Make furniture from natural slabs

Furniture made from thick slabs of wood is all the rage. There is something about the wavy natural edges once covered with bark, or the beautiful grain, or just the massive scale that feels like bringing the soul of the tree into your house.

You might think this type of furniture is out of reach for your skills, and you would be wrong. You can find these big slabs in every region of the U.S. and beyond, and you can get a big industrial woodshop to flatten them for you for less than you probably think. Then you can strip off the bark and crosscut the ends with simple tools, and you apply an amazing finish just as easily.

And best of all, if you aren’t up to building a base for your big slab, there are lots of screw-on legs you can find. That’s how I made the desk you see above, to fit a tight spot in my daughter’s room. That’s another cool thing about building your own stuff: You can make it fit your life in every way.

You can also mount your slab atop a found object, like a piece of industrial machinery. The key is knowing how to get the slab from rough to ready.

It starts with finding a slab to buy. There are lumber dealers that specialize in them, and they’ll usually have a big selection. To save some cash, try asking around your local woodworking club to find people who make things from slabs and might have some extras on hand. They’ll have less to choose from, but will probably be willing to part with one or two to free up some space.

From there, here’s how to turn the raw material into a piece of furniture:

By asking around my local woodworking club, I found a huge local shop that will surface a slab for about $50. They even let me pull my truck into the building!
The big expensive machine they use is a wide-belt sander. They actually rent it (plus an expert operator) for $60 for 1/2 hour, which is enough time to surface two slabs if you have them.
It’s awesome to see the grain start to emerge under the faded roughsawn surface.
When you get the slab back home, pry off the bark with whatever tools that work. Don’t be tempted to save it; it will only fall off after a few seasons. Finish smoothing the edges with some sandpaper.
Using a straight fence, make a nice clean crosscut on the ends.
Then use a sanding block and some rough paper to sand away the saw marks. Then work your way up through the finer grits, sanding the entire slab and breaking the sharp edges.
Polyurethane makes a nice finish for a slab. For more on applying it, check out this blog.
The payoff is beyond words, and you’ll enjoy it for a lifetime. This is walnut, one of the very best woods for slabs in North America.
Next I screwed on some hairpin legs in the Mid-Century Modern style, which I got from, one of the awesomest places for woodworking supplies and ideas. That turned my slab into the desk you see at the top of this blog, but I could also have chosen shorter legs to create an amazing coffee table.




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