Live edge and epoxy tables make a beautiful addition to your back yard oasis. However, before investing in or building an exterior table for your home or cottage, there are some things you should be aware of.
Wood, just being wood, is going to shift and move when it's outside - that's inevitable. No matter what finish you put on it and what precautions you take, if it wants to move, it's going to (especially when it's not dried or treated properly to begin with!). When this happens, you could be left with splits and cracks in your beautiful creation. That's not the end of the world, but it's not super ideal either.
So what can you do to extend the lifetime of your outdoor piece and prevent these things from happening?
Before you can even begin to think about an outdoor piece, you need to make sure you have a good spot to put it. We suggest some sort of covered area (deck overhang, gazebo, etc.) to limit the UV exposure to the piece. If you don't have a covered area, don't even think about putting any epoxy in your piece because it's going to crack. In all honesty, if you don't have a covered area, save yourself the money and buy a cheaper, generic set - even with proper finish, maintenance and limited epoxy, it's going to fade over time in the direct sun.
Ok now that we've covered that, let's get into the fun stuff! We'll start with the building process.
First and foremost, you need to be using the proper supplies and materials. There are a lot of great woodworking supplies out there, but not all of them are suitable for exterior projects. Make sure you read your labels and packaging, and ensure everything that's going into your piece can handle the elements - even down to your glues and hardware.
Some of our favorite outdoor supplies are:
Secondly, pick a wood slab that needs a minimal amount of epoxy work. The R-Clear (linked above) is UV resistant, but I wouldn't suggest using it in a large mass in an exterior project - use it just for smaller holes, voids and cracks. We haven't tested that particular product in a big quantity to see how it stands up to the humidity and elements, but from what we know about epoxy, it's a gamble. Best to play it safe and stick to small amounts of it!
If possible, try to use a single slab instead of gluing two or more together. When (not if) your piece moves, that glue joint could shift and cause it to crack. If a single slab isn't an option, make sure you use some wooden dominos or biscuits to strengthen the joint.
Third, make sure you're using a finish that is specific for exterior projects. We suggest the Hybrid Wood Protector from Rubio Monocoat that we've linked above. It seals off the surface really well and stays true to the color of the wood - no yellowing! It's also incredibly easy to apply and made from all natural ingredients, so you don't have to worry about breathing in any harsh chemicals when working with it (score!).
Side note, we really love their entire product line. Shop all of their interior and exterior products by clicking here!
If you've followed all of the above, then you've taken the proper steps to ensure your table is protected. But it doesn't end here... It's now on you/your clients to make sure it's properly cared for and the right maintenance steps are taken.
As we mentioned initially, keeping it under a covered area is crucial in extending the life of the piece. If you don't have a covered area, consider covering the table with a tarp or some other sort of cover when it's not in use.
When cleaning the piece, make sure you're using a cleaner that is safe for the finish that you chose. If you went with our recommendation of the Hybrid Wood Protector, I'd suggest to use the Rubio Monocoat Exterior Soap when you need to give it a little scrub:
Once patio season is over, you'll want to move your table inside for the fall and winter months. If possible, keep it in a temperature controlled space, such as a heated garage, basement or storage unit. The freezing, thawing and constant temperature changes during the fall to spring will cause the wood to expand and contract. The more consistent of a temperature you can keep the table in, the better.
Finally, and I can't stress this one enough, do a maintenance coat of finish between seasons. At the end of the winter before you move the table back outside, apply another coat of finish to touch up any spots where the finish may have worn down and seal off any cracks that occurred. If these cracks are not sealed, moisture will get into your piece and cause problems.
Essentially, the more you care for your outdoor table, the longer it will last and better it will look. Think of it like a wooden deck; when it's first built, it has that beautiful, brand new look to it. Over the years and seasons, the wood will fade and begin to split and crack. If you don't reseal or stain your deck, it will continue to get worse.
All in all, know what you're getting into when you decide to build or buy a solid wood/epoxy exterior table. If you're not prepared for the maintenance of it, save yourself some cash and get a cheaper patio set!
Fellow furniture builders, beware of these risks and make sure your clients are aware of them before getting into an outdoor build. If your client is insisting on going against any of the above and getting you to make a table for them that you don't feel comfortable making, either pass on the job or put everything into a waiver so you're not held responsible for damages.
I hope this helped enlighten you on some of the precautions and risks of outdoor tables! Thanks for reading ya'll :)