Introduction: Fake Live Edge Table
We all love live edge wood, right? I know I do.
I've got a few pieces of live edge furniture around my house and I love them. Unfortunately, live edge wood can cost as much as 50% more than conventional straight cut lumber. It doesn't even really make a lot of sense since live edge wood would be less work for a mill to cut.
But that's the world we live in and simply complaining about it isn't going to change anything. Instead I wanted to do something about it. I wanted to find a way to turn conventional straight cut lumber into live edge lumber, or, at least something that looks convincingly enough like live edge lumber.
So join me as I attempt to fake my own live edge table.
If you'd prefer to watch, rather than read about this project there a link to a YouTube video above.
Step 1: Supplies
Here's a list of everything I had to buy for this project:
20 board feet of straight cut 8/4 (2" thick) black walnut (which is my favorite wood).
40' of 3/4" x 3/4" square steel tubing.
2 pieces of glass 6" x 21" x 1/4"
Some Non-Slip Rubbed Pads
1 Can of White Spray Primer
2 Cans of Flat Black Spray Paint
1 Can of Satin Floor Varnish
and of course, my secret weapon in this project:
2 Kutzall Wood Carvings Discs (One Course and One Medium)
Step 2: Cutting and Prepping the Wood
First things first. Most of the lumber I buy is semi-rough so I spent a few hours cleaning it all up.
The walnut I bought came in one long piece, so I started by cutting it into four 25" long pieces in order to make it a little easier to handle.
Next I used my jointer to clean up, and square up, two of the faces on each piece.
Then I used my planer to reduce all 4 pieces to the same thickness while simultaneously squaring up a 3rd face on each piece.
Finally, I used my table saw to square up the last face of each piece.
This is basically my procedure any time new wood comes into the shop and its an important part of any woodworking project.
Step 3: Gluing Up the Top
Time to glue all of those pieces of wood together into a single wood top.
I started by applying a thick bead of carpenters glue to each of my individual walnut pieces, I then rolled them onto their side and clamped them together.
Taking the time to properly prep your wood should mean that you need to apply very minimal clamping force to get good contact between all of your pieces. If you find yourself having to really crank your clamps to close the gaps between pieces, you should probably take a look at your wood prep procedure. Something might be amiss or one of your machines might be out of square.
If you look at the end grain of my four pieces you can see that I alternated the grain orientation of each piece. Up, down, up, down. I've been told this makes for a more stable glue-up over the long term, but I recently had a conversation with Marc Spagnuolo (The WoodWhisperer) where he said he prefers to orient all of the grain in the same direction. Truth be told, it probably a relatively small effect either way and you should just do what you think looks best.
Step 4: Cleaning Up the Top
30 minutes later (I'm always surprised at how quickly wood glue dries) I pulled the clamps off of the top and ran it through my drum sander to remove any excess glue and to smooth out any ridges and seems leftover from the glue-up. If you don't have a drum sander (most people don't) you could easily do this step using a random orbital sander or a drum sander, it might just take a bit more time.
Then, using my track saw I cut the ends off of both sides of the wood top and cut it into a perfect 25" x 25" square.
Step 5: Tracing the "Live Edge" Lines
Now for the fun part of the project. Carving the live edge.
I began by tracing some lines onto the surface of the tabletop in pencil. These lines roughly followed the natural grain pattern of the wood and would serve as my guidelines once I started carving. I think following the grain patterns is key to making this effect look as convincing as possible, but then again, this was my first time attempting this, so maybe I shouldn't be giving advice yet?!
After I was happy with my guidelines I went over them with a thick black sharpie to make them easier to see.
Step 6: Carving the "Live Edge"
To do this next part of the job I packed up all of my gear and camera equipment and headed outside. Carving this top was extremely messy and I didn't really feel like covering my shop in a bunch of dust.
The real hero of this project is the Kutzall wood carving disk. It's a spike-covered disk that you can attach to an angle grinder and use to rapidly carve away at wood. I had 2 different Kutzall discs, one coarse and one medium. I used the coarse disc to do the heavy lifting and then refined my carves using the medium disc.
I was surprised at just how easily it could cut through the wood. Carving this tabletop took me only a few minutes of actual carving. I probably spent more time setting up the little outdoor carving station.
Step 7: Sanding the Top
Due to the coarse nature of the Kutzall discs the wood was left with a pretty rough texture after the carving. I used a random orbital sander and some 80 grit sanding pads to smooth out the carves and refine my fake live edge.
Then, after that, I gave the whole tabletop a quick misting with warm water, waited for it to dry, and then sanded it back with 180 grit sandpaper for an ultrasmooth finish. This process is known as raising the grain and really helps produce better finishes when you're working with water-based finishes.
At this point the tabletop was basically done (outside of a finish, but we'll get there) so I set it aside and moved onto the metalworking portion of this job, making the table's base.
Step 8: Prepping the Metal
The base was constructed from 3/4" square tube steel. Before I could start cutting and assembling it I had to clean the steel. Most steel you buy from the store comes coated in a thin layer of transport oil. This oil keeps the steel from rusting during shipping and storage, but it also burns off during cutting and welding and creates a nasty black smoke that you don't want to breathe.
So prior to doing any metalworking I always wipe the metal down with a mineral spirits soaked rag to remove the transport oil and any other contaminants.
