Live Edge Slab Bench
At a past woodworking event in Skiatook, OK I picked up a slab of Osage Orange from Ted Alexander. It had a natural curve to it, a cool triple branch feature on one end, it was more than two and half inches thick and it spanned over six feet in length. It was a thing of beauty. I knew exactly what it would be when I got it home. The natural curve deemed this slab to become a bench without question. At the time, I was in the process of designing a fire pit in my back yard and this seemed to be the perfect bench for it. I would be taking this slab back home across three states in a different environment, so I let it sit outside in the elements for a few months before I started working with it. It developed a small twist, but nothing that prevented me from starting the project. You can click the video above to watch the full project build.
Preparing the slab
When thinking about the project and this slab becoming a bench I had originally thought about keeping the bark intact, but I figured the bark wouldn’t feel good on the legs in the summer months, so I stripped all the bark off on both sides using a mallet and chisel. In some places I had to actually chisel it off, but for the most part it came off pretty easy. Once the chisel did all it could do without damaging the edges I used a random orbital sander (ROS) to clean up anything I missed. As the bark came off I noticed a lot of color variation and really cool curves that was going to make this slab stand out, so I sanded all the edges down to a nice round profile. I made sure not to leave any sharp edges or anything that would scratch the skin. The slab was cut with a bandsaw mill, so it had saw marks on both sides, so I removed all the marks on the seat (top) side by sanding it down. I left the underside in a semi-rough state for the simple fact that it wasn’t going to be visible in the end.
This slab had a few splits here and there, so I wanted to add in some bow ties to prevent them from spreading. There were a total of four different areas that needed bow ties. A set of the legs were going to be hickory I figured making the bowties out of hickory would tie it all together. I started by cutting down a strip of hickory in the long grain orientation to the desired width. My process was to lay the strip of wood down over each split and sketch out a bow tie to fit each designated area.
I used the bandsaw to cut out four bow ties, all different from one another.
As I laid them out in the areas they would ultimately be placed I used a pencil to mark out where the bow tie would be recessed and numbered them to avoid any mix ups. Once I had them marked out, I could then take my handheld router to remove the waste and use a chisel to clean up the corners.
I’ve only used bow ties a few times, but I found I get a better fit and bond if I allow just a little bit of room between the bow tie and the side of the opening towards the bottom. When I’m using my chisel to get the final fit I will start straight down and then angle away from the opening just ever so slightly towards the bottom.
I do things the unconventional way sometimes and this might be one of those times, but to me it seems that the little bit of a gap at the bottom of the recess would give the glue someplace to go and form a better bond. Who knows? I just know that I haven’t had one come out yet. I let the bow ties cure overnight and used a hand plane to take the material down to almost flush with the slab. To get the bowties nice and flush, I used my ROS.
Making the legs
Deciding on the leg design was probably the most time consuming part of this entire project. I went back and forth from four splayed legs to two slab legs on each end and thought about how to join it all together. One thing for sure was that I knew I wanted to do something that didn’t require any screws or metal fasteners. I wanted the bench and legs to be joined together with only wood and glue. What I settled on was that one end of the bench would be a slab leg with a mitered joint and a pair of Hickory legs for the other end. For the slab leg end I cut about eighteen inches of the slab off at a forty five degree angle with the angle cut inward towards the underside of the bench.
To get the mitered joint on the leg I had to cut the the short piece (the eighteen inch piece) again, but at the opposite angle. This way, the two pieces would fit together much like a picture frame miter. The method of joinery I decided on was dowel joinery, which meant I had to drill holes for the dowels. Two dowels on each side of the miter was the goal, so I had to drill four total holes.
Before I could drill any holes for the dowels, I needed to attach the slab leg and by attach I mean glue and clamp. This was the most awkward glue up I’ve ever done. I know there was probably an easier way, but in the moment I just knew I wanted that leg glued to that slab, so I went for it. I used a ninety degree clamping square on one side of the leg and used a scrap oak block for the other side. It wasn’t in the video, but I clamped it up as a dry fit first. I wanted to make sure the wood grain from the seat would flow down to the leg perfectly. Once I had it clamped where I wanted it I made some reference marks for the real glue up. The clamps came off, added glue and clamped it back up making sure to line up my reference marks. No turning back now.
