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Install a Penny Countertop

Replace a boring surface with a cool, durable, and cheap new top.

Install a Penny Countertop

We used two part clear epoxy and a bunch of pennies to make a counter top that has held up remarkably well under all kinds of abuse, and never fails to stop new visitors in their tracks.

Steps

Step #1: Prepare the Surface

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  • The project actually takes 4-6 hours of actual work. The rest is curing and drying time.
  • Clean the surface thoroughly, and prepare it for painting. If it is a smooth or polished surface use sand paper or steel wool to scratch up the surface enough for the paint to adhere.
  • We recommend using a dark color for the best dramatic effect. The pennies will not cover 100% of the surface so if you use a bright color, there is a good chance it will show through.
  • Allow the paint to dry thoroughly before proceeding.
  • Determine how many pennies and how much resin you will need. The chart provided assumes 1/8" deep resin over the coins. Additional layers will require approximately 10oz of mixed resin per square foot for each additional 1/8" of depth desired.

Step #2: Prepare the Pennies

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  • Wash the pennies in plain soapy water to get rid of large debris and dirt. The goal here is just to get the pennies relatively clean, not to polish them back to a bright copper finish.
  • Take a portion of the pennies (we did about 20% of ours) and dump them into a bucket with hot water and a cleaner that lists Oxalic Acid as a primary ingredient. We used a common one called 'Barkeep's Friend', but it's no better or worse than any other
  • The bucket should be no more than 1/3 full with pennies and water, and the water line should be higher than the pennies. Adding a bit of sand will help polish the pennies, but be sure to use a strainer and wash it out before using the pennies.
  • Put a lid on the bucket and shake it vigorously for 2-3 minutes. Pop off the lid, drain off the sudsy water and rinse thoroughly. Most of the pennies should now be bright and well polished. Spread them out and allow them to dry thoroughly before proceeding
  • You can polish the whole lot if you like, but we recommend laying the pennies out and looking at them for a while before committing to them. We like the patterns and visual interest that the mixture of burnished and not burnished provides.

Step #3: Create the Edge

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  • Use the aluminum flashing tape, or other semi rigid barrier to create a dam around the edge of your work surface. The edge needs to sit a little higher than the thickness you plan to pour the epoxy to.
  • Make certain the seal around the edge of the surface is water tight, and that whatever you are using for a dam is strong enough to withstand the weight of the epoxy you will be pouring.

Step #4: Lay out the Pattern

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  • Distribute the pennies across the surface however you see fit. Make sure that each penny is butted securely up against each of its neighbors.
  • if you decide to lay in patterns, it usually works better to arrange by color than by face. The distinction between heads and tails can be difficult to identify, but a non-random assemblage of similarly colored pennies stands out immediately.

Step #5: Fill In The Edges

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  • Once you have everything laid in tightly, you will notice some voids around the edges that are too small to fit a whole penny. If you are a little bit anal, like us, you'll want to fill those in
  • Using a metal shear if you have one, or a pair of snips, cut pennies down fit in the gaps.
  • No, it is absolutely NOT illegal to use coins in this fashion. You can use them or destroy them in the making of decorations of many sorts, you simply cannot spend them afterwards.
  • The snips will be pretty useless by the time you are done, so DON'T borrow someone else's or conscript your wife/husband/parent/friend/neighbor's. We used a beat up old pair of harbor freight specials that we keep around for just such strange requirements.

