Walnut Live Edge Bench
Recently a friend of mine asked me to design and build a live edge bench for his new home. After a few hours in sketchup, we settled on a design we thought looked great. The bench is made out of walnut with the side panels being spalted maple. In the pictures and video below, I show you how I made the bench, from start to finish.
Final picture first to show what the bench looks like!
I begin this project by first working on the legs since all parts of the bench are connected to them in some form or fashion. On this 9 foot board, I make a mark every 19 inches. This is 3/4" longer than the final length of the legs (18 1/4").
Next I cut 19 inch long pieces at the miter saw.
When milling lumber I like get the boards close to their final size so i'm not wasting time and material, so I cut the pieces to 3 and quarter inches wide out of the 7 inch wide board. I ended up with a total of 12 pieces, 3 pieces per leg.
With the pieces close to their final size I can begin the milling process. I begin by flattening one face.
And then one edge on the jointer.
Then referencing that flat face, I run them through the planer to get them to 1 inch in thickness.
Before gluing the leg blanks together I take them back over to the table saw to cut them to their final width of 3 inches.
Anytime I glue boards together I try to make sure the better looking grain is exposed and I hide any blemishes like knots.
As you can see here, the grain matches and I was able to stick the board with the knots in the middle and you won't see them once glued together.
When gluing the legs together I put glue on two of the three legs.
Next I place the boards in the clamps and make sure the boards are flush along their edges. I'm not worried about aligning the ends of the boards because the leg blanks are still oversize and I will fix that at the table saw with my miter gauge after the glue dries.
Once I have everything aligned, I start applying clamping pressure.
I repeated these same steps for the other three legs.
Now that the glue has dried I can focus on cutting the legs to their final length of 18 and a quarter inches. I begin by first cleaning up one end of each of the legs and then using a stop block set to the final length, I cut the legs to 18 and a quarter.
Before cutting any of the joinery I like to use smoothing plane to remove all milling marks. I take a few passes on all 4 faces of each leg.
Now the legs are ready for their joinery. I like to make reference marks on the top of each leg so that once I get them in the order that I feel looks the best, I can always get them back in that order. Using a sharpie I make marks for front right, front left, rear right and rear left.
Next I make a reference mark pointing to the faces that will get the mortises for the aprons. This really helps keep everything in order since not all faces get the same amount of mortises.
Using a combination square I layout the 1/2" mortise. Each time I make a mark, I rotate the leg and make the same mark to ensure the mortises will be in the same exact location. Since I'm using a router bit with a fixed diameter, I only meed to make 3 marks. The start, stop and where the bit starts in reference to the edge of the leg.
To cut the mortises I used my plunge router with an edge guide. I'm using a 1/2 inch spiral bit which does a great job of cutting the mortises.
To begin, I plunge down the full depth of 1 3/4" at the start line and then move the bit to the stop line and again plunge the full depth.
Now I remove the waste between the two holes by lowering the bit a quarter of an inch, route away the waste and keep lowering the bit until all waste has been removed between the start and stop lines.
Since i'm using an edge guide I know all 12 mortises will be in the same exact location in reference to edge of the legs.
To soften up the appearance of the legs, I put a round over on all 4 edges of each leg using a 1/4" round over bit over at the router table.
With the legs complete I can now focus on the aprons. I begin by laying out the rough boards to find the better looking faces to use and then cut them to length at the miter saw.
The final thickness of the aprons is 1 inch so again i'm using five quarter walnut. I first jointed one face and one edge and now i'm taking them down to their final thickness.
Next, I set the fence to 3 inches and cut all four aprons to their final width.
Using my miter gauge and a stop block, I cut the short aprons to their final length.
Since the longer aprons are longer than my miter gauge, I flushed up the ends, clamped them together and then cut them at the same time to ensure they were the same exact length.
To cut the tenons, my preferred method is to use the dado stack at the table saw. I setup a stop block at 1 3/4" from the edge of the blade, and with the blade raised to a quarter inch, I slowly removed the waste.
Since the router left rounded corners in the mortises I needed to round the edges of the tenons. I used a rasp to remove the majority of the waste. When using the rasp I stayed a quarter of an inch away from the shoulders so that I didn't damage them.
To remove the waste I didn't get with the rasp, I used my chisel.
Next I put an 1/8" straight bit in the router table and set the fence a half inch back from the bit and route a groove for the table top fasteners.
Before cutting the curve in the aprons, I first cut the 3/8"s mortise that will house the panels. I over cut the mortise by an 1/8 of an inch to allow the panels to move during seasonal changes in humidity.
And with the mortises cut, I can layout the curves using a drawing bow.
Next I head over to the band saw and after making a few relief cuts, I remove the waste.
I clean up the saw marks using my spindle sander.
Back at the router table I inserted a 1/2" spiral bit with the depth set to 1/2" and routed a mortise for the bottom shelf.
And speaking of the bottom shelf, I again milled up some 5/4 walnut and am now cutting it to width at the table saw.
Before cutting any of the joinery I first cut it to length using my miter gauge.
