Live Edge Slabs Can Be Awesome, And They Can Be An Absolute Pain In The Behind
I have bought many live edge wood slabs in the last couple of years. And I have turned them into Live edge dining tables, bed frames, and coffee tables.
But I have also witnessed how they can twist, cup and crack in just a few months because of bad selection and lack of knowledge. I didn’t know what to look for when sorting through the piles of live edge wood slabs, or how to rank one over the other.
Luckily you don’t have to make the same mistakes I did. Following just a few of these advise, and looking carefully at the wood slabs and the grain, you can avoid lots of pain, agony and time wasted.
The Most Important Thing You Need To Know When Buying Live Edge Wood
Moisture in wood slabs is your #1 enemy!
I repeat moist wood cannot be used for interior furniture.
It will destroy everything you create.
Furniture grade wood needs to be dried down to around 8% (+- 2%) moisture content.
Depending on your local environment, this might not happen just by storing the wood for years outside, shielded from rain.
I live in the north, and even though we have hot summers, the year-round weather will only air-dry wood slabs to approx. 19-16%. And this is simply not good enough. I know, I tried it.
You can either find wood which has been stored inside, dry and at room temperature for 2-4 years. Or you can find wood which has been kiln-dried, for an appropriate time (it varies), until it is dry enough.
So remember, when looking at live edge wood slabs, ask the seller what the moisture content is, and how they have been stored.
What Else To Look For When Buying Live Edge Wood?
Grain direction would be the next thing to assess when buying live edge wood slabs. This is tied directly to how the slab is cut, and from where on the log, the slab comes from.
Live edge wood slabs are “Flatsawn” meaning that the log is cut live edge to live edge. This is actually not the best way to cut wood due to general wood grain direction. The center slabs of a flatsawn log is “okay”, but if you want to utilize a log to its best potential, it will be Quartersawn or Riftsawn.
You can Google the different styles and how they differ, but let’s get back to grain direction.
When looking at a live edge wood slab, we want the grain direction to be across the slab. This has to do with shrinkage, which leads to cupping (bad), twisting (bad) and cracking (less bad but still not fun).
When wood dries it will mostly shrink in the direction of the grain. So if you have a wood slab that was cut from the outer rim of a log, most of the grain direction will be parallel to the slab. This will lead to excessive cupping and will render anything you made with it useless.
A quick tip: “The Wood Rule Of Thumb”
Use your thumb and index finger. Make a “Thumbs up” and point your index finger to the side.
The index finger is the cross-section of the wood slab, and your thumb is the grain direction.
If the grain direction is in the same direction as your thumb, then it’s OK.
Remember, you can’t get a Flatsawn slab that only have the grain going across, but you can maximize it by sorting and choosing the right one.
And… Heartwood shrinks less than the outer wood, because of the higher density. Resulting in you slab being thicker in the middle than on the sides if not probably dried before it is planned. Just look at the picture.
Last Thing To Remember When Buying Live Edge Slabs
You can get wood slabs in the “original” rough sawn state directly from the band saw, or planned on both sides.
You will want to get the planned version. Trust me. It is not fun dealing with a couple of rough sawn slabs. So buy them planned, or consider how much your time is worth because it will take +10 hours without the right machines.
Where To Buy Live Edge Wood?
There are many places and persons who sell wood slabs, but they are all different, and you need to treat them differently.
In my opinion, there are three distinct places from where to source your live edge wood slabs.
Ranked by cheapest price
- Lumber mill
- Building supply / Home Depot
- Professional Woodworker
The Lumber Mill
The cheapest place to find truly amazing wood slabs is at a lumber mill. Getting it straight from the source and skipping all the middlemen will drastically reduce the wood price. The only problem with this approach is to find a lumber mill that also stock furniture dried wood. Remember that even though you can get 2 inch thick slabs for 3$ afoot, it is unusable if not dried.
Prices for a 1-foot wide slab ranges from 5-10 USD / feet of 2-inch thick oak wood. Prices based on my experience in Denmark.
Building Supply Store – AKA Home Depot
The next best place to find cheaper wood slabs is from your local building supply store. Not all stores have wood slabs, so it can be a little difficult to find depending on your area. Go through their website and search for “wood slab”, “hardwood” or other related words to see if they have something of interest. Here quality can be hit and miss, so be alert.
Prices for a 1-foot wide slab ranges from 10-17 USD / feet of 1-inch thick oak wood (Only 1 inch). Prices based on my experience in Denmark
The Professional Woodworker
The third place to go is a professional woodworker or the places that are specialized in wood slabs. If you know the pro woodworker, you might get him to sell you the slabs at list price. All he needs to do is order the wood from his trusted supplier…
By going this way you are more or less guaranteed that the wood is “A+” grade. No woodworker will put his name or brand on the line by selling “bad” wood.
Prices will be higher, but you are also buying certainty and quality.
General things to remember:
- Check the moisture level. If coming from a pro woodworker or other special wood company, you should be good without a measurement. But ask anyway, they will probably think better of you and find the “good stuff”.
- Buy your wood slabs planned on both sides. This will save you so much pain and suffering, that it is well worth paying for.
- If you want a 3 feet wide table, made from 2x slabs, you need slabs that are at least 1.6 feet wide. Because when creating a table from 2 slabs you will need to cut one of the live edges straight.
Don’t Buy Your Live Edge Wood Slabs Online
That is my opinion.
I think you need to go feel the wood, see the grain and get the experience. Not everything should be bought on Amazon, and if you go to a lumber mill you will most definitely meet some nice people along the way. You might even get more knowledge and tips by talking to some real Lumberjacks.
Note of caution
2 inch thick and 3 feet wide live edge wood slabs are crazy heavy. Remember to bring adequate muscle and transportation.
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