enough for entertaining or for family gatherings.   A basement renovation made sense for our family and with the amount of entertaining we did for our work.  

My husband had never really wanted a mancave in any of our past homes, but it made sense in this home and a great feature for resale.  At the time I had worked part-time as a cabinet maker’s apprentice.   I loved the working in the shop, but my shoulder eventually decided it couldn’t daily do that type of work.

When planning  the renovation I couldn’t decide on what I wanted for a countertop.   The artist in me prefers unique and the frugal part of me loves getting great quality for less.  Many years ago, when Debbie Travis was on TV, she did a project where she made a tray where she placed pictures, lace, shells, and little things that were important to the homeowner and then poured an epoxy over the top.  I always wanted to make one of those.  This project developed from that   idea, to building a coffee table with the same idea but filled with corks, to this.DSC_6609As the cabinets were ready to be installed and the project was coming along, I changed gears from the coffee table to why not turn that idea into a bar top counter. I explained to my cabinet buddy (CB) what I planned and he helped build a tray for me to do my magic in.  

Materials:

  • Level tray/pan with plywood or wood surface with frame
  • Table or Bar top clear Epoxy  on eBay
  • Corks- (approximately 84 corks a square ft)
  • Glue (wood glue, gorilla glue, I had carpet glue on hand that was the same color as the corks so I used that) The glue needs to be clear or similar color to the corks once dry.
  • Clean wooden stir sticks (paint sticks)
  • Rubber Squeegee or Rubber Spatulas
  • scale or measuring cups
  • sharp knife and/or mandolin
  • Large Clean Container for mixing. I used a large bucket
  • Disposable gloves (This is a sticky product if you get it on yourself)
  • small level
  • Clear silicone caulk and caulking gun
  • Clean rags/old cloth for clean up
  • Painters tape and plastic sheeting to cover areas you don’t want to get epoxy on
  • toothpicks to break bubbles
  • heat gun

151Here is the front panels of the bar before the corbels were installed.  The length of the bar is roughly 10’x3′, the depth of the inside tray is 11″.  I didn’t have this blog when this room was finished and I only pictures for my personal record.  Which unfortunately means I am missing pictures of a few steps.  I think you can get enough of how to recreate this yourself with the ones I did take.IMG_4263Here is what the corbels look like once installed.  We installed corbels across the front edge of the front panels of the cabinetry peninsula.  Then attached the 3/4″ plywood base to fit the space.   Edged the back with strips of stained and finished 7/8″ x 1-3/4″ birch.  The edge piece was glued and nailed to the edge of the plywood base with a 1/8″ bottom lip.  The bar rail was attached to the front of the plywood.  The highest point of the bar rail sits 1/4″ higher than the back edge.  DSC_6550Here is how the end of the bar rail looked like once cut and attached on site before stained and sealed.  The back edge rail had to have a custom notch to accommodate the curve of the bar rail.DSC_6548Here you can see the shine of the silicone caulking that I place in all corners and joints to prevent the epoxy from leaking once poured.  This step is very important 
DSC_6554I’ll just put this out there.  I used a lot of corks!!! There is about 84 corks per linear foot of top.  That’s about 1100 corks in total!!!   Did I drink all that wine, you ask???  Well, a couple special corks came from bottles that were enjoyed by me, however, I ordered the bulk (2000 corks) from an eBay seller.   There were many corks that were from wine kits, which I didn’t like the look of for my project. I would message any seller and ask that question before hand if I was buying again.

