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A Primer on Live Edge Slab Wood Types



Live edge slabs come in several sizes, species, shapes, and figures and are used to make a wide variety of furniture. Designers and craftsmen alike prize live edge slabs for their natural beauty.


Without a doubt, live edges slabs are beautiful design accents that can add warmth to a home. But, what is the process of creating live edge furniture from start to finish? That's where we this post comes in. We have gathered all the details to help you understand what a live edge slab is and how to pick the best one for your needs.


What are Live Edges?


Cuts of wood that keep their natural, curved edge are called live edge slabs. If you can imagine a forest tree, the outer surface (the bark) becomes the live edge. Woodworkers retain the live edge of wood to preserve the natural beauty of the forest in processed timber.


Live edge slabs are harvested from the widest section of a tree, typically the area between the tree base and the lower canopy. The cylindrical nature of trees means that when a tree is harvested for live edge slabs, one piece will be larger than the rest. The largest slab comes from the tree center, while the smallest slab comes from the outer edge of the tree.


Live Edges and Design


Now that you understand what a live edge and a live edge slab are, it’s probably easy to understand why home and furniture designers love them: They add natural beauty to a home. Live edges have been a part of furniture design since people began using wood as a building material, but they have recently experienced an uptick in popularity.


Minimalist and maximalist designers, do-it-yourself hobbyists, and professional woodworkers have started incorporating live edges into their designs to achieve a natural, chic aesthetic.


Some designers aim to warm up the cool, clean, and minimal designs of contemporary architecture. They have begun experimenting with live edge slabs. A live edge slab, whether it be for a table, a cabinet, countertop, or something else entirely, is an elegantly simple way to add character to a home without distracting from the overall design motifs.


Live Edge Slab Wood Types


Live edge slabs come in several styles. The features of a live edge slab dictate what can be built with it. For example, slabs with blemishes or structural deficiencies are often used for ornamental work but not load-bearing projects.


Any tree can produce a live edge slab, but that does not mean all slabs are created equal. Old-growth hardwoods, like redwood, are ideal for live edge slabs because they have appealing visual qualities.


Color


In general, you will want to choose a species of tree whose wood color matches your artistic vision, even if the price seems steep.


It is possible to change the stain or varnish of a live edge slab, but doing so usually compromises the natural beauty of the wood. If you are on a tight budget, you can get an economical wood to mimic the aesthetic qualities of an expensive wood by speaking with a professional woodworker.


Thickness


The typical thickness of a live edge slab is anywhere between one and three inches. This is the most common size range, but live edge slabs can be as small as a quarter-inch and as large as six inches.


Thick slabs will be more expensive than thin slabs because they produce a strong visual effect and are recommended for load-bearing projects. Thin slabs are often used for accent pieces or ornamental decor.


Species


The unique character of a tree species determines the visual aesthetic of a live edge slab. Species with dark heartwood appear rich and visually, work well in large spaces. Species with light heartwood work well in small spaces and give an impression of lightness.


Quick-growing trees, like poplars, tend to have fewer of the appealing visual qualities people look for when purchasing a live edge slab. Some of the visual qualities people look for in live edge slab wood are attractive woodgrain and warm wood tone.


Shape


Most live edge slabs come in rectangles. You can, however, request a variety of shapes with live edges. You can also request a live edge from a particular tree feature, such as a branch union or a stump.


Figure and Blemishes


No two live edge slabs are alike because no two trees—even trees of the same species—are alike. All of the bumps, warts, and contours of a tree give the final live edge slab its charm. While live edge slabs capture natural beauty, some features of wood slabs are more visually appealing than others.


Large, unblemished live edge slabs are considered beautiful because of their uniformity and fetch a higher market price.


Some say that unblemished slabs are more structurally sound than blemished slabs, but all slabs are cured and treated to prevent warping, rot, and structural failure. The assertion that blemished slabs are of poor quality is an aesthetic argument. Reputable dealers do not sell poor-quality live edge slabs.


Why are Live Edge Slabs so Expensive?


The longer a tree takes to grow, the more expensive a slab from that tree will be. Additionally, there is inherent variability in the production of a natural product, so prices for such products vary according to seasonal availability.


Live edge slabs are more expensive than other timbers because they require more equipment and labor to process.


The wood type, or species, determines the cost of a live edge slab. Old-growth hardwoods are the sportscar equivalent of live edge slabs, meaning that they will cost a lot no matter where you buy them. Similarly, less desirable woods like poplar will be economically priced wherever you go.


Popular species for live edge slabs include black walnut, cherry, claro walnut, oaks (red, white, or black), sycamore, and maple. All of which take a long time to grow, meaning live edge slabs are more prone to availability issues than other types of timber, like pine boards.


How to Use a Live Edge Slab


Live edge slabs are commonly used to craft bar tops, tables, or mantle pieces because these furniture pieces showcase a wood’s natural beauty.


Tables


Most live edge slabs wind up as tables. Live edge slab tables are constructed using live edge sheets cut from slabs. Once the live edge sheets have been cut, wood glue is used to bond the boards together and create a table.


Tables can also be constructed from single, uncut slabs. Live edge tables that are made from a single piece of wood are often made from more expensive woods like redwood to flaunt the natural beauty of the wood. Live edge tables made from sheets tend to be lower in price than tables made from a solid live edge slab.


Mantles


Many live edge slabs are used as mantles. Mantles require less material to produce than tables and are cheaper as a result. Mantles are also a cost-effective way to incorporate a live edge into your home because they only require one live edge. One side of the mantle will be flush against a wall, eliminating the need for a whole live edge slab.


A live edge mantlepiece is an excellent addition to rooms whose aesthetic may clash with a large live edge statement piece, such as a table or bookcase.


Bar Tops


Bar tops like mantles, only require one live edge, which makes them an attractive choice for live edge slab projects. Bar tops, like tables, can be made of a single live edge slab or multiple sheets of wood bonded together. Solid bar tops are more expensive than bonded bar tops.


Miscellaneous Projects


While tables, mantles, and bar tops are the most popular ways to incorporate a live edge into your home. Just about any type of furniture can be made from a live edge slab, so get creative.


Key Takeaways

  • A live edge slab is timber that retains and preserves the outermost layer of a tree.

  • Popular live edge slab wood types are redwood, walnut, cherry, oak, sycamore, and maple.

  • Live edge slab prices are dictated by availability, size, thickness, species, shape, as well as figures and blemishes.

  • Live edge slabs are expensive because of the labor and equipment required to process them.

  • Live edge slabs are commonly used to make tables, mantles, and bar tops.