Intro: 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.
Check out the video above for more detail than I show in the pictures below. Also, if you're not subscribed to my YouTube channel, go check it out.
Step 1: Materials Used
Everything on the bench is walnut except the panels on the ends of the bench. They are spalted maple.
Step 2: Milling Lumber for the Base
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.
And finally, I flatten one face and one edge at the jointer and then run the boards through the planer to their final thickness.
Step 3: Gluing Up Leg Blanks
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.
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.
Step 4: Cutting Legs to Length & Prep Surfaces
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.
Step 5: Laying Out the Joinery on the Legs
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.
Step 6: Routing the Mortises
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.
Step 7: Milling the Aprons
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.
Step 8: Cutting the Tenons
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.
Step 9: Cutting Mortises in Curved Aprons
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.
Step 10: Laying Out & Cutting Curves
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 and then I clean up the saw marks using my spindle sander.
Step 11: Bottom Shelf Joinery
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.
Step 12: Shelf Support
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.
Step 13: Spalted Maple Panels!
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".
Step 14: Sanding - the Boring Stuff
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.
Step 15: It's Glue Up Time!
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.
Step 16: Cutting Shelf Support to Size
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.
Step 17: Removing Bark From Live Edge Slab
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.
Step 18: Flattening the Slab
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.
Step 19: Finishing Up the Slab
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.
Step 20: Applying the Finish
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.
Step 21: Waxing the Surface & Attaching the Top to the Base
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.