Time for my take on the live-edge coffee table!
This walnut slab came from my grandfather's farm up in Northern California and showed up in my parent's garage back when I was in high school. My dad and I went back and forth on what to do with the slab since it was so beat up and weathered from being outside for most of its life, but when I moved into my own place big enough to establish a nice little shop about a year ago, I was finally able to talk him into letting me take the slab and turn it into something incredible. I believed this slab of walnut was perfect for a coffee table since the day I saw it, so as soon as I could, I turned it into a coffee table!
Step 1: Tools and Materials
- Walnut slab!
- Steel bar 3/16" x 2" x 10'
- Steel angle iron (x2) 1.5" x 1.5" x 3/16" x 10'
- Hand planing tools (hand planer, sandpaper, an orbital sander, or a finishing saw)
- Bench Cookies*
- Random Orbital Sander
- Angle grinder
- Hot glue gun
- Blue tape
- Epoxy (I went with West Systems 207 and 105 for this build, and it turned out great)
- Plastic cups
- Black Appliance Epoxy spray paint
- Screws (I used some #8x1" lath screws, which have held up super well for my table)
* Bench Cookies are pretty awesome for keeping your work isolated from your table, but you could also use some sections of scrap wood as long as you can keep the wood slab level.
Step 2: Plane the Slab
If you are able to get an evenly-planed wood slab (much to my envy...), you can skip this step.
However, if you have an incredibly weathered and warped piece of wood like mine, this will likely be the hardest part of the build. Unless, of course, you have access to a mega-planer that can plane an entire slab of wood like this in one pass. If you are reading this, you are probably like me and don't have access to a wonderful machine like this, but you can still plane the slab with a router, a planing bit, and planing jig for the router.
You'll need a flat surface (ideally) slightly bigger than the wood slab you're working with and a router jig to let you run a surfacing bit over the entire surface of the slab. My work surface was a couple inches narrower than my walnut slab, so I had a bit of extra work at then end to take off wood the router couldn't reach. The most important part of this step, though, is to start out with a level surface you can clamp the slab to. Shim your slab in the corners to keep it from wobbling, clamp it down to your work surface, and run the router planing jig over it to level one of the sides.
Flip the slab over, clamp it down, and run the planing jig over it again to make sure both sides are parallel with each other. After planing, run an orbital sander over both surfaces to remove any grooves left behind by the router. If the sides of the slab are rougher than you'd like, use some sandpaper to smooth those edges.
If you think the router depth is too shallow, don't be afraid to take multiple passes with the router! The more you are trying to shave off in a single pass, the more likely your router bit is to overheat, so it's better to take more shallow passes with the router than to try to cut too much off and risk breaking your router bit or your router.
Finally, depending on what your desired look will be, chip out any rotting wood from the slab. In my case, I wanted to replace that center rotted portion with epoxy, but it might look great with any number of wood/epoxy substitutes, so this largely depends on what style you are going for with the table. Depending on the state of the rot, it might also look pretty nice if you seal it all in with the epoxy later.
Step 3: Design the Legs
I believe a simple form and simple function should play equal roles in turning a pile of steel and a walnut into a coffee table, so I thought the most fitting legs for this coffee table would be sections of angle iron and flat bar merely cut to length and welded together to provide highly durable legs for a coffee table anyone might have in their living room.
The main legs must all be cut to the same dimensions, so given my target table height of about 16", the legs needed to be about 15" long with parallel 20 degree cuts from the tip of the angle iron to the legs. If your table height is bigger or smaller than this, you'll need to adjust the leg lengths accordingly.
That being said, working it all out with a cardboard mock-up is the best place to start to get a feel for how the table will look and for estimating the amount of steel you will need. Start by building out a 1:1 silhouette of your slab out of cardboard. From there, plan the legs and the leg supports with 1:1 mock-ups before doing a final cardboard, hot glue, and tape assembly of the table at its final destination to make sure it fits where you want it to go.
