At any given time, about half of our projects feature what’s known as “live edges.” We build live edge tables, desks, countertops, benches, sideboards, and even headboards. The live edge look has been extremely popular in recent years, and for good reason: it allows us to bring the recognizable beauty of nature directly into our clients’ homes. But what is live edge furniture?
The term “live edge” refers to the outside edge of a piece of wood that hasn’t been cut, and that retains the natural outline of the tree. There are two main sorts of live edge material, cookies and flitches. A cookie refers to a piece of wood that’s been cut across the long dimension of a log or tree trunk, which creates a roughly disc-like section. A flitch is a piece of wood that’s been cut along the long dimension of the tree, which creates a lengthwise slice from the original log. In both of these cases, the outside of the piece will still have bark and the original shape of the tree, and the diameter of the tree defines the width of the piece.
It’s common to refer to either of these sorts of pieces as “slabs,” so we and our clients will often talk about sourcing a “live edge slab” for their furniture. Most of the pieces we use are flitches, because they’re longer and more appropriate for the sorts of tables we make most often. Live edge lumber contrasts with milled lumber, in that the latter gets straight cuts on all four sides, as in the two-by framing stock you’re probably familiar with.
Once the slabs have been cut from the tree, they need to be air-dried, at a rate of about a year for each inch of thickness, before they ever reach our workshop. Lumber is air-dried so that it slowly drops to ambient moisture levels, and doesn’t warp in the process. There will, almost inevitably, be small cracks and voids that open up as the wood dries out, and these aren’t indicative of problems or instability in the wood, and we’ll tie and fill them in the final piece.
Our job, then, is to take the dried slabs, plane them flat and then sand them smooth so they’re right for use in furniture. Part of that process is the removal of any bark that remained on the wood, as it’s almost certain to fall off eventually, and to ease any sharp edges or points, so that the final table doesn’t snag clothing or poke diners.
Live edge furniture can have dramatic outlines that wander in and out, or it can have smoother, straighter edges – exactly because there are some trees that grow straight and true and others that are jagged and unpredictable. In cases where the outline of a given slab doesn’t work well for the table it’s destined to become, we can also make a “faux-live” cut to make things more regular without cutting a truly straight line on the piece.
Live edge material is beautiful and natural, and it creates furniture with a story and a history right from the start. It comes in a huge range of species, a wide range of sizes, and as many shapes as there are trees. Picking the right slab is a fun part of the design process, and using slabs allows you to select exactly the piece of wood you want in your furniture. We’re here to help you find that just-right material and the design that matches it best, so if you’re interested in a live-edge table – or any other piece of custom furniture – get in touch. We’d love to work with you.