IF you cut them directly in half you will need half the amount.   I wanted them to look like full corks so to give this illusion I didn’t cut them directly in half.   I cut so that a little more than half of the cork would be remaining.  This also depended on the cork thickness (depth) as all corks are not created equal.  As a guide I picked a 1/2″ as my measurement and tried to keep each cork close to that depth.  It doesn’t need to be extremely exact….just close.  When I planned the depth of the countertop pan/ tray to set the corks in, I planned that the depth may be slightly off.  The pan was 1 inch deep, 1/2″ corks, 1/8-3/8″ lip to accommodate spills.  This meant epoxy would be about 1/8 to 1/4 thick over the top of the corks.  You will have a little room to play with. * If you don’t have a straight or square pan to fill save all the little pieces of cork.  They will be needed to fill in the small spaces next to the edges on the turn as shown below.DSC_6553I used a cheap mandolin to take off any excess height of the cork.  Of course, you could use the sharp knife or a good sharp vegetable peeler works too.  Please use the slide attachment that goes with the mandolin and be extra careful.  Especially if you have never used one.  Mandolins are very very sharp!  DSC_6545I didn’t take a picture of the lines I placed on the wooden pan to use a guide to keep my lengths of cork straight.  I decided to use a two by two pattern alternating the corks.  I matched cork sizes up in rows of two before hand that way I could make the rows look even.  Not only are the corks not the same diameter but they are different lengths.  So keep that in mind when you are laying them out.   *You can see in this photo the why the small bits and pieces of cork are needed when you have turns or angles in your top  

I did something special in the weeks before the top was ready to be made.  If we were out to dinner, or if we had guests in, I would get them to sign a cork to be placed in the bar top. DSC_6544You can see my trays of pre matched up corks in rows.  Keeping them in pairs helped make laying them in place much faster and limits mistakes like the rows being off.

