how to build a live edge table
I know you've seen them in various boutiques, galleries and even antique shops - those gorgeous live-edge tables that make your jaw drop. Then you flip over the little price tag and you almost have a heart attack. You do a quick search online and see that the prices are similar there as well. What gives?
The thing is - live edge tables are extremely popular right now - so the maker can pretty much charge whatever they want and will likely be able to sell it for that price once the right buyer comes along. A quick search on Etsy reveals that live-edge tables that use a hard wood (like oak), and that are coffee table size or larger, can run anywhere from about $600-$1800. Not including shipping.
But the truth it...they're really not that hard (or expensive) to make. They certainly take time, and you'll have to have the right tools to get the job done, but if you have any experience with DIY projects at all, I can guarantee you're going to be able to handle this one just fine. And, you can do it all for under $400.
First things first, you'll need to pick out your wood slab. The most affordable option is to find a local lumber yard that stocks a variety of live-edge slabs, but you can also find them online. We got ours from Alderfer Lumber in central PA, and we had a lot to choose from! We are lucky that Ryan's uncle is actually in the lumber business and knows a lot about the different species of wood, so we had him pick out the slab for us. Ours was white elm.
When looking for a slab, you'll want to consider the following:
Species of wood - do you want a light wood or a dark wood? Something heavy or something light? Something with lots of knots or something more clean
Knots/cracks - Are you going for a "river" table, something with just a few filled areas, or a completely crack/hole free surface? Make this decision before you head in so you're not stuck with an issue later
Size - You'll want to find something that is as close to the size of the table you're making so that you don't have a ton of excess waste. These are gorgeous trees after all, and we certainly don't want to be wasting them.
Once you have your beautiful live edge slab - evaluate the piece and decide on the following.
Will you be filling holes/cracks with epoxy?
Will you be staining, oiling, or sealing?
What kind of legs do you want?
Then, go ahead and buy your supplies in the order above (more sources from what we used in the details below).
Preparing the wood:
Now that you've bought all your supplies, you're ready to rock & roll. Give your piece of wood a good sanding with 120 grit sandpaper. This will not be the last time you sand, but doing this before filling the holes will help in the long run. Make sure to avoid any areas on the edges that you want to preserve - like bark or coloration changes, or even certain knots or voids. Decide which side is going to be your “top” and which will be your “bottom”, and label accordingly.
Go ahead and test the stain or finish on the underside of your wood if you’d like to. Since you’ll be sanding after the next step anyways, you’ll be able to sand off most of this “test patch” – but I would still recommend testing on the bottom of the slab to avoid discoloration on the top. We tested a variety of oils and ended up going back to our trusty Danish Oil.
Filling the holes/voids
This depends on your slab, but many people love the look of the filled-in cracks, holes and voids in a live edge piece of furniture, and are looking for the same finish. Some even choose to dye the epoxy blue for a "river" effect, but we decided to leave ours clear. We used the West System 105A Epoxy Resin, which you can purchase on Amazon.
Flip the piece over so that its bottom side up – and then tape any holes or cracks that go all the way through the slab so that the resin stays in the hole/crack and hardens accordingly. For large cracks/holes you may even need to reinforce this with something stronger – we used a scrap piece of plywood and clamps for one of our larger cracks.
Mix the resin according to the directions - but do we recommend doing it in small batches. We used plastic cups to mix a little bit at a time so we wouldn't be wasting any – since once it hits the air, it starts hardening and won’t be usable if left out for even an hour.
You’ll want to pour the resin in batches – especially for larger holes – so that it hardens layer by layer. Pour a thin layer into the hole or crack and let it settle. Use a hairdryer or blow torch to encourage any air bubbles to come to the surface, and pop them. This is a time-consuming and somewhat tedious process – but we actually found it fun. Let each layer dry overnight before adding another one.
Keep repeating this process until the holes & cracks are completely filled. You’ll notice that as it hardens it seems to contract and it will look less full each time you return to the piece – but that’s totally normal. Just keep at it.
Once all of your resin is in place and you’re happy with the piece, take it for another sanding. Get off all the extra epoxy that may have dripped or seeped out of the holes and go for a nice smooth finish. You may want to use an even finer grit paper – like 220 – for this step.
Then you’re ready to stain your piece. Follow the instructions on whichever stain or finish you choose, and we recommend finishing with a polyurethane protective coat. We used a matte, wipe-on poly since we wanted a finish that looked more natural (rather than glossy or shiny).
Now it’s time to attach your legs! We went with these cast aluminum matte black legs from Etsy – and I absolutely love the industrial character it brought to the piece. You could also search local antique shops for old cast iron legs, or go with the very popular (and affordable) hair pin leg style.
AND YOU’RE DONE! See, easy right?
For more behind the scenes footage of our live edge table-making experience, check out my Instagram highlight: https://www.instagram.com/stories/highlights/18081043540082937/