How To Make a Live Edge Slab Table
The first job is getting the slabs into the shop, which is made much easier by using a cart. With the exception of how we join the slabs, all the processes we’re going to use are common woodworking techniques, everything is just bigger.
After moving the slabs into the shop, the first step is the same as milling any lumber, establish a flat face. To do this we mounted the slabs to a sled to feed it through an awesome 30” baxter whitney planer. The sled gives us a flat reference surface to run on the bed of the planer. The slab gets shimmed to keep it stable and make sure the blades cut the slab flat instead of the feed rollers pushing it flat and then having the curve spring back when it comes out. For that reason if there is any cupping, you want the open part of the C to face up. All of the shims get brad nailed and the slab gets screwed to the sled for security. The screws are driven in towards the ends of the slabs which will be cut off anyway, so the screw holes won’t be a problem.
The sled goes through the planer until the first face of the slab is flat, that happens once you can tell the planer knives have cut across the entire width and length of the slab. Then we can unmount the slab from the sled, flip it over and plane the other side until both slabs are flat and the same thickness.
Matthew works with large slabs all the time, so he has some beautiful old equipment sized to handle these tasks. Of course you do not need massive industrial equipment to make a table like this, or even one this size. I’ll post cards and links in the description to videos where I smoothened the slab with hand planes and where I built a jig that lets you do this with a router or even circular saw.
After the slabs are thicknessed, we run both of them through the Timesaver wide belt sander. After they are joined they will be too wide to fit. I mark pencil lines on the slabs as a guide, once they are gone we know it’s been sufficiently and even sanded.
They will still need some hand sanding, but doing this now will still cut down significantly on the sanding time later.
Now it’s time to edge joint the slabs so they can be joined. Normally this would just be a matter of making a straight line rip cut then and then running the edge over the jointer or hand planing it. But because of their grain and the fact these slabs were sequence sawn from the same tree, they were good candidates for a more interesting technique, joining a curve.
I did a separate detailed video on the why and how’s of this technique so I’ll post a card and link to that video and just hit the highlights here.
Now that the edges have been matched in the most complicated manner possible, it’s time for one of my most stressful glue ups to date. I use a liberal amount of glue and take care to spread plenty inside of the mortises, as well as a little on each domino before tapping them in.
Then it’s a lot of running around my bench and awkwardly pipe clamping this thing. It took some work, but I was able to get good clamp pressure all around, I knew it was working when the joint gave me that reassuring even bead of glue squeeze out.
With the slabs out of clamps it was time to do an edge treatment to get rid of the fragile edge. I traced a line about an inch from the edge and did my best to follow the shape before cutting it out with the jigsaw.
Sycamore has interlocked grain that grows in what can be described as a spiral shape, that can cause angled cracks on the edges of slabs. My other slabs had some pretty severe cracks so I had to cut back a lot farther to get rid of most of them.
If you saw my last table video, the steps for squaring up the ends is going to be really familiar. I clamped a long straight edge down where I thought it looked pretty straight relative to the edges and traced a line. I’ll make the ends perpendicular to this line, which ensures the ends will be parallel to each other. To make the cut I clamp down a piece of plywood as a saw guide, set the depth of my blade to just more than the slab, and make sure my cord is long enough and won’t snag anything. I’m cutting off so much because I’m also bringing the slabs down to the final length with these cuts.
I do the same thing on the other end, but take one last measurement right before the cut just to make sure I don’t cut off too much.
There were a few cracks small cracks left on the edge that I was able to stabilize just using some medium CA glue. The face of the slabs had some fine cracks and I decided to try a different technique to fill them. I rubbed in a good about of sawdust from running the boards through the timesaver and then laid a bead of thin CA glue of it and packed more dust on top. I would only use this on hairline cracks and it worked pretty well. Thin CA glue is like water though, so to control the flow I put some packing tape over the nozzle and poked a tiny hole in it. To fill in the worm holes and larger cracks I went with my old standard of sawdust mixed with PVA glue.
Then time for the sanding, this is never fun, but I recently picked up an adaptor and hooked up my shop vac to my sander. If you don’t do this, I highly recommend it. Even with my modest sander I was surprised how clean this process was with the shop vac. Whenever I get to sanding, I like to pull out a moving blanket and so I’m not putting sanded surfaces against my bench.
Now the most visually satisfying part.. the first coat of finish. I used General Finishes Arm-R-Seal on this and man was the wood thirsty. Just in these quick clips you can see how fast the wood soaked up the first coat.
To prevent making any sawdust at the clients house, I pre-drilled the holes for the legs in my shop. To get the legs consistent, I put a straight edge down the middle of the slab and then measured each leg from the end and middle of the slab, then I used a framing square against the straight edge down the middle to keep all the legs square to each other. They don’t have to be perfect, but for me doing this was quicker than running around the table eyeballing and adjusting all the legs until they looked good.
Delivery time. I wrapped the slab in several moving blankets to protect it on the trip and wrestled it into my truck. All that was left was to unwrap it, screw in the legs and take some glamour shots!
This was a pretty big project. The top finished out to 1 5/8” thick, 40” wide, and 8’ long. I used 1/2” steel three prong hair pin legs for the base. I’ll leave links in the description to all the products I used and to Matthew’s instagram. If you want to stay up to date on what I’m working on, I’m really active on Instagram. If you enjoyed this, please hit that thumbs up and leave a comment. If you want to help me get more content like this out, please consider supporting me on Patreon or just hitting that share button. Thanks.