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What are Live Edge Slabs?

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A quickly growing trend in the interior design world is incorporating a live edge slab in your home design. Also known as a natural edge slab, you can’t flip through a design magazine without seeing one. Even watching your favourite TV show, you’ll likely notice a live edge table or a live edge bar top in the background. Interior designers across Canada routinely incorporate live edge furniture in their designs. We have helped dozens of Ottawa designers and architects find the perfect piece of live edge wood for their clients vision.


Over the years we’ve come across some truly spectacular live edge slabs. Here are just a few one of a kind live edge slabs that Ottawa woodworkers have purchased for their unique projects.

Live edge slabs in Ottawa Canada

 

Read on for a full understanding of what exactly live edge slabs are or use these quick links to jump ahead to specific questions. 

Why are live edge slabs so expensive?

Purchasing from a slab supplier such as KJP Select Hardwoods ensures you are buying quality wood. The term expensive is also subjective. We provide live edge slabs for all price points including Pine and Poplar for an economical choice, and exceptionally wide and figured slabs such as Claro Walnut. One does not just go cut down a tree, slice it into slabs, and immediately use that slab to build furniture. There are many steps in the process of acquiring high quality live edge slabs so let’s get started.  

What is a live edge slab? 

A live edge slab is a piece of wood that still has the natural edges of the tree, which commonly include the bark. The width of a tree trunk will determine the width of the live edge slabs that can be achieved. From that tree trunk, the middle section will provide the widest boards, and the boards closest to the edge will be smaller in width. Trees are milled into slabs by cutting sections of the tree trunk, generally done with a horizontal bandsaw or similar setup. When an entire section of a tree trunk is sliced into slabs, it is called a flitch. A flitch of live edge slabs is often what slab suppliers carry. A flitch is very desirable as many woodworkers like to do what is called bookmatching. The term bookmatching refers to the process of aligning two slabs/boards that when placed beside each other display a mirror effect. When those two boards are laminated together, they will appear as one solid piece. Here is a photo of a flitch of exceptionally wide Live Edge Walnut slabs. 

Live Edge Walnut Flitch


For long term stability, live edge slabs are kiln dried. The process of kiln drying wood is complicated and each wood species has to be treated differently. We leave this process to our reliable slab suppliers! It is possible to air dry wood slabs, however that takes years and years and a lot of patience. We highly recommend purchasing kiln dried slabs vs air dried slabs. 

How thick are live edge slabs?

Various woodworking projects call for different thicknesses. If you are making a tabletop with live edge slabs, the most common thickness is 2”. If you are making a wood mantel, perhaps you would like something visually thicker so you aim for a 3” slab. Charcuterie boards are increasingly popular, and wood crafters prefer a more delicate thickness of 1” thick. 

What can you build with a live edge slab that has one straight edge? 

Live edge slabs are initially cut down with both live edges intact. Sometimes there are certain applications where one side would be removed. For wood mantels, one live edge is generally removed so that the mantel can be placed directly against the wall. Often live edge bar tops only require one side to have a live edge. Live edge floating shelves have one natural edge and one flat edge so that it may rest flush to the wall. Woodworkers prefer to purchase live edge slabs with both edges intact so they have more flexibility in their projects. 

Here is an example of a slab that has two live edges and is desirable to be used in a piece of live edge furniture. 

Wide Live Edge Walnut Slab

What is a live edge table?

There are two main types of live edge tables. We’ll start off with the most common option. As you can see here from our Live Edge Tabletop page, these tables look like they are all one solid piece of wood. Wrong! They are actually multiple boards strategically chosen and laminated together to achieve the desired dimensions. 

The second option is when the entire tabletop is built from one solid slab. We generally don’t see this very often except with exceptional woods such as Redwood and Claro Walnut. Here are a few examples of live edge tables built with both options and I bet you can’t tell which one is which! 

Custom built live edge tabletops

What is the process of creating a live edge table?

First we select a live edge slab that has two natural edges that are relatively straight. This piece will then be ripped in half to provide both the outer edges of the table. With the final width in mind, we then select complimentary boards of lumber to use in the middle section to fill in the required width. You simply can’t just “pick” out boards. With our years of experience, we have developed an eye for creating balance and symmetry by aligning the grain patterns of our tabletops. Because of our attention to detail, our tabletops are commonly mistaken for a solid piece of wood. This is quite the compliment! 

