A River Table is made out of Wood and Epoxy Resin. They are caller River Tables because they look like rivers. Every one of them is unique and they take a while to make. There are no shortcuts and their prices reflect the amount of effort that goes into making one. They are usually made to be around a couple of inches thick, depending on their intended use, and they are very strong.
Why are River Tables called River Tables?
The River Table is called a River Table because it’s a table and it looks like there is a river flowing through it, they are made of wood and epoxy resin. River Tables are constructed so that the live edge of the wood forms the river banks and the resin forms the river. The resin can be coloured to reflect the ambience of the outdoor landscape, or it can be clear, depending on the effect desired.
When you look at a Live-Edge table, you will notice that the live edge faces outwards.
At the time of writing, this one and similar were available from Amazon in the UK.
With a River Table, the live edge of the wood is turned inwards and the space between the left and right side is filled with epoxy resin or alternatively, it’s covered over with glass. In this post, we are only going to be looking at the resin versions.
How long does it take to make a River Table?
Taking delivery of a River Table can take anything between a few days and several weeks, be patient.
These things are not mass-produced, which is why they rarely appear in mainstream High Street retail outlets; each piece is unique and each piece belongs to its own history.
So, if you are going to be ordering yourself a River Table, you need to be allowing yourself a few weeks for the lead time, as a minimum. This is not quite as inconvenient as it might initially sound as you know that many of the High Street retailers have adopted a similar approach to delivery. Even when dealing with their more mainstream, “mass-produced” products, they will still be quoting multi-week lead times.
It’s a fact that many mass-produced products are also made to customer order, which is especially true for items of upholstery and also extends to other furniture and tables. When compared to these mainstream lead times, what may have sounded like an unreasonable time to wait for the manufacture of your own, unique River Table doesn’t seem to be quite so bad.
No two River Tables are alike. They may be similar in construction but each River Table begins its life as a unique piece of live-edge wood that has been carefully selected to line up with the customer’s vision.
5 Steps to making a River Table
There is no fixed number of steps that go into creating a new River Table just as there is no fixed number of steps that go into making anything else.
So, I have adopted a 5-step process, for no particular reason:
- Establish the vision
- Rest the Wood
- Developing the Features
- Pouring the Resin
- Sanding and Finishing
There could be more, there could be less.
Establish the Vision
Whether the construction of the River Table is based on a commission or whether the River Table is being built as a stock item, the maker needs to have some kind of end-product vision.
If the job is a commission, then the first step is for the maker to establish a relationship with the customer, and to get to understand what it is that they are looking for. If there is no commission involved, the maker has the luxury of waiting and watching for the right piece of wood to present itself.
In any project, it is always absolutely essential for the maker to maintain a vision of the desired end product. That’s not to say that the vision can’t be amended – up to a point – but one should always have a goal in mind.
As a starting point, finding the wood to deliver on the vision takes as long as it takes. Be patient.
Resting the Wood
The wood needs to be dry. If it isn’t dry, it needs to be dried, preferably in a kiln.
Even wood that is dry will still need to be acclimatised in the workshop before work can begin. Essentially, the wood needs to get used to its new environment, before anyone starts work on it, and this is going to take a few days, assuming that its previous environment wasn’t too dissimilar to the current one.
The actual time taken to acclimatise the wood will depend on the circumstances, but again … be patient.
The acclimatisation period doesn’t need to be time wasted, as there are things that can be done in readiness for the next steps.
The River Table (assuming that we are discussing the epoxy resin approach rather than the glass top approach) needs a pouring frame the size of the intended River Table. The size of the frame will depend on the end-user requirements and the nature of the wood, but whatever its dimensions, it still needs to be constructed before the resin can be poured.
Whilst the wood is resting, the maker can be making the pouring frame so that it’s ready when the wood is ready.
Developing the Features
A River Table is all about the live edge: the live edge carries the aesthetic appeal of the finished product, and once its form has been established and the resin has been poured, there really is no going back, so it’s important to have the features developed before the pouring stage.
Choosing the right sections of the available wood is an art, and combined with the knowledge and experience of the craftsperson will add that special something to an already special project. It’s not as easy as just buying a plank and getting on with it.
Check out the Black Tail Studio blog post on the subject: it’s all about selecting the right part of the wood, avoiding straight edges and minimising the epoxy requirements.
Pouring the Resin
This part cannot be rushed. The depth of the river may mean that multiple resin pours are necessary, with the appropriate waiting times applied between each pour. Curing times can vary, but 24 hours to several days should not be considered unreasonable.
Quick curing resin is available but may be considered a false economy, especially if it is poured thick. You are going to be living with and looking at the table for many years … don’t let it spoil for the sake of a couple of days.
Sanding and Finishing
Nothing is quick, and in this case, rightly so. These things are unique, and special, and are worth waiting for. Whilst there are machines to help with the finishing, by skimming the top layer, for example, the final finishing will be done by hand. The finishing will depend on the sanding and the sanding will depend on the available elbow grease.
It is possible to rush this part of the process but the rush is going to show in the finished product. Initial sanding will use coarse sandpaper but the sanding will need re-sanding with finer and finer sandpaper until the surface is ready for finishing and polishing.
