At the moment (May 2013) I’m making some tests filling polyurethane resin with used tea-bag tea and coffee grounds and here are the first results. The tea or coffee must be thoroughly dry, and I usually just spread them out on absorbent tissue where I leave them for at least a week but drying them out in an oven on very low heat would work just as well if they’re needed sooner. For these tests I’ve used Biresin G26 polyurethane resin from Tiranti, which is my favourite for its reliability. In each case Parts A and B of the resin were mixed thoroughly but quickly first before mixing in an amount of coffee or tea and pouring (or spreading) into the oval mould. This is essential when filling resin with anything even slightly absorbent. In the first place, if the material is mixed with either part of the resin first it will start absorbing it meaning that some of it won’t be combined properly with the other resin part when added. In the second place the mix will quickly become too thick (whichever part is used first) to distribute the two resin parts evenly anyway.
Working from left to right, for the first form above I mixed 25g resin (12.5g of each part) and could add 15g coffee grounds before I felt the mixture was becoming too thick to do anything with. It was certainly not pourable but I could paste it into the mould fairly easily, making sure that it was properly packed down evenly. As the resin began to set the mix reached a ‘dough-like’ state fairly quickly where I could continue to press or even stretch it with my fingers. Certainly more press casting than anything else. When set (c.15mins) the resin had filled the surface completely smooth but the coffee had coloured it a rich brown and the coffee grains were visible underneath as an even speckle.
For the second form, next to it, I mixed tea and resin in equal weight (in this case 10g each). Tea-bag tea differs from loose tea in that the particles are smaller, more like small grains plus dust. But these expand immediately on contact with the resin and very quickly the mix became like damp soil. But it was workable enough to trowel and press into the mould and like before after a minute or so I could press it down further with my fingers. The result was equally attractive, but different. Because the tea is much more absorbent than the coffee and I had used less resin anyway there was not enough of it to fill the surface and the resultant effect is very much like a peaty soil pressed into a shape. Unlike real soil though, the resin had bonded the tea into a very strong, hard solid.
For the next sample I used less tea (half as much in fact, 20g resin to 10g tea this time). The mixture was still thick i.e. more of a paste, but much ‘wetter’ than before and could be more easily introduced into the mould. When set the form surface was smoother (albeit broken in parts) because more resin could coat the mould surface. The tea didn’t stain the resin itself like the coffee had done because the used tea-bags had been rinsed after use.
For the final sample in this small series I added even less tea ( 20g resin, 7g tea) because I wanted the resin to coat the surface of the cast uniformly but after full curing of the form I cut back the surface, a term used to describe using an abrasive on the surface of a filled cast to expose the filler better. The result of sanding with coarse sandpaper, below, was a surface which looks very like sandstone but is much easier to carve.