Keep a small level with you as you lay down each row checking for level as you go along.  I play a row down.  Make sure it fits in straight and equal, then I lift that row being careful not to mix up, spread the glue in place and press the prepared corks back in place.  Check again for level of the glued down corks every couple of rows.
DSC_6550I kept the corks level the entire way across.  This end was slightly out of level because the floor was so far out of level on the turn.  I divided the difference between the bottom of the bar unit and the counter.  This meant that these corks were a little thinner and that end had close to a 3/8″ lip (top of epoxy to top of wooden pan) vs a 1/8″ lip across the straight stretch.  DSC_6563After all the corks are glued in place let dry overnight.  Then using painters tape, tape plastic edging to the sides of the bar rail and back rail.  Then take another strip of tape are carefully place along the edges to keep excess epoxy off.  If you do get epoxy up the edges you will need to wipe off the excess before it hardens.DSC_6556Plastic sheeting taped on the sides and the floor of the area.
DSC_6561Mix the epoxy as per the manufacturer’s  instructions.  It was in the winter when I was doing this project so I placed each of the two part epoxy containers in my sink filled with hot water.  This makes the epoxy easier to pour and mix together.  The two part epoxy I used was extremely easy to mix together.  I used spatulas to mix the epoxy to scrape as much of the mixture away from the bottom and sides as possible while stirring  with slow and smooth motions.  This helps prevent soft spots of epoxy that wasn’t mixed well.  I will be mixing the first seal coat to seal in the corks and then finish with a 1/8″ thin finish coat.DSC_6566 2Once you have finished mixing the two-part epoxy according to the directions you are ready to pour.  Slowly start pouring the epoxy over the corks while spreading with a spatula to get in all the nooks and crannies between the corks.DSC_6564This is definitely a good time to get extra hands.  Mr. Handy, our son Cameron, and our friend Pat are on board to help with pouring and spreading the epoxy.  I had never seen this done nor could I find any information on how to do a project like this online so we are winging it.  DSC_6567Yes, that is a set of my work pajamas. LOL  Surprisingly I am not wearing my favourite paint covered pants and T-shirt. Part of the reason I don’t like to make videos or be in pictures is that I don’t have time to “doll” up when I am in the middle of projects.  So this is what I look like. Ok now that we got that straight. Keep spreading the epoxy.DSC_6569Using your squeegee or spatula keep spreading and pushing the epoxy into the corks and spread to the edges.  It’s still heavy and gel like because it is cool in the basement.  However once we hit it with the heat gun it starts to spread and sink in around the corks a little more smoothly.  DSC_6573I had to mix up another small batch of epoxy to finish the pouring.  DSC_6577Looking good!  Now immediately wipe off and then remove that protective layer of painters tape that is against the bar rail as you don’t want any epoxy that may have gotten on it to harden with the tape underneath it.
DSC_6580 Using toothpicks to break bubbles and direct the epoxy into the corners
DSC_6584Now to apply a little  heat from a heat gun.   This helps the bubbles rise to the surface.  I stress… Use a little heat.  Less is more in the case of 2 part epoxy.   Using a hairdryer could make ripples in the finish.DSC_6582Ok……. Here is why I needed a tutorial like this when I did this project.  DO NOT UNDER ANY CIRCUMSTANCES APPLY TOO MUCH HEAT!!  I can’t stress this enough.  What happens is that if the epoxy is too warm and your room is a little cool,  the top will start to cool and set before the underneath epoxy that is yet to harden.  I was going to leave this part out and tell explain only how to get to the finished project.  However… If your over zealous like we were, well…  the next few steps to show how to fix it are important.DSC_6586Overheating caused the epoxy to release bubbles to break the surface that is cooling thus giving you large stalagmite style bubbles along the surface, and all you can do is sit back and watch it happen.  Well possibly you might sit down and cry for a few minutes like I did.  I said this project was unique, and less expensive, than say… a granite countertop, but it is not free.  I thought I ruined everything.  DSC_6587This is not how I pictured the day ending.  Our friend Pat decided it was time to head home before he witnessed me bawling my head off.  I went to the internet and tried to find the epoxy stalagmite expanding help desk.  Unfortunately there wasn’t one that I could find.  Mr. Handy was so sweet in trying to reassure me that it didn’t matter.  Worst case scenario we need to start from scratch.  Start from scratch!!! Are you crazy…. That’s a huge waste of time and money.  I cried a little longer.  Then I fell asleep.   In the morning I woke feeling refreshed and I had thought an idea on how to fix it.  I used a wood hand planer to chip, and scrape off the large pieces of epoxy, sanded with course 60 grit then 100 grit sandpaper and then another thin 1/8″ pouring of epoxy.  DSC_6588I scraped off the stalagmite sized epoxy.
DSC_6589I used the edge of it to dig out some large bubble that were just under the surface.
DSC_6593Then I sanded it as smooth as possible taking care to tape out the wood and not hit the sander on the wood.  DSC_6594It looked like this and yes I was still worried.  I vacuumed and cleaned up as much of the dust and chipped epoxy as possible.  I wiped it down with acetone or alcohol and then poured a thin layer of epoxy.  Smoothing it out to the edges and corners.  Remove the protective tape and then give it a light pass with the heat gun and let it harden.  The humidity and how cool or warm the room you are working in affects drying time.  Do not touch it!
DSC_6617 I walked away and left it and a few hours later it looked like this!! DSC_6602 It was hard, shiny and smooth!! I just love it!! DSC_6596 DSC_6606 The corks are clearly visible and most people think it is topped with glass.
DSC_6609IMG_4260When the basement was finished we toasted to it’s completion.  Myself, my daughter Chelsea and my gf Heidi.IMG_2211DSC_6607

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22 thoughts on “Make a Bartop or Countertop with Cork & Epoxy

  1. Colette says:

    You must have the patience of a Saint! What a beautiful way to finish a counter top! Love this and you have a great story to tell when you sit down to have a drink!
    Really nice!

    Liked by 1 person

    • The Handy Homemaker says:

      Thanks Collete. We do love it, and it’s a conversation piece. It definitely isn’t a 1 day project as the corks take the most time to prep. I gave myself time during the week to finish the cork layout. (Netflix and bubbly is required).

      Like

  2. Janet Bray says:

    Mina, you are amazing! I almost cried when I saw the pics of all the bubbles!! How you were able to stay with it and produce such a piece of art is a testament to your talent.

