Walnut Slab Dining Table

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Project by jayseedub posted 08-10-2016 04:09 PM 1350 views 14 times favorited 15 comments Add to Favorites Watch

This walnut slab table was my first work with live-edge lumber—and was simultaneously easier—and harder—than I thought it would be. After all, it’s two pieces of wood—right?

The slab was born in Wisconsin, nursed by Paul Morrison at The Wood Cycle in Oregon, Wisconsin, and adopted by me, in Illinois. From one fifteen foot long slab we split it into two shorter lengths, giving me a 7’+ table, two slabs wide (ranging from 33-39” wide).

Owl Hardwoods in Des Plaines, IL, took out the rough spots on their massive sander, and showed an amazing amount of care and detail working with my slabs. They’re truly great. They brought it down to my spec—1.75”—and my calipers at home verified that they took that measurement to heart.

And then it was all mine to work with.

I decided to mate the two edges, honoring and favoring the more interesting, rounded slab, and built a template to follow that profile. I rough-jig-sawed the straighter slab to that rounded profile, then routed it to the template with the world’s largest top-and-bottom-bearing straight bit (Yonico 14135 2-1/2” cutter, ½” shank—huge).

Biscuits for alignment, with PVA glue, and left a 3/32” gap between the two slabs—not on purpose, but because I couldn’t get the two edges to meet exactly. That turned out to be one of my favorite “mistakes” of the table—the “outline” left by that gap, filled with West Systems epoxy, really set the slabs apart from each other (rather than a seamless edge, where each slab seamlessly joined the other into one constant board). At the far, rounded end there also was a triangle-shaped gap between the boards, which I filled with some feather-figured crotch wood. I used the old grade-school trick of putting a piece of paper over the gap, rubbing it with a pencil across the edges, and got a paper template that I could adhere to my patch, and cut out with a bandsaw. Again, biscuited and epoxied.

I epoxied the cracks and voids, adding a little walnut “flour” from my sander. There were still a few dips and low points in the lumber that needed sanding, scraping, and I worked my way from belt sander to random-orbit more times that I want to admit or write about.

Treating the live edge was simple. Too simple to even write about. Spokeshave and sanding.

Paul (from above) suggested that I not cut the ends straight—but instead give it a slight wave—and here is where my most favorite mistake came in. I penciled in the wavy line, and set my jigsaw blade to some angle—maybe 15 degrees inward, to match the inward cant of the live edge. You know—so the table would be full-width on top, and canted inward, narrower underneath—like a reverse pyramid?

And I cut the inward-canted ends, wavy-like.

While the table was upside-down.

So now, when set right-side-up, the live edges canted downward and inward, and the ends canted upward and outward. Oops. “Easy enough to fix,” I thought—I’ll just recut it right-side-up, even though I’d lose maybe a centimeter of table length—no big deal.

But when I flipped it to do that, I realized that my angle gave each end a wonderful profile where you could see the full depth of the slab. Rather than it disappearing underneath, the ends showed the curve of the growth rings just slightly more—15 degrees more—and emphasized that darker crotch patch just a hint more. I loved it. And it the angle stayed. A total mess-up, and I’m in love with it.

I routed three channels underneath for steel u-channel, so that I could give myself some insurance against cupping—but I’m pretty confident that with finished, kiln-dried slabs, this won’t be an issue. I slotted the holes in the u-channel to allow for seasonal expansion, and cutting the slots in the steel was much harder than it should have been (not a metalsmith—not sure how I should have elongated them!) I secured them with 1-1/2” lag bolts, and that completed construction.

Finishing. One coat of boiled linseed oil, generous, but not overly generous and wiped off cleanly. Then, a vacation to New Orleans for four nights. Came back, and for another four days or so, the surface was still oily. Not weeping, not puddling and pooling—just a slight oil on the fingers when grazed against it. Could I put some finish on, or not? There was the barest hint of scent, so after all my reading online, I couldn’t figure out if the oil had “polymerized” enough to start my next finish coats of shellac and poly.

