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How to Form Live-Edge Furniture

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When I first tried my hand at woodworking, my friends and family were surprised. I’ve never been a hands-on, crafty person, but I’ve always been drawn to handmade wood pieces, and I have dreams of filling my home with antique wood furniture. To me, worn wood feels more cozy and comfortable than mass-produced pieces, and that’s something I value, especially in my personal space.

My largest woodworking piece so far is a barn wood desk, which is still a work in progress, but I’ve continued expanding my skills through trying other projects, learning from numerous crafters, and using new tools. I recently visited Woodcraft of St. Louis-Maryland Heights in St. Louis, Missouri, a woodworking supply store and fully equipped workshop and classroom space, where I spent a day immersed in woodworking. There, I picked up the skills to make my own live edge table, now featured in my home alongside my other successful projects. I was intimidated by this project, and to work in front of others with much more experience than me, but was surprised by how quickly I picked up each tool and step. By the end, my initial intimidation was replaced with pride.

Depending on the size you choose, this project makes an excellent accent or side table. However, if you decide to make a larger tabletop, adjust the height and strength of the legs accordingly. A larger table will require shorter, sturdier legs, while a smaller table can be paired with the tall hairpin legs used in this project.

Tools & Materials

  • Planer
  • Track saw
  • Chisel or flathead screwdriver
  • Restorer
  • Orbital sander
  • Power drill and drill bit
  • Paint color of choice, optional
  • Hairpin legs (4)
  • Maple wood slab, with bark
  • 80-grit sandpaper
  • 120-grit sandpaper
  • Wood screws (16)
  • Wood finish in color of choice
  • Staining rag

Instructions

1. Paint the hairpin legs, if desired. Set aside to dry while you prep the tabletop.

2. Run both sides of the tabletop through a planer. Do this multiple times to ensure it’s perfectly even throughout. If you don’t have a planer, your local hardware store will level your slab for a fee.

3. Measure and mark where you want the ends of your table to be. Use a track saw to cut along these lines and create flat and even edges. Make sure to cut only a little at a time until you reach your desired tabletop length. (The finished table photographed here measures 23 inches long.)

4. Carefully chisel away the raw bark from the sides of the slab. (See “Removing the Bark” at the bottom of the page to learn more about this process.) After the top layer is fully removed, continue to clear away the bark layers underneath until your desired amount remains. Take your time with this, because once the bark is gone, it can’t be replaced. I chose to leave on as much bark as possible to give a greater contrast between the tabletop and the live edges.

5. Polish the edges of the table with a restorer, making sure all the splintered pieces are polished and flattened, but don’t overwork the bark. Polishing for too long can remove more bark than you intended, or take away the texture of the remaining bark, affecting the overall finished product.

6. Sand the bottom of the tabletop with 80-grit sandpaper. To do so evenly, first move the orbital sander up and down vertically across the table, from one end to the other. When you reach the end, sand the tabletop again, this time moving the sander back and forth horizontally. In between these sets, move the sander in random motions across the entire table. This ensures you don’t favor one area too heavily, or skip any part of the tabletop. However, if you sand by hand, be sure to only sand with the grain to avoid scratching the wood. Flip the slab over, and repeat on the top side.

7. Repeat Step 6 with 120-grit sandpaper.

8. Using either the orbital sander or loose sandpaper, sand the edges and corners of both sides of the table, just enough to round and smooth them out.

9. Flip the tabletop over, laying the top down on your workspace. Place the hairpin legs about 1 inch in from the edges of the table at each corner, and mark the position of the holes. Remember that live edge wood slabs are slanted at the edges, meaning the top and bottom of the tabletop won’t have the same surface area. Take into account the slant of the live edge of the table when marking for the screws; this may mean placing the legs further than 1 inch in from the edges.

10. With a drill bit the size of your screws’ minor diameter inserted into your power drill, make a pilot hole into each of the markings.

11. Align the legs with the pilot holes, and insert all the screws halfway to stabilize the legs. Then, go back and fully screw them into place.

12. Place the table right-side up on its legs. Pour a small amount of wood finish onto one corner of the tabletop. With a staining rag, rub the stain evenly across the area. I used Rubio Monocoat Oil Plus in the color “Pure,” and I found that a little goes a long way. Work on one area at a time, rather than attempting to stain the entire top at once. When staining the live edges, fill all of the crevices. Repeat until the entire table is stained. NOTE: I didn’t stain the bottom side of my table, but if you wish to do so, stain it before attaching the legs.

13. Allow the stain to fully dry for 2 to 4 days before placing anything on the table.


Removing the Bark

The appeal of a live edge wood table is the bark edging that brings a hint of the natural world to your piece. At first, I was shocked — and slightly disappointed — when I was told to chisel away at this bark. However, the outer layer of bark is dry and fragile, and it’s barely clinging to the underlying wood. If not removed, it’ll eventually wither and fall off on its own, leaving you with an unfinished and faulty piece down the road. Chiseling the top layer avoids this issue, and gives you more control over the finished piece. Once you’ve reached the darker brown layers of bark underneath, you’re good to go.


Jordan Moslowski is a Capper’s Farmer editor. In her spare time, you can find her reading, watching nature documentaries, or snuggling with her cats.