The miter turned out really good. The two outer corners didn’t line up as well as I had hoped due to the curve in the slab, but the main flow of the wood grain from the bench to the leg matches perfectly, almost like like a water fall effect. I sanded the corners down so that the overall miter looked good and it turned out amazing.
Using dowels as a method of joinery is one of my favorites. I love the look of the round finished dowel in what seems to be mostly square or right angle projects. Another reason I like it is because it’s easy to assemble. When starting out with this project, I knew I wanted to avoid screws and any other metal fasteners. With the slab leg on one end with the mitered joint and round legs on the other end, I think the dowels fit well in the design. I also have full confidence that the dowels will hold the leg in place for the life of the bench.
The first thing I did was measure where the dowels would be and used a forstner bit to drill holes for the seven eights of an inch dowel rods.
I made sure to offset the dowels so that the two sets of dowels didn’t conflict with one another.
I filled the holes with glue, tapped them in with a wooden mallet and cut them off flush with a hand saw. I was very pleased with how it turned out.
All that was left on that leg was to clean it up a bit and add finish. The other end of the bench with the splayed legs required a little bit of a different approach. I started by cutting out a couple of two and a half inch by two and a half inch blanks on the bandsaw from a hickory slab that were longer than what I needed. I turned the blanks down on the lathe to a shape that tapered slightly from the middle in both directions. During the project, I stopped at this point and would come back to turn the tenon after drilling out the mortises.
I used a forstner bit in my handheld drill to create the mortises for the hickory legs. Splayed legs is what I was after, so I had to ensure an angle from the front and back as well as from the side. There were many ways to go about this, but like I said, I do things the unconventional way. I decided to use my digital angle finder by holding it against my drill checking every so often as I drilled down at the desired angle and depth. Now I could return to the lathe and turn down the tenon that would fit into the mortises on the bottom of the slab.
Before gluing in the legs, I drilled a small hole in the mortise all the way through the slab that I’ll explain why shortly. I placed a small piece of painters tape over the hole in the mortise so the glue wouldn’t leak out. With glue spread in the mortises and around the tenons of the legs I placed the legs in the mortises and gave them a slight turn as they bottomed out.
The reason for the small hole that I drilled all the way through was to let me know where to drill from the other side. I wanted the same dowel joinery look on the seat side of the bench top as the other end with the slab leg. So, I figured I would reinforce the splayed legs by adding in dowels (smaller in diameter than the leg itself) through the top of the slab and into the top of the leg. Basically, once the glued dried, the leg would have a stepped down tenon all the way through the slab.
The finishing process was very simple. Before applying any finish I made sure to sand out all the imperfections. I started with a belt sander to remove all the milling marks then used sixty grit on my ROS and worked my way up to two hundred and twenty grit. Once everything was sanded down to the desired look and feel, I started to apply the finish. I chose to use a semi-gloss water based polycrylic that goes on milky and dries clear. In the past I’ve used a satin finish for this type of project, but this time I wanted a shiny finish. I knew with the species of wood and all its curves, it deserved to shine.
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Tools used in this post
• Miter saw, Kobalt: http://amzn.to/2mD5lkV
• Bandsaw, Grizzly: http://amzn.to/2q3Lqcs