After the slabs and lumber have been selected, we move on to the building process. The wood is milled, laminated, flattened, sanded, and finished. Stay tuned as we have a video of this process coming very soon. As you can see, it’s quite the process to build a live edge table. A process that we very much enjoy doing....

Live Edge Walnut Table

Do live edge tables warp?

Sometimes, but it’s preventable. Keep reading. 

How do you keep live edge slabs from warping?

There are several key factors that can help prevent a live edge table from warping. The most important factor is the wood needs to be dry and acclimated to the environment that you are building in. When laminating the boards, when possible try and alternate the direction of the end grain. This has been known to help with expansion and contraction. Never leave a live edge table unfinished. All sides need to be finished for protection and to help control movement for seasonal temperature changes. Store your tabletop in an environment with a consistent temperature. For extremely long tabletops, we will often use C-Channels to help for stability. 

How do I attach legs to a live edge slab?

Installing table legs to a live edge dining table or coffee table is easier than you think. For the easiest installation of metal table legs, we recommend using insert nuts and bolts. By not screwing the legs directly into the slab, you are protecting the integrity of the wood and making it easier to unassemble should you ever need to remove the legs.

So how do you attach legs to a live slab? Lay your slab on a soft surface (to protect the wood finish) and place your legs on the slab ensuring you measure equal distance from each side. Assuming you are using metal legs, grab your pencil and mark each hole of the metal legs accordingly. Place the legs aside. Drill the appropriate length hole on each pencil marking and then screw in your insert nuts. Align your table leg over the insert nuts, and install the appropriate length bolt. And you’re done! To remove the legs, simply unscrew the bolts and the table legs are easily removed without any damage to the wood. 

Live Edge Furniture Inspiration

You may have heard the name George Nakashima, a leader in 20th century furniture design. It’s astounding how he could see beauty in a natural piece of wood, giving him the vision and inspiration to build a timeless piece of live edge furniture. Woodworkers from around the world have been inspired by his work. Visit the George Nakashima Woodworkers website here

Calling all plant lovers!

Live edge wood is commonly used to display plants. There is just something calming about a plant and the natural look of a slice of wood. Here in Ottawa, plant lovers are inspired by another local business, The Urban Botanist. Emma brings an equal amount of knowledge and passion to inspire others to incorporate plants into their home with easy DIY projects. We often run workshops together educating our students to combine live edge wood and various plants. Our upcoming workshops can be found here

Air plant mounted no a live edge slab

What is a live edge charcuterie board? 

Let’s start off with explaining the trending word, ‘charcuterie’. It’s basically a fancy way of describing a beautiful display of meats, cheeses, fruits, and nuts. It is becoming very popular to display these yummy foods on a nice board of wood. To keep with a natural look, woodworkers often choose a thin live edge slab and protect it with a food safe wood finish such as our locally made Honey Bee’s Wood Cream

Post pandemic, keep this in mind when you visit your favourite restaurant. Your appetizers and charcuterie are likely served on a live edge board. These charcuterie boards are easily completed as a weekend DIY project. No woodworking experience is even necessary.

Live Edge Coat Rack 

Yes, you read that right! No more hiding your winter coats in the closet. Live edge slabs around 1” thick are commonly used to display winter coats, hats, childrens bags etc. Pair a natural edge board with some cast iron hooks, and you have yourself a one of a kind statement piece for your front hallway. 

Live Edge Bar Tops and Benches

Many restaurants strive to be unique and aim to avoid purchasing standardized seating and decor. We provide several Ottawa restaurants with live edge bar tops, coffee tables, and benches. These small changes can really make a lasting first impression for foodies. You may be assuming that these are interior only, but with the right projection you can easily have a wood bar top or bench in an outdoor patio. 

Well that’s everything you need to know about live edge wood slabs! If you made it this far, we predict a live edge project such as a coffee table or dining table in your future and we’ll be there to either build it for you, or help you through the process.

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