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Build It | Live Edge Slab Table

Ask This Old House general contractor Tom Silva and host Kevin O’Connor build a console table using a maple slab with a live edge on it

Steps:

  1. Before doing any work, determine the orientation of the table. Decide whether the live edge should face up or face down, see which face of the slab will look nicest on top, etc. For decorative tables, Tom likes having the live edge face up so it can be really celebrated. For more functional tables, like a dining room table, Tom likes the live edge down so there’s no gap between the flat surface of the table and the person sitting at the table. Mark the sides in the middle that will need to be cut.
  2. Lay the slabs on a workbench with the sides you plan to cut facing the outside of the table. Cut straight edges on both sides of each slab with the track saw.
  3. Put the slabs back in the correct orientation to check the size.
  4. Remove the bark from the live edge using a hammer and chisel.
  5. Once the bark is off, smooth out the edges with a grinder.
  6. Sand the live edges with the palm sander. Do a few passes, starting with the rough sandpaper and work up to a smoother one.
  7. Generously apply a coat of wood glue to both straight edges of the slabs and clamp the pieces together to dry.
  8. Once the glue has dried, cut the rough edges on the short sides of the table with a track saw.
  9. Sand the top of the table until the glue joint is perfectly blended.
  10. Flip the table upside down and mark the desired location for the legs.
  11. Cut two pieces of scrap wood to equal size and height and clamp them to the workbench around the tabletop.
  12. Make a jig using the scrap wood to hold a router that’s wide enough to slide across the two rails.
  13. Determine the appropriate depth to set the router by placing the jig over the four marks for the legs. Lower the router to the deepest point on the four marks.
  14. Use the router to cut out four even sections based on the marks.
  15. Drill holes in the table for the four legs. Then, screw the legs into the drilled holes with the wood screws.
  16. Flip the table right side up on its legs. Apply a coat of amber shellac with the paintbrush to seal it. Let the shellac dry.
  17. Lightly sand the table with the 320 grit sandpaper.
  18. Apply three coats of tung oil to the table with a rag. Be sure to put the rag in a bucket of water when you’re finished. Let it dry overnight.
  19. Apply three more coats of tung oil.

Resources:
Tom recommends locating a local lumber yard or mill to find live edge slabs. A quick Internet search should help you identify the one closest to you. Give them a call, talk about the project you’d like to do, and see what types of wood they have. Tom and Kevin used a slab of maple from The Rustic Wood Shop.

For a more modern look, Tom ordered hairpin metal legs to attach to the bottom of the table. He used the 48” I-Semble Hairpin Table Legs, available at Rockler Woodworking and Hardware.

To adhere the two boards together, Tom used wood glue, manufactured by Gorilla Glue.

To finish the slab, Tom applied a coat of amber shellac and then a coat of tung oil. These are both found at home centers and woodworking shops.

All the other tools Tom and Kevin used, including the hammers, chisels, reciprocating saw, sanders and clamps, can be found at home centers and woodworking shops.