Step #6: Mix the Epoxy

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  • The following is the general mixing procedure, but may differ slightly from your specific product. If in doubt, mix the epoxy according to the instructions for your product.
  • Take your time. Measure Carefully and Mix Thoroughly!. Do NOT try to take shortcuts. Screwing this up can cause the epoxy to set up too fast, or worse, not at all.
  • Purchase two identical measuring containers. Label them Part A and B and be sure to pour the correct part into the correct cup. By themselves, neither part will harden so the cups can be reused throughout the project. You will also need several disposable containers to mix in. They can be reused this session, but not for later coats.
  • It is very easy to accidentally pour too much and if you're pouring both into the same container you can't pour some back.
  • Start your timer and pour both parts into one of these containers at the same time and mix for the prescribed amount of time (2min for ours.) As you mix, scrape the sides and bottom of the container to ensure it is fully incorporated.
  • When the timer expires, pour the entire batch into a clean container, scraping the sides of the first one. Reset the timer and continue mixing (for another 2 minutes in our case.) You are then ready to pour. It's generally not recommended that you scrape the sides of this container in case any unmixed epoxy remains.
  • Though tempting, DO NOT use a power drill or other powered mixer for this. It will introduce a tremendous amount of air bubbles which may not be expelled before the expoxy sets.

Step #7: Pour the epoxy

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  • Pour slowly and evenly from 2-3 feet above the surface in a small, narrow stream. Just like in mold making, the narrow stream helps to disperse the air bubbles introduced in the mixing process, minimizing bubbles on surface to be coated.
  • Use a squeegee to spread the epoxy evenly and fill in voids. The first coat should just barely cover the pennies.
  • Work in small batches, and work quickly. If you are doing more than a small area, it's really best as a two person job. One to mix and pour, and one to distribute the epoxy. Depending on the product you choose, you'll have between 10 and 25 minutes of work time.
  • Beyond the "working time" or "open time", touching it may leave marks. (If this isn't your final layer, marks aren't critical as later layers will bond to it transparently.)
  • The yellow highlight shows a piece of acrylic we were using as a spreader laying on the dry pennies. DON'T DO THIS! When picking up the spreader later, the epoxy on it will cause it to pick up a bunch of pennies in the process. Not something you want to deal with while under the gun of epoxy curing time.

Step #8: Watch for and remove air bubbles

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  • Because each penny has a raised edge, it forms an air pocket underneath. When the heavy epoxy liquid is poured on top, it forces the air out. The epoxy is engineered to expel air bubbles naturally, but particularly as you get closer to the epoxy setting up, they may not break by themselves.
  • The instructions recommend the use of a propane torch. They suggest that it's the CO2 from the flame, not the flame itself that encourages the bubbles to pop. I think it's also heating the air in the bubble which causes it to expand rapidly and pushes it toward the surface.
  • Run the torch quickly across the surface. Do not stay too long in one place. The epoxy is not flammable, but it will burn and discolor if you stay in one place too long.
  • We also had success using the corner of our acrylic spreader tools, as well as the point of drywall screws to pop the bubbles.

Step #9: Prep for Second Coat

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Install a Penny Countertop
  • Allow the first coat to completely cure - generally 10-12 hours
  • Check the surface for air bubbles or other imperfections. Use a small drill bit and knife to open up and round the edges of the bubbles or other defects. As long as they're open and clean, the second coat will fill them in completely.
  • If you don't want to put a border to your surface, remove whatever material you used for a dam on the first coat, and put down a mask on the floor and any appliances/cabinets under the surface. We opted to paint our edge black at this stage, then the second coat was allowed to run over the edge to make it glossy.
  • If it's necessary to clean the surface between coats, use Acetone, which is recommended by the epoxy manufacturer.

Step #10: Edge Cleanup

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  • No matter how careful you are, there will be a few drips along the underside of your surface. Once the epoxy is partially set, you can use a razor blade to remove these. If you wait until it's fully cured, you will need to use a sander instead.
  • Note: with some brands at least, the epoxy will remain somewhat soft. If you leave a heavy item on the counter for a while, it will leave an indentation. The good news is, when you move it, it will gradually level out. You can avoid this by avoiding heavy things with relatively small feet, or by placing such items on a flat board or plate to distribute the weight more evenly.

Conclusion

We have included the two page printable guide we handed out at the Bay Area Maker Faire 2012.


