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If you are a handy do-it-yourselfer, making something for your home with live edge wood is a rewarding way to use your imagination to produce a one-of-a-kind table, desk, bench, shelf or artwork.
Formerly, live edge wood was the part of lumber tossed aside or used for firewood. Not smooth and straight enough for regular woodworking projects, this wood had little value to lumber yards. That is, until artisans saw the potential and started making gorgeous furnishings and decorative pieces now in great demand.
The recent stronger focus on building with sustainable materials, reducing waste, and repurposing rather than simply throwing it away, has helped drive the popularity of live edge wood. These unique wood furnishings are always original, crafted from the tree in whatever shape it happened to grow.
There are three main types of live edge wood: a slab that is cut along the length; a horizontal, round slab that reveals the rings; and the unusual, but stunning, burl round that uses limbs and other parts of the tree, but not the trunk.
Perfect in rustic settings, they also beautifully complement traditional and contemporary décor themes. Live edge wood furniture and decorative pieces add a unique character to any style of home décor. The best part is that you can easily create live edge wood furniture yourself for a fraction of the cost of purchasing one already made.
Hardwoods are a practical choice for desks and tables that will need to handle daily wear and tear.
Each type of wood has its own characteristics, and when it comes to live edge creations, the more flaws the better. Some of the more popular types of live edge wood are sturdy and darker toned such as walnut. Maple can be found in light, medium and darker tones. Oak is usually more affordable and in great supply, depending on where you live. Other popular hardwoods are mahogany, cherry, or the lighter-hued beech and sycamore.
Furniture or decorative pieces that won’t need to withstand heavy-duty use are ideal for items such as pine shelves or window frames.
Start with a plan
First, decide what your creation will be used for, how big it should be, and what shape will work best in your space. Consider the thickness of the live edge board and make sure it will be to scale with the other furnishings in your home or office. You don’t want it to overpower your room, as some pieces of live edge wood can be quite thick and large. Have a look at examples of live edge furniture in magazines, online blogs and in furniture stores to help you find the design that will work best in your home.
Ready-to-use live edge wood
To save time and get right to the creation part of your project, you can opt to purchase live edge slabs that need a little sanding and planing to make sure the surface is even and flat. Depending on what you plan to use it for, you may prefer a completely flat surface or a wavy surface. Finish the surface with a clear oil and protect it with a coat or two of polyurethane or varnish.
Where do you find live edge wood?
You will find live edge wood slabs at salvaged materials stores, specialty wood supply stores, online sellers, and possibly at tree-cutting services. Be selective and purchase a better-quality slab that has been properly seasoned and dried for the best long-term results.
Most often, ready-to-use slabs are pre-flattened for use as tables, desks and benches, but some will have wavy surfaces that add interest and are more suited to headboards and other decorative items that don’t need an even surface.
Using found wood
If you want the satisfaction of creating your live edge wood piece completely from scratch, keep your eyes open for fallen logs in woodlots and forests. It’s exciting to discover that “perfect” piece of wood in its natural state. Look for logs that have unusual markings, burls, bumps and knots to make your creation stand out. You may even have luck rooting through a woodpile.
To bark or not to bark
If your project would look better with the bark on, then choose a specimen with its bark still firmly attached. If you would rather not keep the bark, then check to feel how secure it is and gently pry it off without gouging the cambium layer beneath. Some artisans opt to keep the textured cambium layer on for added interest. Sometimes with luck, the bark will fall off by itself or peel off with little effort. You can sand the cambium layer to reveal a smoother surface.
Sawing with bark
Sawing your logs with the bark on will require a few spare blades as they will quickly become dull from the dense bark’s sawdust. In most cases, it is advisable to cut slabs at least 2” or thicker to help prevent warping. If you want a wide slab with two natural edges, you can glue two pieces together.
Drying your live edge wood slab
You will need to plan ahead and allow time to air dry your wood for about one year per inch of thickness to ensure that your wood keeps its color. When time is limited, you can opt to kiln-dry your live edge wood, but some of the variation in the wood tones may lose their impact.
Local saw mill
Your local saw mill or lumber yard may be happy to cut the wood for you. When you bring home your wood, remember to let it adapt to the humidity of your workspace before you move forward with sanding or flattening if needed.
Flatten the slab faces
You’ll need a plunge router and jig to plane the top and bottom if you are building a table or other item that needs a flat surface.
You’ll find a wide range of interesting legs and bases for your live wood surface, from hardwood to steel. You can make a truly original piece by searching in a salvaged materials store or order a custom-made base to suit your décor and height requirements. Many bases come with their own fasteners. Make sure your live edge wood will not be split by the screws. There are special fasteners that are easy to install and designed to prevent splitting the wood.
Finishing your live edge wood
As with the ready-made live edge wood, finish the surface with a clear oil to show off the beauty and detail of the grain, and protect it with a coat or two of polyurethane, shellac or varnish.
Your own masterpiece!
Part of the fun of creating furniture from live edge wood is working with the shape and flaws of the wood to design your piece. It’s all about character, so embrace the imperfections of live edge wood to make your piece a one-of-a-kind work of art.
Disclaimer: The information and resources in these articles and on this website are available for informational and educational purposes only. The articles provided on this website are created with every reasonable effort to ensure completeness and accuracy. In doing so, the article writers, publishers, and the business that this website represents assume no responsibility for errors, omissions, or opposed interpretation of the articles and under no circumstance will these parties be held liable for any direct, indirect and/or consequential damages of any kind incurred from undertaking tasks outlined in the articles or on this website. In addition, it is suggested that readers check by-laws, zoning laws and building codes of your local area and country.
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