    Liked by 1 person

    • The Handy Homemaker says:

      Janet, you are so sweet. Lots of my projects are just stuff I make up or and idea that try to figure out. I’m human and I mess up from time to time. Figuring out how to fix mistakes is part of the process and another challenge to keep learning. Now in the future when I use epoxy, I know to never apply 10-15 minutes of heat from a heat gun 😉

      Like

  3. Barry Briwn says:

    A few weeks ago I was watching a tuturial on YouTube about building a tree house that made me think of you. You really should do some how to videos and if you have them wear the paint stained sweat pants that you wore. I always new you were ready for work when you had them on.,

    Liked by 1 person

  4. F P says:

    Thank you very much for your detailed explanation throughout your project. Great work. I am making a coffee table for a friend with an American Indian design under epoxy. This was my first time using Epoxy … In fact my first time ever making any furniture. I learned a lot from your trials that will help me to fix some of my screw ups with applying the first coat of the Epoxy. Thank you … I hope my table comes out half as nicely as your bar!!!

    Like

    • The Handy Homemaker says:

      It looks as fantastic as the day I finished it. It can’t get water rings because of how it’s made. It’s like a solid glass like hard surface. I was worried about hit coffee cups at first but even those didn’t leave any marks. We are really happy with it.

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  5. Jennifer says:

    I am getting ready to do this exact project within the next couple of weeks. I went to the ebay link and was reading on the mfg recommendations. It mentioned not pouring more than 1/8″ at a time. Just wondering if you still recommend just “going for the gold” and pouring the whole thing, minus too much heat? Also, does it settle at all as it dries or does it dry and harden so fast that it stays level? Appreciate any input you can provide!

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    • The Handy Homemaker says:

      Hi Jen. I don’t have the patience to do it in 3 or 4 pours. If I was to do this all over again I would do it in two pours. First, one pour to almost or just cover the corks and the crevices. That makes it easier for any air bubbles to be taken care of and for those corks that decide to lift. (I had two that floated. I would guess they weren’t glued down properly) Use a toothpick to press it back down if that happens. Once the epoxy starts to set it won’t float anymore and will stay in place, but make sure you pay attention to it because if it floats up and you didn’t notice there isn’t much you can do. Second, I would do a finish pour whether that is 1/8 or 1/4″. The epoxy settles and goes level very quickly, but doesn’t set as fast as I was scared it would. You have time to spread into the corners etc. When you add the heat it levels out completely to a glass finish. Hope that helps. Message if you have any more questions.. Can’t wait to see your finished project.

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      • Jennifer says:

        Well it went terribly wrong, similar to your stalagmite situation, ok, exactly like that. So I will be seeing if it can be fixed like yours. Once you sand and pour the thin layer, can you tell at all that it was sanded or is it totally clear again? So annoyed, drinking wine now to ease the pain.

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      • The Handy Homemaker says:

        Oh no!! Sorry to hear. You will not be able to tell. I had craters that needed filling, gouges, and it looked opaque white from all the sanding. But once the new layer of epoxy went on all was rectified. Enjoy your wine and tell yourself tomorrow will be better. If you need to call me tomorrow I can send you my phone number

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  6. Kevin says:

    Love this! I’m doing a pub height 60″ round table with the corks and epoxy. We’ve been saving corks for years and many have dates and occasions written on them. Your tips are great and the bar looks beautiful! I’ll let you know how it goes.

    Like

  7. Rachael Johns says:

    I tried 3x to ask my question via my mobile phone…. quite frankly, I hope my inability to successfully submit my questions will in no way be a reflection of the outcome of my project!!! I think you’re super cool for posting your experience and answering questions for people that are in your footsteps even years later and I was hoping that you would do the same for me. My number is 206-235-1621 and I would definitely definitely definitely definitely appreciate I have about five six questions that I would like to ask you that I would have no problem whatsoever being published its just apparently I am challenged and I for some reason can’t get them through on this website thank you so much

    Like

  8. Becky says:

    Hi there. Planning to do a similar project. How did you know how much of the epoxy to mix? Where did you purchase such a large amount of it?

    Like

  9. TAMALA PRICE says:

    Thank you so much for sharing! I am doing the same project for 8′ x 3′ bar countertop!! I now feel a renewed sense of confidence since reading your experience. 😊

    Like

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