• Bandsaw riser block: http://amzn.to/2snwHhV
• Reciprocating saw, Porter Cable: http://amzn.to/2snzxU3
• Dremel: http://amzn.to/2ssXrZr
Table Saw and Accessories:
• Digital angle finder, Wixey: http://amzn.to/2sn68Jz
Lathe and Accessories:
• Lathe, Turncrafter: http://amzn.to/2uejLuw
• Lathe measuring tools: http://amzn.to/2sXyWqQ
• Full face shield, Honeywell: http://amzn.to/2vPwTYg
• Mid size easy rougher, EWT: http://amzn.to/2t79m0V
• Mid size easy finisher, EWT: http://amzn.to/2t7h2Aw
• Mid size easy detailer, EWT: http://amzn.to/2u59tKR
Routers and Accessories:
• Router bit set, Skil: http://amzn.to/2uqPPbd
Sanders and Accessories:
• Random orbital, Skil: http://amzn.to/2ts2o9C
• Belt sander, Skil: http://amzn.to/2gWknNM
Drilling and Accessories:
• Drill and impact 20v, Porter Cable: http://amzn.to/2txekak
• Drill and drive bit set, Kobalt: http://amzn.to/2stIbf6
• Drill bit set 21 piece, Kobalt: http://amzn.to/2urlY2G
• Forstner bit set, Porter Cable: http://amzn.to/2trXpG5
Dust Collection and Accessories:
• Dust collector 2hp, Central Machinery: http://amzn.to/2spq9Q1
• Dust collector, Dust Right: http://amzn.to/2trZu4F
• 4″ dust separator kit: http://amzn.to/2t8kf2M
• 4″ dust port adapter: http://amzn.to/2sYTKhI
• 4″ self cleaning blast gate: http://amzn.to/2sorgPM
• 4″ angled dust port: http://amzn.to/2ts8Op1
• 4″ to 2″ Y dust fitting: http://amzn.to/2ttfymq
• 4″ Y fitting: http://amzn.to/2t8z0T9
• 4″ to 2.25″ reducer (for shopvac): http://amzn.to/2txtX1K
• 4″ 3-way junction dust fitting: http://amzn.to/2s99gEP
• Jointer dust hood, 4″: http://amzn.to/2sprG8J
• Table saw dust hood, 4″: http://amzn.to/2ts5vOS
• 5″ to 4″ reducer, Delta: http://amzn.to/2txuBwc
• Dust hose clear, 2.5″ x 10′: http://amzn.to/2stVMms
• Dust hose clear, 4″ x 50′: http://amzn.to/2stMbwa
• Foil tape: http://amzn.to/2u6sYCD
• Hose clamp, 2.5″: http://amzn.to/2t8fdDs
• Hose clamp, 4″: http://amzn.to/2sur5NU
• Shop Vac, 1.5 gal: http://amzn.to/2sZ72eb
• Shop Vac, 5 gal: http://amzn.to/2s9ykLU
• Shop Vac, 12 gal: http://amzn.to/2ts4ENX
• Shop Vac hose, 2.5″: http://amzn.to/2ursjuO
• Dust hose, small port universal: http://amzn.to/2u6zI3r
Gluing, Finishing and Accessories:
• Glue applicator set: http://amzn.to/2stQlUw
• Glue applicator silicone set: http://amzn.to/2s9b7cX
• Glu-bot: http://amzn.to/2s9rpm8
• Wood glue, Titebond III: http://amzn.to/2u6CEgo
Clamping and Accessories:
• 6″ F style clamp, Bessey: http://amzn.to/2ts94Vd
• 12″ quick clamp, Irwin: http://amzn.to/2u6hnDJ
• 6.5″ woodworkers vise, Irwin: http://amzn.to/2uryNtK
Measuring, Marking and Layout:
• Lefty/Righty 16′ tape measure, FastCap: http://amzn.to/2urCXSy
• Angle finder: http://amzn.to/2nAPtyR
• Markers, Milwaukee: http://amzn.to/2s9DQhR
• Chisel set, Stanley Bailey: http://amzn.to/2suxxol
• Marking gauge 3 in 1: http://amzn.to/2spkKZc
• Sliding t-bevel, Swanson: http://amzn.to/2soIcpk
• No. 5 bench plane, Stanley: http://amzn.to/2spdcFP
• Marking knife: http://amzn.to/2urkdCk
• Respirator, 3M: http://amzn.to/2spd5da
• Respirator dust filter: http://amzn.to/2urvv9K
• Safety glasses, 3M: http://amzn.to/2txHtT7
• Hearing protection with Bluetooth, ISOTunes Pro: http://amzn.to/2x1otdR
• Fire extinguisher: http://amzn.to/2ururTy
• First aid kit: http://amzn.to/2urwR4B
Video Equipment and Electronics:
• DSLR camera and mic, Canon/Rode: http://amzn.to/2urN0qA
• Camera battery pack, Canon: http://amzn.to/2sudLcx
• Wireless mic, Rode: http://amzn.to/2vYjDkF
• Mic wind muff: http://amzn.to/2urLqoy
• Tripod, Manfrotto: http://amzn.to/2s9MHjB
• Mic for voiceover, Snowball: http://amzn.to/2spgI2K
• Backpack for laptop (modified for camera): http://amzn.to/2sppNsC
• Memory card, 64gb: http://amzn.to/2s9hPzC
• Memory card waterproof case: http://amzn.to/2suLliC
• Laptop, MacBook: http://amzn.to/2urnDFx
• Network Attached Storage, 6TB: http://amzn.to/2suvRLu
Other tools I use
*Most of the links listed above are Amazon Affiliate links
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