Both ends of the shelf will have a tenon and to cut those i'm using the dado stack in my table saw.
After making a pass, I flip the board to cut all four shoulders.
The final joinery I needed to cut in the bottom shelf was the mortise that the shelf support will be glued into. It's a 2 x 2 mortise that's a quarter inch deep.
To remove the waste I used my plunge router with a spiral bit. I stayed an 1/8" away from the line to then clean up with my chisel.
The shelf support is a 3 by 3 block with a tenon on one end that will fit in to the mortise I just cut. To cut the tenon it's back to the table saw with the dado stack to remove the waste.
I wanted the side panels to match the sapwood in the live edge top so I went with spalted maple.
To begin I cut them to their final width of 5 inches
And then to their final length at 12 3/4".
Before assembling the bench I first sanded everything with 80, 120, 180 and 220 grit sandpaper using my orbital sander.
I also broke all of the sharp edges using the 180 grit sandpaper.
For the assembly of the bench I found it easier to glue up the two side assemblies first since they are easier to manage. Then once the glue dried, I came back and glued the longer aprons and bottom shelf in place.
I wanted to take a second to mention that if you are interested in checking out some behind the scenes pictures and videos of my builds, be sure and follow me on instagram at simplecove.
Next I wanted to give the shelf support the same appearance as the legs so I rounded over the edges using a 1/4 inch round over bit at the router table.
And now that I know what the length needs to be, I can cut the support to length.
And with a little bit of glue in the mortise, I clamp the support in place and allow the glue to dry.
So moving on to the live edge, or the messiest part of the project.
I begin by removing the bark first with my mallet. And then switching over to my chisel. It's important to make sure to not dig in to the sapwood when using the chisel.
After I removed as much as I could with the chisel I switched over to using my spoke shave. The spoke shave blade was set to an aggressive cut so it didn't take too long to remove a majority of what was left on the edge.
And finally I used flap wheel sanding discs to smooth out the edges and to clean them up. I started with 60 grit and worked my way up to 120 grit using the flap wheels.
This part of removal was extremely dusty so be sure to wear a dust mask or a respirator.
To flatten the live edge i'm going to be referencing my workbench since it's nice and flat. So to begin, I place shims under the board where there were gaps to prevent it from rocking. And to hold the shims in place I used some hot glue.
Next I clamp two long rails to my workbench that the router sled will reference during the flattening process.
This is the router sled. It has an opening that is the same exact width as my router. The hole in the center is where the bit will protrude to make contact with the slab. I set the router bit depth to the lowest part of the slab.
And as you can see, this is both time consuming and messy, but I couldn't have been happier with the results.
After flattening the top, I flipped the slab over and flattened the other side the same way.
The slab had a few knot holes so I tinted some epoxy to stabilize them.
After the epoxy dried I ran the slab through my drum sander to remove marks left from the router and to remove the excess epoxy.
Next I trued up the ends with my track saw. I begin by squaring off one end of the slab and then made marks at 76 inches on the other end and cut it to length.
Before applying the finish I sand the slab with 80 grit through 220 grit using my orbital sander.
And to remove the dust, I wipe the surface with a tack cloth.
For the finish, I'm applying a satin wipe on poly from minwax using a cotton cloth.
This is probably my favorite part of the project. Seeing this walnut and spalted maple pop from the finish never gets old. It makes all of the hard work worth it.
For this project I applied a total of 3 coats, sanding in between with 320 grit sandpaper.
A couple days after the last coat, I waxed the surface using four zero steel wool. This removed any of the dust nibs that were still on the surface and gave the bench a consistent sheen and feel.
The final piece of the puzzle was to install the table top fasteners.
So with the bench upside down and placed where I wanted it, I pre-drilled with an 1/8 inch bit and installed the screws.
And now a few showcase photos of the bench in it's new home. Thanks for checking out the build. Be sure to follow me over on instagram and subscribe to my YouTube page if you want to check out the build videos!
Absolutely beautiful table Sean! The write is great also!
Thanks Donny, I appreciate the kind words!@DonnyCarter said:
Wow, Sean, this is really amazing. Great post.
My girlfriend and I were also amazed at your shop! Really great set up!
Hi Sean - Beautiful table!! Thank you for sharing. I would like to build a similar table base for a 7.5 feet slab I recently acquired. But I'm building it as a hall table, not a bench. Besides the obvious lengthening of the legs and fancy end panels, and a bit longer in the width, do you see any problems in terms of aesthetics or proportion? I wouldn't want it looking "clunky" or anything and I'm having difficulty visualizing the final result at a height of about 32". Thank you for your help.
Since this was designed to be a bench, I made the legs and top decently thick. If I were to make this a side table, I'd make the top thinner (probably around an inch thick) and the legs way thinner(probably around 1.5" squared). It would help to see what it would look like if you drew it up in sketchup, but just roughly guessing, 1" for the top and 1.5" squared for the legs would look good. It's tough to take this design and make it fit a side table without looking at every component and possibly downscaling it to make it more "petite" since side tables don't require bulkier pieces since you're not sitting on it.