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Get Creative with Live Edge Slabs

Get Creative with Live Edge Slabs

Get Creative with Live Edge Slabs

Uncovering the Beauty in Nature’s Imperfections

I’ll never forget the day I stumbled upon that hidden lumber yard in the middle of Gainesville, Florida. It was like stepping into a secret woodworker’s paradise – a riot of live-edge slabs and planks stacked under the eaves of an old farmhouse, just waiting to be discovered. As I carefully made my way through the piles, my ears tuned for the menacing hum of wasps, I knew I was about to embark on a truly unique project.

You see, it all started because my wife got me a damn cookbook. Okay, there’s a bit more to the story than that. When we lived in the perpetual good weather of San Diego, my wife decided she wanted me to do more of the cooking. The next thing I knew, she had cooked less than five times in as many weeks, and it just ballooned from there. Now, I do pretty much all of our cooking, grilling or otherwise. And as it turns out, I’m pretty good at it.

Once we moved to Florida, I decided I wanted a nice outdoor kitchen. I already had the grill and a good prep table, but I really wanted a sink. And not just any sink – I wanted a live-edge wood slab countertop with a bar sink that I could hook up to a garden hose and drain into the yard. A quick look at the pricing online made it clear that I couldn’t afford one of these beauties unless I built it myself.

A Chance Encounter with a Seasoned Sawyer

That’s how I found myself covered in cobwebs and sawdust in the back of that repurposed farmhouse, scouring the piles of live-edge lumber for the perfect slab. I needed a piece of a certain size to fit the sink, and I wasn’t happy with the red and white streaked cypress planks I was finding. Then, in the far back of one room, buried under a pile of cedar, I saw it – a slab that was nearly five inches thick and felt like a hundred pounds. It was perfect.

I muscled the slab out of the building and went looking for the proprietor, the grizzled old sawyer who had long since abandoned me to my search. I asked him what kind of wood it was, and he dug a rag out of his pocket, worrying it in his calloused paws.

“That is a chunk of seasoned pecan,” he grunted. “I got that from the biggest pecan tree I ever saw. Hurricane took her down a few years back, and I got her on the clean up job. Where did you find that?”

I told him where, and he nodded slowly. “Whats your plan for it?” he asked.

I explained my project, and the old sawyer sighed. “Alright, you can take it for a hundred,” he said. Based on what I had seen online, this was a far cheaper price than I’d been expecting. “Ya haulin’ it out yourself though,” he added.

Transforming the Rugged Slab into a Functional Masterpiece

I smiled slightly less, knowing it was time to get to work. The slab was already rip-cut along the grain in nearly perfect dimensions, so the first step was to cut a little off the back and sides to square it up. The surface was covered with deep kerf marks from the sawmill, and I liked the rugged look of the marks, but I would need to smooth them considerably before finishing.

Before getting too deep into the finishing, I needed to cut the hole and mounting points for the bar sink. I ended up drilling corner holes to insert my saw and then cutting the opening by hand. Let me tell you, if you’re looking for a great upper back and forearm workout, give that a try – but be prepared to spend some time and profanity.

Once the hole was cut, I had to inlet the mounting points for the sink. You wouldn’t need to do this with a standard thickness countertop, but because I was using a five-inch slab, I had to adapt. I flipped the slab over and drilled holes to the appropriate thickness, then used a hammer and chisel to finish the inletting. It kind of killed me that some of the most beautiful grain patterns in the entire slab would be hidden by the sink, but it couldn’t be helped.

Luckily, that gorgeous spalted grain pattern would show up later in the wooden mug I carved from the remnants. A quick test to make sure the sink would fit, and then it was on to the legs. You can really see the thick kerf marks left by the ripsaw – the straight nature of the marks indicates a long, straight sawblade, as opposed to the curved marks you’d see from a circular blade.

For the legs, I chose a set of handmade steel hairpin-style legs from the internet. After degreasing, I painted them with exterior-grade black paint and mounted them to the underside of the slab using heavy lag screws. This was my first test-fit of the whole shebang – an underutilized technical term.

The water source would be a simple hose hooked up to an outdoor spigot, and the drain would be directed off the edge of my patio into the grass. If you decide to use a setup like this, I recommend painting the drain pipe with something to protect it from UV breakdown, and make sure to use outdoor soap at the sink to avoid killing your grass. I learned both those lessons the hard way.

Perfecting the Finish with Patience and Precision

I was extremely pleased with how it was turning out, but there was still plenty of finishing work to go. There were several knotholes and cracks in the slab that were too large to fill with the varnish I planned to use, so the best answer I came up with was filling them in with a clear epoxy resin. One of the knots was at the edge of the sink, so I had to tape off the edge to apply the epoxy. When it dried, it had a really cool, organic curvature to it.

Next came a ton of sanding. I started with a belt-sander and used increasingly fine grades of paper until finishing it by hand. Ultimately, I ended up whiskering the slab with 800-grit paper. If you’re new to woodworking, whiskering is the practice of sanding wood as smooth as you can and then wiping it down with a wet rag. This raises the whiskers of the wood’s fine grain ends, which you then sand off when they dry. I usually repeat that 3-4 times.

You can see the stone-smooth slab still has some pretty obvious kerf marks to show off its rustic origins. I finished the surface with two coats of thinned Spar Varnish (3 parts linseed oil, 1 part Spar Varnish) and another two coats of straight Spar Varnish. The pecan came out a beautiful golden color without using any stain.

After three years in the Florida sun, the finish had begun to crack and haze, so I sanded the slab back down and refinished it. You can see how easy it is to restore wood slabs – it’s just a matter of sanding and reapplying the finish.

For the final fitting, I attached the legs to the varnished slab, caulked the sink into place, and secured it from below with the channel bolts it came with. All that remained was to muscle the behemoth out to the patio and, with the help of what Johnny Cash called an “A-dapter kit,” hook it up to the water source.

The Rewards of Crafting Something Uniquely Your Own

The live-edge sink project has been one of my favorites. I use and enjoy it whenever I cook outside, and it’s always special to have something you made yourself and are proud of. I highly recommend creating things to anyone reading this, no matter what medium you choose. Yes, it won’t be perfect. Yes, you will have setbacks and learning curves. Yes, you might occasionally bite off more than you can chew. But none of that matters – it will be yours, and by your own hands, and that’s almost always worth pursuing, whether on a grand or small scale.

Creation is its own reward. Until next time, friends.

Timber Building is a leading provider of high-quality, sustainable timber products for all your building and woodworking needs. Explore our wide selection of live-edge slabs, custom-milled lumber, and more at our website.

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