Step 9: Cutting the Metal
Using a cold cut metal saw (a new addition to my shop, that I absolutely love) I cut the tube steel down to the requisite lengths. I cut 8 pieces that were 23" long with mitered cuts at both ends, 6 pieces that were 21" long with square-cut ends and 4 pieces that were 6 1/4" long with square-cut ends.
The cold cut saw is way better than my old abrasive chop saw, but it still doesn't quite give perfect cuts, so I spent a few minutes cleaning up all of my cuts using a file.
Step 10: Welding (Stage 1)
Time to start welding.I'll give the same disclaimer I always give when it comes to welding. There's definitely a lot of risks and dangers associated with welding, but it's more accessible than you might think. It's not hard to pick up a welder and do a functional, but not pretty, job for a furniture build. It's extremely hard to master, but easy to pick up.
I started by pulling out my welding table cover and sliding it over my workbench (you can read about how I built that here: Welding Table Cover). Then I laid out four of the 23" long tube steel pieces into a square. I tacked each of the 4 corners together, double checked that all of my angles were perfect 90s and then fully welded together all of the seems. This would be the top of my table base.
I repeated this process a second time to make the bottom of my table base.
Step 11: Grinding (Stage 1)
I'm still new to welding myself, so my welds were pretty rough.
I swapped my Kutzall disc for a flap paddle disc on my angle grinder and used it to smooth out all of my welds. At this point, I was just doing a rough job and removing anything that might get in the way of the next steps. I didn't need everything to be perfectly smooth and blended out, I just needed to remove all the high spots so it would sit flat on a table for the rest of the assembly.
Step 12: Welding (Stage 2)
Now it was time to join the top and bottom together.
I grabbed my six pieces of 21" tube steel. I attached one of them to each corner and then two of them were attached slightly offset from the corners. These two will form the structure for my shelves.
I basically did the same thing as before but now I was operating in a 3D space. I tacked each piece together and then once I was satisfied everything was square I fully welded all of the seems.
Finally I welded the horizontal pieces of tube steel onto the frame to support my shelves. These pieces were 6 1/4" long and I used wood blocks as spacers to ensure consistent alignment when welding them into position.
Step 13: Grinding (Stage 2)
This time I was a little bit more particular when it came to grinding.
Using the same flap paddle disc I ground down all of my welding seems and then slowly blended them back.
Doing all of the outside corners was relatively easy, but when it comes to the inside corners I really had to take my time. It was also really easy to miss spots too, you don't fully realize how many intersecting seems there are at first, so I had to work very methodically.
Step 14: Tapping Holes
I was planning to attach the table base to the tabletop by just screwing it on, so I had to tap a series of holes into the top of the table base. I grabbed a 1/4" titanium bit and a cordless drill and got to work. It's easier than you think to drill holes in steel. Just make sure you have a nice sharp bit, set your drill to the lowest speed setting it has, and make sure you apply a lot of downward pressure.
If the drill bit isn't cutting, reduce your speed, and apply more pressure. If that doesn't work, try switching to a smaller drill bit and then working up to the size you need.
Step 15: Painting the Base
To paint the table base I opted for a rattle can finish. If I were making this for someone else, I probably would've opted for a powder-coated finish, but for myself, a $7 can of spray paint is good enough.
I started by spraying on a coat of white primer. Even though I wanted to paint the base black I went with a white primer so that I could easily identify areas that I missed when applying the finish coats.
After the primer dried, I switched to flat black and continued spraying. I choose flat black for two reasons, one I just like how it looks, it feels very industrial. And two, it's really good at hiding small imperfections, of which there were many because I'm not great at welding yet.
Step 16: Finishing the Top
Alright I promised earlier that we would pick the top back up when it was time to finish it and here we are.
I grabbed a can of Saman stains hybrid satin floor varnish and began brushing it on. This is a super forgiving finish and I use it for a lot of my projects. It requires multiple coats, but it's really good at self-leveling and doesn't show a lot of flaws.
I did 3 coats total, and between each coat I sanded the whole thing using 220 grit sandpaper. To sand the live edge between coats I had to switch to a sanding sponge and do it manually so that I could get into all the nooks and crannies
Step 17: Attaching the Top to the Base
Attaching the top and the base was a relatively painless process. I laid the base on top of the top, piloted out all of my holes, and then used some black screws to hold everything together. I'm pretty sure the screws I used were designed for metal and not for wood, but, in an application like this where they aren't going to be subject to much, if any, stress I'm not too worried about it. Form over function here!
Step 18: Installing the Glass Shelves
The cherry on top of this project was installing the glass shelves.
I phoned a local glazier who I've worked with many times in the past and asked if they could cut me a couple of shelves out of their leftover scraps. They were more than happy to do it and only charged me $20 bucks. If you'd like to incorporate glass into a build, don't be afraid to call your local window and door company. They're usually happy to take on small projects like this because it gives them something to do with all of their offcuts from bigger projects.
I stuck some adhesive non-slip rubber feet onto the metal frame and then lowered the shelves into position. The hardest part about this step was cleaning all of my fingerprints off of the glass afterward.
Step 19: Setting It Up at Home
With nothing else left to do I loaded everything up onto the shelves and then started snapping some pictures and filming some video to share with you guys.
Overall, I'm really happy with how this project turned out. There are a few things I might've carved differently in the wood, but I think the effect is quite convincing as is.