Introduction: Live Edge Figured Shelf, Using Only a Table Saw and Sander

Well I missed the deadline for the shelving contest, so here goes for "woodworking."

This live edge shelf is my attempt at combining a rustic look, with a more modern design. I saw a very similar shelf in a magazine made out of jet black black granite, with a stainless steel stripe running from top to bottom, slightly offset from the center, and I loved it. I don't have equipment or finances to work with granite and steel, so I had to come up with a different idea. An idea that was do-able with minimal tools and a beginners skill level.

This is my first Instructable, as well as my first attempt at building something useful. So here goes.

Step 1: Materials and Prep

I don't have an accurate time frame for the build. In all, I don't think it took more than 3-4 hours of actual work (aside from waiting for glue to dry overnight), but I tend to be a casual hobby worker who takes breaks to watch football, grab a drink, walk the dog, eat dinner, etc. A project that takes most people 2 hours, will likely take me 2 days.

Wood Materials. (abviously you can choose any wood you wish)

  1. Live edge walnut slab
  2. curly ambrosia maple
  3. purpleheart
  4. oak dowels

Building Materials

  1. table saw
  2. various sized clamps
  3. belt sander (various grits
  4. wood glue
  5. sand paper (higher grit for hand finishing)
  6. pencil
  7. measuring device
  8. drill

Step 2: Prep Your Pieces

Once you have all the materials, get them ready for piecing together. The curly ambrosia I had was already surfaced and ready to be cut. The walnut slab was rough, and I don't have a planer, so I went with my small belt sander. Started with 60 grit to get it as close to flat as I could, and then worked up to 240 grit. 120 is most likely fine, but I really like things smooth.

Then measure out and space where you want your shelving along the back piece.

My slab of walnut was 24" tall. I wanted three shelves, 8" apart. I started 3" from the bottom edge, and marked off with a pencil every 8" from there. This meant I would make three cuts, starting from the bottom edge, the first at 3", the second cut at 11", and the 3rd cut at 19". This leaves a 3" lower hanging lip, two shelves with 8" of space, and a top shelf with a 6" back lip.

The maple pieces are 1" thick, so overall this leaves me with a 27" tall shelf before adding the purpleheart accent.

The two lower shelves are 5" deep (4 inches when installed), and the top shelf is 4" deep (3" installed). They are roughly 14" wide.

Step 3: Add Your Accent Piece

This was the most difficult part for me working with only a table saw. If you have a router, obviously that would save you lots of time and stress. A dado blade would make things much easier as well, but I have neither.

I cut 3/4" strips out of my purpleheart board. If you want bright purple, use the face, if you want a darker and deeper purple tone, use the end grain. I used the front face.
Make sure you line your strip up at as close to a 90 degree angle as you can. Working with limited items, I used my saw blade, and the miter gauge. Obviously with a standard miter gauge that comes with most table saws, you will never get a perfect 90 degree angle. But with my shelf pieces being 1" thick, slight deviations due to miter gauge wobble are not noticeable to the eye unless my house guests are specifically trying to find issues on purpose. Don't do that, its rude, why would you do that?

once you have everything lined up, mark both edges with a pencil that has a very sharp tip. When you make your cuts, it is going to be on the inside of your lines. Stray too far over, and your cuts will be too big, and will leave gaps.
Se your saw blade to a desired level just enough to get a good groove to place your accent piece. I set my height at roughly 3/16."

Make slow repeated passes moving your board over slightly each time until you get to the inside edges of your pencil lines. If the groove is still too narrow, take a high grit piece of sand paper and work your accent strip down until it fits snugly, then glue it in place, clamp it down, and repeat the steps for the other sections.

Step 4: Attaching the Shelving Pieces

This is where I made my life far more difficult than it needed to be. Again, with limited tools, finding a way to reliably attach the pieces is difficult. A biscuit cutter would be great, but all I have is a drill. So I did the best I could to drill spaces for dowels to add a slight amount of reinforcement.

They fit very well, and only one piece does not come to a perfect joint. I blame this mostly on not having a jointer, and having to use the belt sander to get flat edges.

Glue up all the edges, fill in all the slots with dowel pieces, clamp it all together with bar clamps, and give it overnight to dry.

Step 5: Finish

Once the glue dried I scraped off all the overflow from joints, and then hand sanded the entire piece to 500 grit.

I then added 4 coats of spray lacquer (outdoors) with a 500 grit lite sand in between coats.

The photographs do not do it justice. They show the maple curly figure quite well, but the figure in the walnut is much more impressive in person, and the purpleheart strip is far brighter in natural lighting.

Step 6: Rethink and Revisit.

I encourage everyone to give it a try. The results are endless with the varieties of exotic wood available, and live edges make everything unique unto themselves. I would use bloodwood or wenge instead of purpleheart if I were to do this again.

You could get much greater results with a jointer and a router, and a dado blade. Save a lot of time, and a lot of stress.

What I would do different.

  1. Switch the design. I do not trust that each shelf is held together with glue and dowels, and I'm sure someone would point that out if I did not mention it here. I had to attach a small frame to the back in to make myself more confident with placing heavier items on the lower shelves. Sadly, this means it no longer rests flush on the wall. When I redo this, I will switch the attachment of the accent piece and the shelves. I would slice the slab vertically and glue the purpleheart in between the two pieces, and then attach the shelve with the groove cut method.
  2. I would not do this again unless I bought a router. Using the miter gauge and simply hoping for 90 degree cuts was really annoying. This would also allow me to rout keyhole hangers into the back, or something more sturdy without having to build a frame as is now. The piece as is does not rest flush on the wall, and sticks out slightly. Not a huge deal, but if you're a perfectionist it is soul crushing.

Woodworking Contest 2017

Participated in the
Woodworking Contest 2017