Introduction: Live Edge Floating Shelf... From Scratch

About: I'm a middle school science teacher going on 20 years in the classroom. I've taught 6th, 7th, and 8th graders. I'm constantly looking to improve my instruction and Instructables is one of the places I search…

It started with a "simple" request from my wife... She asked "Can you add some floating shelves in our bathroom?" After researching the prices of floating shelves on-line, I decided to make a live edge floating shelf... from a log.


Wood log or large round
Axe or Hatchet or both
Wooden Mallet or Froe
Electric Planer or Hand Plane

Dust Mask

Straight Edge
Tape Measure
Paint (Latex is best but not required)
Paint Brush
Drill and Drill Bits
Table Saw or Circular Saw
Compound Miter Saw or Hand Saw
Mounting Hardware
Stud Finder
Shop Vac

Step 1: Find Your Wood

I'm lucky enough to live in an area surrounded by old growth forests filled primarily with hardwoods like red oak, white oak, hickory, and maple. When powerful storms roll through, downed limbs and trees are common. The limbs are often cut to lengths of 4' or less and hauled to the curb for the city to collect. This makes for free green firewood or a beautiful floating shelf if you can find a suitable round/limb.

Search for the following:

  1. a relatively straight section of the trunk/limb
  2. diameter of 8 inches minimum
  3. no secondary limbs
  4. must be long enough to meet your shelving needs

Step 2: Visualize Your Shelf

Decide how thick you want your shelf to be. Remember that you'll want to leave a little extra material since the board will need to be planed down. I went with just over 2".

Use a straight edge and a pencil to mark the end of the wood.

When making boards from timber, there are a number of ways to divide the wood. Certain slabs will be less likely to check (split). It's super easy to lose oneself in the internet watching videos about quartersawn lumber vs block lumber. Here is a video I found to be very helpful for this project.

Step 3: Split the Slab From the Log

Score your second line with the hatchet and the wooden mallet.

Get a little deeper with each pass.

Use a wedge / second hatchet / axe depending the width of the log.

When the split starts to open, use the wooden wedges to get even deeper and finish splitting your slab from the log.

If you have enough wood left, split more slabs for future projects!

Step 4: Hew a Few Wedges

You might not need to, but it's a good idea to split a small round as if making kindling. Taper one end of each piece of kindling to create a wedge as shown in the pictures. These wedges can get deeper than the hatchet by itself and will extend your split. They also tend to bite into the wood better than the metal of the hatchet.

Step 5: Score the Line and Make Your First Split

Use a wooden mallet and hatchet to score the line. Start by lining up the hatchet blade on the line and whack the back of the hatchet with your mallet to sink the hatchet blade into the wood about a centimeter. Move the hatchet down the line and repeat. As the hatchet gets deeper and deeper a crack will form and the wood should start to split along the grain. Use a second wedge or one of your wooden wedges to help speed the process.

Step 6: Check for Imperfections

Make sure you don't have any rot or insect damage. Some imperfections like knots or bumps are good can give the shelf more character.

Step 7: Knock Down High Spots

Optional: Use an adze or draw knife to knock down any high spots.

Step 8: Start Planing

This step is the most tedious and creates the biggest mess, but t is also the most rewarding. I used an electric planer to flatten and level the board. I wish I owned a hand plane and knew how to use it! If using an electric planer, please wear a mask because they create a lot of dust. You'll also want to keep a push broom and dust pan handy (or a shop vac to clean up the shavings). I planed both the top and bottom of the slab.

Step 9: Seal the End Grain

If the wood dries too quickly, the wood will check (split). To prevent this from happening, it's important to seal the ends right away. Latex paint works best if you have it. There are also special sealing paints you could purchase. I didn't have either on hand and ended up using acrylic paint which worked fine. Depending on the size and thickness of your board, you may need to wait a year or two before the moisture level is low enough to finish the shelf. You can test the moisture level with a firewood moisture meter.

I left these shelves in the garage for a little over a year. My wife was ready to give up on me ever installing shelves in our bathroom! I assured her it would be worth the wait.

For more about why the wood starts to "check": Splits and cracks (known as 'checks' in the industry) occur when wood shrinks as it dries. Wood shrinks roughly twice as much along the growth rings (radially) as it does across the rings (tangentially)–and it is this uneven shrinkage that causes checks to develop.

Step 10: Make Final Measurements

I used a meter stick to mark the back edge of the shelf (that would sit flush against the wall) and a 90 Degree-Angle Ruler to make sure my shelf was square.

Step 11: Trim the Ends and Rip the Back Edge

The sealed ends were cut using a compound miter saw and the back of the slab was ripped with a table saw. This could also be done with a circular saw or hand saw.

Step 12: Prepare to Mount

I know that my studs are 16" apart so I drilled two holes in the back of the shelf 16" apart. I was hoping for a shelf that was 24" long, but I didn't quite make it. To center the the holes on the back of the shelf, I subtracted 16" from 23.5" (the actual length of my shelf) leaving me with 7.5". I then divided 7.5" in half to get 3.75".

I knew that each hole would need to be 3.75" in from each end of the shelf. I measured 3.75" from one end of the shelf and made an "X" in the middle of my center line. I did the same thing on the opposite end of the shelf. I double checked and my X's were exactly 16" apart.

Tips: Make sure you have a drill bit that is long enough to make a hole deep enough for the hardware you order! Also, make sure you drill straight (90 degrees) into the back of the shelf because the mounting hardware will be perpendicular to the wall.

This would also be a good time to stain the shelf if you were planning on it. I left this shelf stain-free for a more natural look. I stained the shelves that went into my bathroom with a darker wood stain (chosen by my wife of course).

Step 13: Mount the Floating Shelf Hardware

There are many different ways to mount a floating shelf. Because live-edge slabs of oak are heavy, I decided to use hardware rated for 50 lbs. I ordered this through Amazon. Follow the instructions specific to the hardware you purchase! I used a stud finder to make sure the hardware was installed securely.

Step 14: Mount the Shelf and Test

Slide your live-edge slab onto the hardware and admire your new floating shelf! One shelf went into the kids bedroom for their game console and the others were mounted in the bathroom for my wife.

Hopefully, you found inspiration from this Instructable and will use it to build your own shelves. It's a cheap and easy way to reclaim scrap wood and can simultaneously help to organize your home! It has me wondering what else I can build with scrap logs?

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