The lesson of this section is that it’s no good rushing the process. Unless you are buying a River Table that has already been completed – and they can be found – be prepared to play your part in the manufacturing process and above all, be patient.
How much do River Tables sell for?
Prices for River Tables range from a few hundred punds to several thousand pounds.
As with anything that is manufactured (with maybe the exception of products made from high-value raw materials like gold and platinum), the price is primarily determined by the amount of time and effort that goes into its construction.
Henry Ford is often credited with inventing the production line. He didn’t – he improved on a process that was already in operation in factories across the world – but he did refine it in such a way as to reduce the time taken to manufacture a car from twelve hours to one and a half hours.
Part of this saving was to do with the designed homogeneity of the finished product. Henry Ford’s customers, for example, could buy a car in any colour they liked … as long as it was black.
Reducing the number of possible variants in any manufacturing process and then applying production line principles reduces dramatically the time spent on making each individual item, which reduces the cost to the consumer.
This works for cars and it works for items of furniture. There is nothing wrong with mass-produced cars and there is nothing wrong with furniture that has been built using a similar process.
The cost of mass-produced products to consumers is less than their bespoke equivalents because the time spent by craftspeople on building each piece is reduced. This does not imply a reduction in skill, it only implies a reduction in time.
In most circumstances, the nature of the construction means that this is not possible for River Tables, or for similar one-off items.
The prices associated with River Tables reflect the fact that they are, by the nature of their component parts, unique pieces of furniture … and unique pieces of furniture do not lend themselves to the mass-production process. If they did, I would think that there would be ship-loads of River Tables coming out of China!
River Tables are difficult to price objectively, because they are unique, but a starting point of a few hundred pounds for a coffee table and then rising up to a few thousand pounds for dining tables and countertops isn’t unreasonable. Below, there are pricing examples of high-end River Tables from the US and similar products from the UK.
3 pricing examples from Chagrin Valley Custom Furniture
The River Table example shown below has been made from Burr Elm and clear blue resin, it was made in Suffolk in the UK and was recently sold for £2645.
As you might expect, it’s also possible to buy River Tables on Amazon, and here is a small selection of the current River Tables available from Amazon UK. The prices range from £865 to £3500.
The price of a River Table reflects the fact that it is unique and is also a reflection of the time, skill and effort that goes into creating a product that is unique.
Henry Ford would not have been making River Tables.
How thick is a River Table?
Clearly, if any tabletop is too thin, then it isn’t likely to perform well under stress, particularly if that stress is a big weight in the middle. For some insight into the merits of thickness in River Tables, take a look at the video in the next section.
If the tabletop is too thick, the table becomes too heavy to move around and could possibly buckle under its own weight, although this is unlikely given the structure of a River Table as you will see.
A table board thickness of around 4cm (that’s just over an inch and a half for the old people and the Americans) is reasonable and should be good enough for most purposes. A thickness of around 5cm (two inches) is ideal and can be used for tables, desks and countertops.
If you are looking for a coffee table, you could probably get away with a thickness of a couple of centimetres (3/4″) but dining tables should be closer to the top-end. You could go with 4cm (1 1/2″) for a normal dining table, up to 5cm (2″) one that’s going to seat around 10-12 people.
Are River Tables Strong?
River Tables are stronger than you might think!
Looking at a River Table, you can see that as a general rule it’s made of three parts. There are two outside, live-edge wood pieces separated and connected by a resin bridge … or river.
There are other variations, for example, there may be “islands” in the middle of the river, and there may also be resin up to the side edges. This is because the River Table design is going to depend on the nature of the wood and the customer’s vision of the finished product. But however the table is configured, there are going to be wood / resin boundaries, and it’s these boundaries that one might generally think of as weak points in the construction.
Wood is a durable construction material, we all know that … and anyone who has come into contact with epoxy resin will know that it’s also incredibly durable.
So, we don’t really need to focus on either the wood or the resin if we are considering the durability of the River Table construction. Logically, we should be looking at the joints: the boundaries between the wood and the epoxy. A three-part River Table will have two joints: one on either side of the “river”, where the “river” meets the live-edge of the wood. If there is a weak spot, this is where you might think it ought to be.
The combination of wood and resin creates an extraordinary surface that is both strong and durable. This is not really in question.
Each River Table component is durable in its own right, so it stands to reason that the overall durability of the River Table will depend on the durability of the joints, and the strength of the joints depends on the skill of the craftsperson making it … and time!
Patience is indeed a virtue and the production of a River Table cannot be rushed if the necessary durability is to be achieved.
The poured resin needs to be left to cure … slowly!
Rather than me trying to convince you of the inherent strength of an epoxy resin River Table, have a look at the BlackTail Studio video on the subject and judge for yourself.
How Strong is an Epoxy Table?
So, assuming that you have now seen the video …
I think the video shows that epoxy resin River Tables, when constructed properly, are proper strong! When was the last time you had the urge to stack 1700lbs (nearly 800Kg) on your dining room table?
It’s mentioned in the video but I feel that it’s worth mentioning again as this was my personal River Table concern. When the River Table destined for destruction was finally destroyed by a big, heavy, pointy stick being dropped on it from the height of a forklift truck, it was the wood that gave way, not the wood-epoxy joint. I have to say that this wasn’t what I was expecting but it certainly answers the question.
River Tables are Strong!