Live edge wood projects bring the wild look of nature into the civilized world of the home. Live edge riffs on the idea of contrasts: nature's gnarled and chaotic beauty against human-created smooth surfaces.
What Is Live Edge Woodworking?
Live edge is a popular style that incorporates at least one natural edge or plane of the wood's surface: wormholes, bark, wood grain, and all. The remaining sides are milled down to straight edges or planes.
More specifically, the term live edge refers to preserving at least one edge as a remnant of the tree's living past. It's slightly a misnomer—nothing about the tree is living anymore. It's also a bit of a memento mori, a positive reminder of life's sweet-but-fleeting nature.
Live edge projects are typically sanded multiple times with a belt sander and then clear-coated with a glossy polyurethane sealant to emphasize these contrasts.
Advantages of Live Edge Woodworking
- One-of-a-Kind: Dimensional lumber that's milled on all six sides often can look similar from board to board. Live edge wood always has a highly unusual edge or two that stands out and captures notice.
- Eco-Friendly: Live edge wood projects use fallen trees or trees that have been pruned or cut in yards. Rather than mulching out the wood or simply leaving it to decay, live edge woodworking uses the logs for projects around the home or yard.
- Durable: Live edge wood is nearly always three inches thick or more. It's also well-preserved with a protective coating. This means that live edge benches and tables left outdoors will last for decades.
01 of 10
Erin Francois crafted this gorgeous live edge bench from a slab of walnut purchased online. She recommends using a slab that is at least 3-inch thick in order to accommodate the 1-1/2-inch long screws that are needed to attach the metal legs. Since the slab arrived raw and splintery, it was necessary for her to sand down all sides. She finished off her creation with two coats of clear polyurethane sealer applied with a foam brush.
The slab comes from The Lumber Shack.
02 of 10
If you're looking for a live edge coffee table but are put off by the staggering prices, Elsie Larson and Emma Chapman over at A Beautiful Mess have some news for you. They managed to bring the price down to a measly $215. Their advice? Forget sourcing lumber from Etsy and eBay. Even if you can get a good price on wood, the shipping can kill your budget.
Instead, look on Craigslist for local listings by using search terms such as "live edge," "tree slice," "tree round," "natural table," and "tree removal service."
03 of 10
Faux Live Edge Patio Table With Built-In Ice Bucket
Authentic live edge lumber is pricey. Is there a way to bypass the high prices?
Kristin Jackson at The Hunted Interior has a way. After her outdoor glass table crashed into smithereens, Kristin decided to use the steel base to mount an assembly of ordinary pine boards to form a top. Then, she and her husband attacked the edges with a belt sander to create a faux live edge look.
The finishing touch was the built-in ice bucket in the center. Using a metal bucket from Homegoods, they pounded down the edges until they were flush with the tabletop. After sanding the surface with steel wool, Kristin finished the table with Man O' War Marine Spar Varnish.
Source: DIY faux live edge table with ice bucket from Kristin Jackson at The Hunted Interior
04 of 10
Spruce up your dull, ordinary fireplace by adding a live edge wood mantel. Colleen Pastoor at Lemon Thistle treated her live edge mantel with six coats of Varathane Diamond Wood Finish to bring out the wood's natural colors and to give the surface a more finished look.
Source: DIY live edge mantel project from Colleen Pastoor at Lemon ThistleContinue to 5 of 10 below.
05 of 10
Want to double the fun? This project combines two favorite styles: live edge and cantilevered (or floating) shelves.
Rachel from Portland, Oregon sourced live edge alder from a local salvage yard, cut the timber into shelves, and hung them from her kitchen walls with Dolle Strongfix floating shelf brackets. Due to the weight of the shelves, she had to buy a corded drill—her cordless drill wasn't powerful enough—and drilled into three wall studs.
The result: a marvelous juxtaposition of live edge's grounded-ness with the ethereal, floating nature of cantilevered shelves.
06 of 10
Hairpin Leg Coffee Table
Since live edge is all about contrasts, how about adding an element that reigns supreme within the mid-century modern style movement? That element: hairpin legs.
California Central Coast resident Anya McInroy needed a coffee table for her event design and catering business, so she and her friend Sam grabbed two "fab slabs" of black walnut from a local lumberyard and then purchased brushed steel hairpin legs online. She calls the legs the "perfect juxtaposition" to the rough, unfinished live edge wood.
Anya recommends being slow and patient about the sanding process to achieve perfect smoothness—all while leaving the bark intact.
She finished by clear-coating with Minwax Polyurethane Clear Satin.
07 of 10
When Jenni at I Spy DIY needed a conference table for her studio, she knew she didn't want anything boring and run-of-the-mill, so she went in the direction of live edge wood.
After sourcing wood from a local tree service, she spent hours smoothing down the surface with a belt sander, then prevailed upon her trusted fabricator to build hairpin legs, but these were no ordinary hairpin legs; these were super-sized, bar-level hairpins.
After that came the finish—Minwax Wood Finish Natural 209—culminating with an epoxy glaze for a rock-hard glossy surface.
Source: DIY live edge wood slab bar table from Jenni at I Spy DIY
08 of 10
If the thought of taking on an ambitious project like a live edge patio table or bathroom counter stifles your creativity, one great entry point is this simple, easy-to-craft hanging table.
Caitlin from The Merry Thought wanted to redo her cousin Sarah's bedroom in a special way, so she began with cross-cuts of black walnut that had been languishing in a relative's barn for the last 50 years. She made great use of it by sanding down the top with an orbital sander, drilling three holes for rope, and hanging the assembly from the ceiling with an S-hook.
The result is a live edge slab of wood that floats gracefully next to the bed, providing space for a book, glasses, and a small vase of flowers—the perfect gift for a favored cousin.Continue to 9 of 10 below.
09 of 10
For small bathrooms, it is all too easy to purchase a bathroom vanity cabinet plus vanity top and be done with it. Realtor and rehabber ModFruGal wanted none of that. Instead, she transformed her bland, ordinary small bathroom into a unique conversation piece by incorporating a live edge wood countertop.
She began with a slab of white oak that cost a mere $80 and then sanded it multiple times and coated it with Arm-R-Seal, a sealant that is a combination of oil and urethane sealant. Since this is a bathroom, and bathrooms are known for being wet environments, ModFruGal knew that she wanted a finish that was 100% waterproof.
10 of 10
When Melissa and Craig Hayes wanted a live edge table for their back deck, they didn't waste time trying to source authentic live edge lumber—they made their own. The faux live edges on their table were created with the help of a belt sander.