Steps // How to Turn a Wood Slab Into a Table
1 ×

Overview

 
Step One // How to Turn a Wood Slab Into a Table

Overview

illustrated hairpin leg console table with step details
Illustration by Doug Adams

Console table steps

  1. Cut inside edges.
  2. Remove bark.
  3. Sand live edges.
  4. Glue cut edges.
  5. Clamp.
  6. Trim ends.
  7. Sand top.
  8. Rout and chisel leg mortises.
  9. Brush on shellac sealer.
  10. Wipe on tung oil finish.
 
2 ×

Trim Two Edges

 
Step Two // How to Turn a Wood Slab Into a Table

Trim Two Edges

Tom Silva trims off the maple slab edges using a track saw
Photo by Webb Chappell

Determine whether the live edge will face up or down. (Here, Tom chose “up.”) Then decide which live edges you want to keep. Slice off the others using a track saw, as shown, or a circular saw and edge guide. Clean, straight rip cuts are a must.

 
3 ×

Remove the Bark

 
Step Three // How to Turn a Wood Slab Into a Table

Remove the Bark

Tom Silva removes maple bark with a hammer and chisel
Photo by Webb Chappell

Tree bark won’t remain attached for long, so it’s best to take it off. Set a chisel at the line between the bark and the wood, as shown, and tap it with a hammer. The bark should come loose in long strips.

 
4 ×

Make a Faux Live Edge

 
Step Four // How to Turn a Wood Slab Into a Table

Make a Faux Live Edge

Tom Silva approximates the contours of a live edge by wiggling a reciprocating saw back and forth
Photo by Webb Chappell

One end of this board had a sawn edge where a limb was cut off. Rather than shorten the table, Tom approximated the contours of a live edge by wiggling a reciprocating saw back and forth while making the cut, as shown.

 
5 ×

Smooth the Edges

 
Step Five // How to Turn a Wood Slab Into a Table

Smooth the Edges

Tom Silva uses a rotary sander attached to a vacuum to smooth the live edge table surface
Photo by Webb Chappell

Starting with 50-grit paper on a soft pad, sand off the remaining bark and begin smoothing the wood. Here, Tom uses a rotary sander attached to a vacuum. Take care not to remove the surface irregularities that give a live edge its unique appearance.

 
6 ×

Apply the Glue

 
Step Six // How to Turn a Wood Slab Into a Table

Apply the Glue

Tom Silva and Kevin O'Connor apply glue to the live edge console table edge
Photo by Webb Chappell

Cover the workbench against glue drips and rest both boards face up on 2x supports. With bar clamps at the ready, squeeze wood glue onto the cut edge of one board and spread it evenly from end to end, as shown. Wipe away any glue drips on the board face with a wet cloth.

 
7 ×

Clamp

 
Step Seven // How to Turn a Wood Slab Into a Table

Clamp

Tom Silva clamps together the live edge boards of the console table
Photo by Webb Chappell

Line up the boards’ cut edges and put the clamps’ bars above and under the top to prevent cupping. Wipe up the excess glue and wait at least a half hour before removing the clamps. Trim the ends with a circular saw. Smooth the top and edges with a random-orbit sander and, in order, 80-, 120-, 150-, 180-, and 220-grit papers.

 
8 ×

Rout the Leg Mortises

 
Step Eight // How to Turn a Wood Slab Into a Table

Rout the Leg Mortises

Tom Silva uses a router to make table leg mortises
Photo by Colleen McQuaid

The underside of the tabletop isn’t milled flat, so it could rock if the legs were just screwed to it directly. To prevent that, Tom made a leveling jig for a plunge router (see Tip in Step 9) to cut mortises- for the legs’ bases all on the same plane. To use the jig, turn the slab upside down and shim it up to just below the jig’s rails. Next, hold each leg in position and trace around its base. Place the jig’s sled over one base outline, lower the router, and lock its depth when the bit touches wood. If the bit clears the wood at the next outline, unlock and lower the router again, and relock it. But if the bit lifts the sled above the rails, don’t change the depth setting; move to the next outline. Repeat at the other outlines to find the lowest depth setting. Then rout all the mortises to that depth by moving the sled, as shown.

 
9 ×

Make a Leveling Jig

 
Step Nine // How to Turn a Wood Slab Into a Table

Make a Leveling Jig

Tom Silva makes a leveling jig for making a live edge console table with a router
Photo by Colleen McQuaid
  • Rails  Each one should be exactly the same width (a bit wider than the top’s thickness), dead flat on both edges, and about a foot longer than the top. Clamp them to the bench on either side of the top.
  • Router sled  Make it out of a 1-inch-thick board a bit wider than the router base and twice as long as the span between the rails. Using a hole saw, cut a 2-inch hole in the sled’s center—large enough to let you see the spinning bit.
  • Router mount  Center the chuck over the hole and attach the router base to the sled. Here, Tom used notched 2x scraps to hold the base in place.
 
10 ×

Square the Mortise Corners

 
Step Ten // How to Turn a Wood Slab Into a Table

Square the Mortise Corners

Tom Silva squares the table leg mortise corners with a chisel
Photo by Colleen McQuaid

To square up the rounded corners left by the router bit, hold a sharp chisel, as shown, with the bevel facing toward the mortise and the blade in line with the mortise edge. Give the chisel a tap, then do the same on the adjacent side to create a 90-degree corner. Repeat with the other mortises.

 
11 ×

Attach the Legs

 
Step Eleven // How to Turn a Wood Slab Into a Table

Attach the Legs

attaching hairpin legs to a live edge console table
Photo by Colleen McQuaid

Set the base of each leg into an L-shaped mortise and drill a pilot hole at each mounting hole in the leg base. Using an impact driver, fasten all the 3⁄4-inch pan-head screws provided with the hairpin legs. The table should be rock steady when set upright.

 
12 ×

Seal the Top

 
Step Twelve // How to Turn a Wood Slab Into a Table

Seal the Top

Tom Silva applies amber shellac to a live edge console table
Photo by Colleen McQuaid

Wipe the top and edges with denatured alcohol to remove any dust. Brush on a coat of amber shellac, as shown, to seal the wood and give it a warm hue. When the finish is dry, in about 30 minutes, lightly hand-sand with 320-grit paper and top-coat with a more durable finish, as explained in the next step.

 
13 ×

Oil the Top

 
Step Thirteen // How to Turn a Wood Slab Into a Table

Oil the Top

Tom Silva applies a tung oil/varnish blend to finish a live edge console table
Photo by Colleen McQuaid

Wearing disposable gloves, wipe off the sanding dust with a cloth dampened in mineral spirits. Here, Tom uses a second cloth to apply a coat of tung oil/varnish blend over the shellac. After 5 to 10 minutes, buff the oil evenly with a third cloth. To prevent spontaneous combustion, dispose of all used cloths in a bucket filled with water. Wait 24 hours before applying and buffing out a second coat of oil. Additional coats are optional, but will increase gloss and protection. If you’d rather use a finish other than tung oil, that’s fine; shellac is compatible with them all. Coat the underside in the same way as the top to limit seasonal wood movement.

 

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