Step 4: Epoxy the Slab
Cracks and gaps can be both an eyesore and point of failure for tables, so for weathered slabs like this, it's best to fill in the gaps with a 2-part epoxy. West Systems has a number of hardener options for the 105 resin, but for this project, I went with the 207 hardener since it cures clear. Additionally, you can get both the 207 hardener and 105 resin off of Amazon, which was great for this project since it only took about a week to deliver.
When you are preparing to epoxy your slab, take a look at both sides, and tape any and all gaps on one face of the slab that look like they connect with gaps on the other face. Start by taping up the face that will eventually be the tabletop since cleaning up the taped surfaces will be much nicer in the end. After you think you have all the gaps and voids taped off, use some Bench Cookies or wood scraps to separate the slab from your workbench while you epoxy in the gaps with the taped face facing down. If you don't use bench cookies or spacers, you will probably end up gluing the slab to your workbench and giving up on the project after that...
So, now that the face of your slab is taped up and placed on a set of spacers, mix up some 2-part epoxy and pour it in the gaps. I have found that plastic cups are great for mixing epoxy since you can crease the lip of the cup and form a nice pour spout when you are ready to pour the epoxy. As you pour epoxy, gaps will fill up, but you'll likely need to pour more epoxy in later as it seeps into the cracks and voids of the wood. Fill everything in as much as possible and let the epoxy fully cure. To remove bubbles forming in the epoxy, you can pass some form of heat over them, like a torch or heat gun. I definitely recommend using a quick pass with a heat gun instead of a torch since you are much less likely to burn the curing epoxy.
As for large voids, DO NOT USE THE WEST SYSTEMS EPOXY TO FILL IT ALL AT ONE TIME. The West Systems epoxy is fast-cure epoxy, so if you pour too much at once, the heat and contraction from the rapid cure rate will cause it to warp and crack, which is terrible mistake I made for my table. You can use it to fill large voids, but don't fill more than about 1/4" of the void at a time. The one saving attribute of epoxy is that an additional pour will fill any cracks and bubbles, so a hasty epoxy pour won't necessarily mean the end of your project.
Once all of the epoxy is cured, sand any uneven surfaces back down to the the same level as the planing step. I was able to get the epoxy and walnut all leveled out with about 80-grit sandpaper on my orbital sander.
Step 5: Build and Finish the Legs
While the epoxy is curing, you can build the table legs. Cut your steel sections to length based on the cardboard template, and weld all the pieces together. I only have a flux-core wire welder, so my welds are super dirty, but if you have access to a MIG welder or a torch with a large enough welding head, those will result in much cleaner welds than I was able to achieve.
After the legs are welded up, clean the steel as much as possible with a wire brush. Drill a few holes in the steel strap for screwing on the table (I have a total of 6 screws holding my table together). Finish the legs by coating them in black appliance epoxy. This will be durable enough to withstand everyday use and be nice enough to provide a clean, finished look to you fancy new coffee table.
Step 6: Finish the Slab
Probably one of the easiest parts of this project. I went with 4 coats of polyurethane, brushed on at about 12hr intervals. After doing that for the bottom face and letting it dry, I flipped it over and repeated on the top face. Also, if you are doing this inside, it's probably a good idea to lay down a tarp to catch any drips during the process.
You can get a really good idea of what the polyurethane finish will look like by wiping the wood slab down with a damp paper towel.
Step 7: Assemble and Enjoy!
Drill some pilot holes for the screws before fully assembling the table, and make sure to add felt or rubber padding to the bottom of the legs if you are placing the table directly on wood or tile. After fastening the slab to the legs, enjoy your one-of-a-kind coffee table!
My table ended up being about 76lbs, and it has been a fantastic addition to my living room with my elk rug and TV fish tank!
If you make a table of your own like this or have any feedback for improving the build process, let me know in a comment below!