If you are looking for ideas for starting a woodworking business then take making and selling live edge tables into consideration. Other than their somewhat unwieldy size, the process to make a live edge table isn’t all that difficult. Especially if you live near a good wood slab dealer who can provide a good variety of dried and flattened live edge wood slabs for you to work with!
When we made our first live edge coffee table probably 8 years ago now we didn’t really have a clue what we were doing. I had an old, small spruce slab that was from my grandfathers shop.
It was warped and had a pretty funk shape but I pulled out the belt sander and just started going to work on it. Eventually I was able to get it flat enough that we called it good. Then I, once again not really knowing much about anything at the time, applied some hideous, thick finish on it that, while durable, isn’t exactly the best looking.
The legs were then a couple of 2x4s cut at angles and bolted to a 4×4 that was attached to the bottom. Despite the crude nature of the build, this table lived in our home for years.
Luckily, there is a lot more information out there now on how to build a live edge table. From how to pick out slabs to surfacing to finishing to custom, bolt-on table legs that can be bought from any number of online shops.
I was able to apply a lot of this knowledge when I built our dining table out of a large butternut slab and I would say that ended up as a far more successful project that now anchors our dining room.
We’ll walk you through what we’ve learned since then on how to build a live edge table.
Choosing a Live Edge Table Top Slab
Other than applying that first coat of finish to the slab and watching the grain and color pop this step in the process is arguably the most enjoyable. Browsing a live edge slab dealer’s inventory can truly feel inspiring as you choose from different species, tree shapes, sizes, etc.
There are a few considerations to take into account with the size of slab you are choosing.
- How big is your space?
Bring measurements of your dining room space with you so you don’t end up with a slab that dominates your room. A general rule of thumb is to leave at least 36 inches between the table and any other furniture or walls. This allows for plenty of room to walk around the table or for chairs to be pushed in and out.
- How much seating do you need?
Plan on being able to seat 1 person per 24-inches for a rectangular-shaped table. This would mean a 72-inch long table would comfortably seat 6 people along the sides and 1 more at each end.
Most slabs will have some minor cracking at the ends so take into account cutting a few inches off either end into your final dimensions.
Shape of the Slab
When we chose the slab for our dining room table we went with one of the more interesting shaped options. We loved the wood from the crotch area and where limbs have previously grown out of the tree.
As we have used the table over the years though we find ourselves musing that if we did it over again we would probably choose a more rectangular-shaped slab.
There is a trade-off between choosing a visually interesting live edge wood slab and choosing the most practical option so take some time to think which will work best for you or your client.
Best Wood for a Live Edge Table Top
Domestic hardwoods will often be your best choice of wood for live edge tabletops. These species are plentiful around the US. Hard enough to withstand the abuse that a dining table gets. And for the most part, won’t cost an arm and a leg for a normal dining room sized table.
Black walnut is going to be your most in demand domestic species and therefore will typically be the highest price. Expect to pay anywhere from $15 – $40 per board foot for kiln dried black walnut slabs.
Other great options are cherry, maple, oak, butternut, chestnut, elm, and redwood. The choices available to you will often be dictated by the species that grow in your area. Although you can always go with a company like Goby Walnut who ships their slabs all over the country.
Choosing a Dry Slab or Drying Your Own
If you are making a live edge dining table for yourself, or especially if you are making one for a client, working with a fully dried slab is absolutely necessary!
This is where I would fully recommend working with a company that kiln dries their slabs so you can be assured that the wood you are buying is fully dry and ready to finish.
If you are buying air dried or green wood then I would highly recommend investing in a high-quality moisture meter. This can mean the difference between a finished table stop stay flat or ending up like a potato chip a year or two down the road.
If you are sending your tables off to clients, using wood that is not fully dried can quickly become a very costly mistake.
Flattening the Slab
After a slab has been cut and dried, either in the kiln or air-dried, it will typically have a pretty rough surface and some amount of warping. In order to get the wood back to a flat, workable surface the slab will need to be flattened.
Using a router or CNC
You can either build your own custom flattening jig or ask to have your live edge table top flattened by whichever place you purchased it from.
If you bought the slab from someone’s backyard then asking them to flatten it probably isn’t a viable option. But if you purchased your slab from a wood slab dealer then they probably offer this service for a small fee.
If you are running a business selling live-edge tables then building your own high-quality flattening jig is probably well worth the time and money. If you are just building a single table though then I would highly recommend just paying to have this step done for you.
Dealing with Cracks or Voids
Cracks and voids are almost unavoidable when working with large live edge slabs. Luckily, these defects in the wood can be used to your advantage to add an extra visual element to the finished table.
How to Keep Cracks in Slabs from Spreading
Cracks, typically found at the end of the slabs, are sometimes too large to completely remove. A common solution for these is to insert wood or metal bow ties to keep them from expanding further.
Bow ties can either be cut by hand, on the bandsaw, or using a router template. I personally use the router templates which makes the process almost impossible to mess up.
You can learn more about how to make wood bow ties with this great tutorial from Blacktail Studio.
Dealing with Voids in Slabs
Voids can be the result of any number of issues in a live edge slab. There can be bark inclusions where the wood grew around the bark which left a hole in the slab. Areas of rot that may need to be removed. Or maybe you just have a funky slab with a large gap down the middle where the tree split in two.
These defects can present some stunning opportunities by fixing them with epoxy. When used tastefully the combo of epoxy and wood creates an interesting visual effect while reinforcing your table top so it is flat and safe to eat off of.
Our dining room table had a large gap about half way up the slab from the crotch area. I reinforced it with bowties but also needed to fill it in with epoxy so it wouldn’t get filled with crumbs.
Just using clear epoxy it resulted in a look where the crack is still obvious but, in combination with the bowties, creates almost a story within the wood of it trying to break apart.
This video from Popular Woodworking is a good tutorial on filling in cracks and defects on a live edge table with epoxy.
Sanding the Table
Once the live edge table top has been flattened and any clean up work done then it is time to sand. A belt sander makes far quicker work of the process to remove tool marks but this step can certainly done with hand planes or a random orbit sander.
For our table I sanded the top down to 180 grit which is more than smooth enough for a table top that will eventually get pounded on with forks and toys by the kids.
The Best Finish for a Live Edge Table
Choosing the best finish for a live edge table can be an extremely subjective exercise. In our earlier post about working with live edge slabs, we talked about some of our favorites.
To summarize it came down to an choice between a natural oil and wax finish or the standard to go for many folks; General Finishes Arm-R-Seal.
Live Edge Table Legs
When I made our table, one of the only options for legs to buy online were hairpin legs. This way a style that, at that point, had been very overdone and wasn’t a look we wanted.
I made the choice to build a base which turned out well but added a lot of extra work to the process. Now though there are a ton of excellent custom table leg options on sites like Etsy.
If I had a slightly larger shop and a domino I could probably make a decent side income just making trapezoidal shaped wood table legs. This is a quick and easy style to make for live edge tables.
Final Thoughts on How to Build a Live Edge Table
Live edge tables are a lot of fun to make and surprisingly not as difficult as a lot of people might expect. There are some great start to finish guides on Youtube if you want to see a live walkthrough of the entire process and what to expect so I’d encourage anyone looking to build their first live edge dining table to check some of those out.