Restaurant Table Advice needed

Hello-
I'm considering taking on a project for 30 or so smaller restaurant tables. They want a light wood with solid strips of inlayed darker wood running through. Sort of Frank Lloyd Wright style. I'm faced with two major decisions:
Material: I was thinking of using 3/4" Oak plywood tops with 3/4" Birch plywood bottoms, framed out in solid oak to hide the plies, with 1/4" thick by 3/4" wide Walnut strips running throught the top. They want thicker inlayed wood- rather than veneer. My thought on the plywood was for more dimensional stability than the solid wood. I'm a little worried about the walnut strips expanding out past the sides, though.
Finish: It has to be durable, and entirely watertight, since this is a restaurant environment, and they use harsh cleaning chemicals, the guests have knives, and servers or bussers often don't respect the sanctity of the table tops. I was thinking of a 2-part epoxy, but wondered if anyone has had experience in backing off the high-gloss? Can an epoxy finish be either buffed down with #000 steel wool or coated with satin poly to achieve a less plastic looking finish?
Should I give more thought to solid wood? Are there any other caveats about using the 2-part epoxy in a restaurant environment? Can that finish be recoated after a few years of scratch and wear? How does a 2-part epoxy effect expansion? Cost is, of course, a factor here as well.
Thanks!
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snipped-for-privacy@gmail.com wrote:

The cost is really the steering factor here. All your ideas are very solid, workable ideas. The plywood as a base is a good idea, as it allows you to sink in a group of T-nuts so you have a solid way to attach the leg. (I am assuming you'll be using a basic steel leg?) I do these types of projects on a regular basis and often find solid surface to be cost effective. Certainly competitive with what you're describing. (Inlays are a piece of cake too, btw) The Taliesin/FLW style can be had via a colour selection and edge-treatment. A 1/2" sheet on a t-nutted plywood base, makes for a wonderful-looking, non stainable, refinish-able work horse. I mention this, as the 'sell' is easy and, as they'll tell you in here, I'm horribly biased towards solid surface. That product shines in that application, and when you calculate in the minimal labour involved, it's quite affordable if you stick with acrylic products like Staron or Meganite. If this is an option for you, e-mail me and I'll walk you through it. Back to wood. Applying a solid layer of 2-part epoxy will get you many of the same benefits. Make sure you coat top and bottom to seal out moisture so that your expansion will be minimal. I see no problems with the plans you are describing here. For a VERY durable coat, which you can spray on, look into Sikkens AutoCryl. A two-part acrylic which has an available Matting Clear which allows you to pick the sheen you want..infinitely variable from 'Wet-look' to 'freshly sandblasted glass'. It's very expensive material, and you should rent the use of a proper spray-booth and wear serious respirator gear. That stuff will kill you. But there is nothing like it in a commercial, high traffic area. It's a high-solids product so you don't flash off most of your money. But, having said all that, it all comes down to money.
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Oak plywood top sounds like a good idea. Depending on the quality of the plywood and how much budget they have for the tables.
With plywood you can go two way the first is:
Two parts varnish http://www.westmarine.com/webapp/wcs/stores/servlet/producte/10001/-1/10001/15799/0/0/varnish/All_2/mode+matchallpartial/0/0 The problem with two parts varnish is refinishing. At one time or another you will have to remove it and apply new coats. That when the problem start if you sand too much you will go trough the Oak veneer. With solid wood this problem is minimal. To do a good looking job at least 3 coats is needed. And the second is:
One part varnish http://www.westmarine.com/webapp/wcs/stores/servlet/producte/10001/-1/10001/72418/0/0/varnish/All_2/mode+matchallpartial/0/0 One part varnish does a good job. Its easier to remove when refinishing. To do a good job you need at least four coats , 5 is better. On boat we go up to 6 coats and more.
Personally, I would not use plywood for table top. Solid wood is the way to go but it requires more money and works.

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The other alternative, if your client is willing, is to use melamine paint or coated composite board. Years ago I made a computer desk with maple and hardwood core plywood. Over the years the top got damaged several time. When removing the varnish with heat and sanding I cut trough the maple veneer. I then used a self levelling melamine paint and pick up doe skin color to match the maple trim. It turned out to be a success. FWIW

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On 20 Jan 2007 07:33:41 -0800, " snipped-for-privacy@gmail.com"

Google "pourable epoxy". One of the local establishments used that on their tables--went in about 20 years ago and still for the most part looks fine--the had some copper trim on the tables and some of that wasn't down tight when the epoxy was poured so there's been some cracking on some tables over that trim due to the trim shifting, but other than that it's worked out well for them.
No need to recoat--the stuff builds up almost a half inch thick, just sand and polish if it gets to the point where refinishing is needed. Takes several of those before it's worn down to where you might need to add another layer.
Cost is the real downside--you'll use a couple of gallons of the stuff on a single table.
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Three or four years ago I made a couple of dozen 2' X 2' tables for a restaurant / Bar. I used 2" oak and finished with consumer grade urethane. (on half I used oil Varethane , the other half WB Varethane). They were in hurry to use them and didn't give them time to cure properly before using them. When I last saw them I noticed that they needed to be refinished as the urethane was worn but more importantly there were gouges in them. I asked how that would occur and was told it happens when they stack the tables when cleaning the floors. So, while ply might work in a home setting I would not recommend it for a restaurant unless you have the facility to apply a commercial bullet proof finish.
Cheers, JG

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