Live Edge Coffee Table

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I purchased this walnut slab from my local Klingspor’s Woodworking Shop and got a great deal on it because there was a large crack running the entire length. There was about half an inch of wood holding the two halves together. I decided to use bow ties to secure them, it was just a matter of finding the right wood for the job.

My first thought was to use curly maple for the bow ties, the light color would contrast well with the walnut and the curl would add some interesting figure to the piece. While at a local hardwood dealer, West Penn Hardwoods in Conover, NC, I came across some curly purple heart. I’ve turned purple heart before, but I had never seen it with curl in the grain. It was beautiful! So I knew that this would be perfect for this table.

Now that I had the materials I could get started on the coffee table. The first thing I did was to remove the bark from the live edge. There were a few bug holes in the wood, and it left these interesting tracks just under the bark. So instead of removing everything all the way down to the wood, I left the tracks there. I think it gives the live edge an interesting texture.

Normally, you will flatten a slab before doing anything else, but that wasn’t an option on this one since the two halves were so flimsy. So I had to stabilize the slab with the bow ties first. I cut out 11 bow ties for the top in descending sizes, but all with the same angles and proportions. I originally wanted to do this with only hand tools, but purple heart is extremely hard and I didn’t get very good results with saws and chisels. I had to resort to cutting them out on the band saw and cleaning up the edges with a belt grinder. Once I had all 14 bow ties cut out it was time to lay them out and cut the pockets for them to fit into.

I layed out 11 bow ties for the main crack in descending sizes from the large end of the crack to the knot in the middle, then ascending from the other side of the knot to the crotch end of the slab. I used double sided tape to hold the bow ties secure while marking out the mortise with a marking knife, then outlined them with a red pencil to make the lines more visible. The first few were cut out using only a chisel, which took quite a while, so for the rest I decided to use a more hybrid approach. I marked them out the same way, but used a dremel as if it were a router to hog out the majority of the waste, then cleaned up the edges with chisels and flattened the bottom of the mortises with a router plane. While I enjoy using hand tools as much as possible, I used the Dremel just to speed things up. Once I had the top done I flipped the slab over and put three bow ties in the secondary crack from the bottom. I wanted to crack to be stabilized, but since it was so close to the main crack, it would have looked too busy if I put those bow ties in the top as well.

The mortises were cut about 11/16” deep. I wanted it to be as strong as possible so I kept the bow ties as thick as I could. Once hammered into the mortises they were about 1/16” proud of the surface. I used a smoothing plane to level out the bow ties with the surface of the slab. Then proceeded to flatten out the rest of the slab and cut off the ends at a more attractive angle. I flattened it with a combination of a low angle jack plane and a #4 smoothing plane.

Now, the thing about figured wood is that the grain goes in multiple directions, so planing without any tear out it next to impossible. To combat this I used a cabinet scraper and a random orbital sander to smooth everything out. There were a few places I couldn’t get out entirely, the tear out was a little too deep so I left them there, which isn’t too bad, it just adds to the slightly rustic nature of this table.

For the finish I applied three coats of Danish Oil, followed by four coats of wipe on polyurethane. I sanded with 320 grit between the first two coats of poly, then 600 before the third coat. For the final coat of poly I sanded with 600 grit, then a red scotchbrite pad, then I rubbed in the final coat very thin and wiped off any excess finish. This left a smooth, semi-gloss finish.

I ordered a set of 14” hairpin legs from hairpinlegs.com and attached them using pan head screws. The raw steel legs are a nice fit for the live edge slab top. It’s a little modern, and a little rustic at the same time.

I enjoyed this project immensely and look forward to more builds like this. The end result blew me away. While this piece will be available for purchase, I will be sad to see it go as it looks so good in my den.

Joe PierceComment