Comments

  1. Artifacture says:

    We bought some “mold release” spray which I sprayed onto the exposed part of the foil tape before pouring. This turned out to be doubly bad. Not only did the tape not release well from the Epoxy, the mold release contributed to the tape not sealing well against the edge of the old counter material in some places and the epoxy leaking through and either causing bulges in the tape or drips onto the appliances/drawers below (luckily the latter were easy to remove.)

    I ended up using a knife to trim the tape off flush, then used a drum sander to remove the bulges and painted the edge black. Then masked the floor and cabinets with paper and let the second coat run over the edge so it’s seamless and shiny.

    Next time, I would do it by picking an edge I wanted to be there permanently and applying it first, making sure it left an appropriate lip. Then I would do multiple layers with the goal of ending flush with the trim.

  2. Artifacture says:

    We bought ours at Lowe’s. By the gallon I think it was around $60. A quart was like $48, so when we needed more, we bought another gallon. It’s not cheap, but for the counter at least, it worked out to $7.50/sf including the pennies which is less than half of the $17/sf it would have cost for Lowe’s to install a cheap laminate counter top in its place, and almost 1/10th of what granite or quartz would have cost.

  3. Artifacture says:

    Actually, I did intent to cover the foil with copper flashing tape for the second coat. But once I got the copper and held it up there, I realized that it sort of detracted from the pennies. That’s why I ended up painting it, the contrast of the black edge really made the pennies shine.

  4. Artifacture says:

    That would be cool! I think it would be best done by building one of those sorting machines that could read the coloring and construct the image for you.

  5. Artifacture says:

    You don’t want to mix more than 1qt at a time really. The Epoxy cures somewhat as an exothermic reaction. The more you mix at once, the more heat it will generate and the shorter work time you will have. So the instructions say not to use larger batches unless you’re really experienced. That’s also why you don’t want to do overly deep pours in one shot.

    As long as you don’t let dirt or dust come in contract with it between pours, there is no problem seaming multiple pours together. (Don’t do it while doing construction in another room.) The instructions recommend wiping it off with Acetone or similar solvent to be sure no oils or anything will interfere with adhesion.

  6. Artifacture says:

    Sorry for the slow response. I would recommend going with something a little harder than we used – like the system 3 stuff, and I would *definitely* make sure you put down the marine varnish. It smells nasty, but it renders it nearly immune to solvent damage, and makes it much more rigid than just the epoxy. We lived with ours for four years, and left it in place when we moved. If was good enough condition that the property owner left it in place, and the new owners still adore it. We have no kids, but we cook and we bake extensively, and it survived many, many parties and baking sessions with flying colors.

    Warm items are okay, hot items are a definite bad idea. We worked around it by keeping a felt bottomed granite sink cut out on part of the counter. The felt kept the granite from scratching the surface, and was the perfect surface for hot stuff – we even use them to cool cakes and brittles.

    One of the best things about this in terms of durability is that it is infinitely patchable. If it gets scratched up, all you have to do is sand it smooth and put down a new skim coat and it is as good as new – the epoxy fills the scratches in perfectly.

  7. Artifacture says:

    Agreed. We have switched over to the System III line ( we still aren’t doing a tremendous amount of this, and the other commercial resins are rather expensive to experiment with ).

    It’s a bit harder to work with – more prone to micro bubbles, but the final outcome is more than worth it.

  8. yulonda says:

    I think they said $77 worth of pennies…7,700 pennies

  9. Artifacture says:

    You would need to order a specific floor grade resin to do that. None of the “bar top” type resins will hold up under foot traffic.

  10. Artifacture says:

    The mix is self leveling. As long as you don’t disturb it once it starts to thicken ( 30-40 minutes ), it will set smooth and level.

  11. hogrider1959 says:

    I wish someone would answer your question cause thats exactly what I was thinking too..

  12. Artifacture says:

    Sorry, I missed the original post. Ours was about 12 feet long and 3.5feet wide. Coat was probably 1/8″ above the top of the pennies.