Lumberjocks to the rescue! I asked the question about the BLO, and with all the solid responses decided to do a quick wipe-down with naphtha, and get on with the shellac barrier coat.

I started on the underneath-side, shellacked (shellac-ed?) one coat, then another, then three coats of poly.

Flipped her over, and did the same to the top, but with five coats of satin water-based poly, sanding lightly in between each coat.

Bought some 1/8” bent steel legs on Etsy, and mounted them with the same 1-1/2” lag bolts (the heads of two of the bolts snapped off, leaving the shafts in the wood, requiring some new, relocated pilot holes—grrr)—and it’s done!

What would I do different? Maybe not do the BLO, and just use shellac and poly for a finish. That’s probably it—I’d even do the “mistakes” over again. 1.75” is probably the thinnest that table should be—I didn’t think I wanted it thicker, but 2” might be better. Not sure I’d go too much over that.

15 comments so far

View ralbuck's profile


1809 posts in 1690 days

#1 posted 08-10-2016 04:45 PM

Absolutely gorgeous!

I do love walnut to start with and the joining of the to pieces makes it even better!

-- just rjR

View PaxJen's profile


7 posts in 80 days

#2 posted 08-10-2016 05:07 PM

Very pretty. Love the infill.

View observer100's profile


234 posts in 534 days

#3 posted 08-10-2016 05:09 PM

Beautiful results and a great story to go with it.

View JKMDETAIL's profile


164 posts in 1079 days

#4 posted 08-10-2016 05:21 PM

Great job. Moving these big slabs around tends to be a pretty good workout as a side benefit.

View AandCstyle's profile


2541 posts in 1680 days

#5 posted 08-10-2016 07:49 PM

Jay, you did a great job with the table. I especially like the epoxy ribbon. Are the legs really only 1/8” steel?

-- Art

View jayseedub's profile


66 posts in 1389 days

#6 posted 08-10-2016 08:11 PM

Thanks for the nice comments! AndCstyle—they are indeed 1/8” thick flat bar steel—but 1-1/2” wide. I’ll try to get a better picture of them, too—they’re not too clear in those pictures. (And we got them from ebay—not Etsy—whoops!).

View crossroad's profile


48 posts in 968 days

#7 posted 08-10-2016 11:22 PM

Congratulations, Jay. Very nice!

-- "Why am I soft in the middle when the rest of my life is so hard?"

View recycle1943's profile


1118 posts in 1046 days

#8 posted 08-10-2016 11:22 PM

Oh my gosh is that beautiful

-- Dick, Malvern Ohio - Your imagination is your only holdup

View gsimon's profile


1153 posts in 1537 days

#9 posted 08-11-2016 12:11 AM

turned out really nice! – great story :)

-- Greg Simon

View Mean_Dean's profile


4948 posts in 2571 days

#10 posted 08-11-2016 02:52 AM

That is a beautiful dining table—I love that walnut slab!!

-- Dean

View watchthebirdie's profile


5 posts in 87 days

#11 posted 08-11-2016 05:22 AM

Love the table! Beautiful wood and a great job of joining it!

View AaronK's profile


1438 posts in 2888 days

#12 posted 08-11-2016 05:34 PM

really nice work! I love that curving epoxy-filled gap. The wedge shaped fill at the end is nice too.

I can sympathize with the physical difficulty of dealing with slabs… i just used some for a king sized bed’s headboard and footboard. It’s just a lot of wood to deal with all at once!

View JPJ's profile


792 posts in 2043 days

#13 posted 08-12-2016 12:07 AM

Nice job!

View david38's profile


2398 posts in 1767 days

#14 posted 08-12-2016 01:55 PM


View LoganN's profile


323 posts in 1324 days

#15 posted 08-14-2016 01:22 AM

Gorgeous table! Great job! Try using Tried and True Danish Oil instead of the BLO – its a much better finish in my opinion.

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