    Weight wasn’t a big concern for us. Solid surface ( granite/marble ) counters will generally be a lot heavier than anything you are likely to coat with Resin. If you have a properly constructed base, then an extra few hundred pounds is going to be trivial.

    Do NOT use MDF in your kitchen unless you completely seal all 4 surfaces, not just the top. If you have to replace the base substrate, I would recommend a good .75″ sealed plywood base.

  13. jonathan south says:

    looks good

  14. Fuzzy K says:

    Ours turned out really good. We had a difficult design as we were installing the counter-top on some hand-build cabinetry for a kegerator (specifically the hole for the tap). We decided to use wood glue to fix doll-house baseboards to the edges and around the hole.

    This created a lip of about 1/8 inch which was perfect for holding in the initial two coats. We let our final coat spill over the edges so that we had a rounded boarder. Since we spray painted the entire counter black before applying the pennies… it left a really clean looking black boarder on the counter. We’re kind of obsessed.

    Thanks for posting this!

  15. waterstar says:

    How do I find your two page instruction to download?

    Can I use something other than pennies as the base?

  16. Kim Jagars says:

    A lot of good info here, thank you for sharing! I am wanting to do my kitchen counter tops the same way but with shells, sand, sand dollars, sea fans, etc.. I’m a little nervous because we are totally remodeling my kitchen, we bought new cabinets & I couldn’t find a counter top that I liked. Our concerns are what to do with sides, should we use a wood trim?? and I need to know what the best epoxy product to buy, I don’t care if its more money. Also guess we should use a propane torch, right? How do I keep things from moving around when I pour the epoxy in? I thought about putting one coat in then putting the stuff in but I don’t know how that would work with sand. I wanted a sink that fits under but with making the holes & all maybe we should get the other type that sits on top of the counter??? what do you think? appreciate any additional advice you could give us. you don’t live anywhere near Tampa do you :) ? Thanks again! Kim

  17. MarcyJean says:

    Do you have suggestions for specific brands of epoxy for this project? I’m feeling overwhelmed with making sure I’m using the correct product!

  18. Jason D says:

    You can use pennies for the edge as they create a ‘pencil edge’ but would require being clipped to not create the gap on the bottom edge….if you use the older pennies you can clip them in half an then polish them with various courses of grinder, the resin would stay put by using a painters tape and folding up slightly from the bottom endge until its folded over the entired edge…the same as you would do to make a 3/4″ into a 2 1/4″ for detailed edges and lightweight marble, onyx

  19. Judy McDermitt says:

    Would this on the kitchen counters hold up to the heat? I’m concerned that someone will put a hot pan from the stove to the counter top and damage it. I love this look but need to be practical, too. Will definitely do a back splash with pennies.

  20. 1. Re counter top surrounding edge for under mount white sink: would you use gorilla glue adhesive to hold the pennies on the edge before applying resin, or another adhesive?
    22. Re using painters tape to “hold resin” when letting it drip down the sides, is that strong enough to stop the resin and will it peel off the underside once dried, or maybe just let it drip all the way down and trim with a razor blade before completely dry?
    3. Also, I covered a 60″ round table with pennies 12 years ago, heads, tails, heads, tails, etc. Covered with varathane, a type of polyeurathane (pardon my spelling), many coats. Can I resin over this surface now?
    4. Re floor: Do you recommend a specific brand of resin for floor use, especially with large dogs running around?
    5. Also, I’m concerned about wear and tear on the counter once complete. Accidental cut marks, heat from pots and pans when cooking, etc. Suggestions?
    Thank you so much!

  21. […] Other projects out there just use a hot glue gun or resin. It’s up to you which craft product you utilize. I loved Elmer’s Glue because its easy and safe to work with, oh and it also reminded me of grade school! Obviously, if you wanted to use these on a countertop- it might be best to use a seal or epoxy like this project from Make. […]