Attempting first slab desk with hewn beam legs - looking for advice!

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Forum topic by NYinthewoods posted 12-31-2011 03:15 AM 2235 views 0 times favorited 4 replies Add to Favorites Watch
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1 post in 2362 days

12-31-2011 03:15 AM

Topic tags/keywords: slab first project new hewn

Hello all -

It is really great that this site lets non-members browse photos – it lured me in to join when I found it on google!

I have long been interested in trying to make some “rustic” furniture – we live out in the woods and I have thought many times that I’d like to do more than just make firewood with some of the trees we have.

I have convinced my wife that in lieu of spending $$$ at Pier 1 for a junky desk, to instead spend the money on some nice wood stock to build her a “rustic” style desk with a nice piece of slab wood and vintage hewn beams. The catch is I’ve never built anything too serious before – but she has great faith in me :-) I have done a good bit of construction, including much of our home’s trim work (for example, the 3-piece base in the photos), but no serious furniture construction.

First, for the top, I acquired an 8-foot slab of 2” thick butternut wood, width ranging from 17-24” – she really liked this one. It’s going to be a long project desk for her crafts – no drinks / liquids. It has been planed and sanded on one side but since then, it has bowed slightly downward. At the widest part of the desk, the deepest part of the bow is 1/2”. We don’t mind that, and lacking a planer, not sure I can do much about it – but I would like to make sure I stabilize it somewhat if there are any steps I should take. We were thinking of stripping the bark off the raw edge, sanding smooth, and then using tung oil to finish the top. There are also a few small spots that I think I may need to use a filler on – I see people talking about using a black epoxy on here?

For the base, I got some old hand hewn beams. They have been brushed by the place I got them using a tool that has what looks like a wire wheel but the “wires” appear to be some sort of plastic. It gave it a really cool finish that we would like to just leave raw. One is roughly 3 1/4×3 1/4” which I was planning for making 4 legs, and the other is just slightly smaller… I was thinking of using this to make what I think are called stretchers connecting the bottoms of the legs and being slightly narrower, it should not extend outside the width of the posts. I was thinking about attempting a mortise and tenon joint, maybe backed up with either a countersunk fastener, or an epoxy glue. I was thinking if I glue, it would need to be something thicker as this will not be a flawlessly precise fit since I don’t yet have anything beyond quality circular saw, junky portable table saw, good drill, good miter saw, ancient jigsaw, and chisels. I’m just thinking the mortise and tenon approach on the stretchers, even if not a super snug fit, would still hide all cut ends, so only the old beams show, and give it good stability, and I think I can do a reasonable job with what I have that would be appropriate to the rough look of the wood.

Finally, I was thinking I would either attach, or simply rest the top on the 4 posts using a dowel pin in the top of the posts going maybe 1/2”-1” into the underside of the table to keep everything aligned and provide some stability. We may want to be able to lift it off or separate it at some point in the future to move it.

I’m attaching a pretty crude sketch and photos of the wood I have to work with. I’m hoping some of the experts on here can give me some tips on whether this approach is good and warn me of any pitfalls I need to avoid! Also, please feel free to point me to any other threads that would be good background learning for something like this – I have read quite a few just looking at designs.


4 replies so far

View ScottN's profile


261 posts in 2702 days

#1 posted 12-31-2011 03:05 PM

I have been trying to find a source for live edge slabs and root ball cuts for quite a while on some projects I have planned. I’m not having any luck. Sorry I cant help you much.

-- New Auburn,WI

View chrisstef's profile


17423 posts in 3029 days

#2 posted 12-31-2011 03:11 PM

I thikn that you’re going to need an apron aroudn the top or it might want to “rack” on you from lateral movement.

Id go half way into the slab, so about an inch, with the dowels.

As far as stablizing the top … whatever you use for a finish on the top make sure you finish the bottom of the slab the same way.

-- Its not a crack, its a casting imperfection.

View richgreer's profile


4541 posts in 3097 days

#3 posted 12-31-2011 03:44 PM

I recently built a communion table with a very heavy 8/4 top. I wanted the top to be removable so that the top and the frame could be moved as 2 separate pieces, due to the weight.

Suggestion – Glue the dowels into the underside of the top and drill slightly oversized holes into the top of the frame. Also, put a little taper on the end of the dowels. With the dowels glued into the top, it is easy to get your fingers under the top if you had temporarily set it on the floor.

Another idea – - Have have done a few smaller projects with a natural edge. I have left the bark on and stabilized it with thin CA glue. The thin glue basically saturates the bark and you have very little trouble with pieces of bark breaking off. On a big project, this could be a little expensive.

-- Rich, Cedar Rapids, IA - I'm a woodworker. I don't create beauty, I reveal it.

View superstretch's profile


1531 posts in 2716 days

#4 posted 01-05-2012 10:09 PM

The bowing you experienced might be from one side drying out.. If you flip it over and maybe put some weight on it, it might straighten. This is why chrisstef said to finish both sides—if you do just one side, it will bow from the unfinished side expanding and contracting with the humidity changes.

Also +1 to the skirt idea.. at least along the back and the sides. It will strengthen the frame as a whole and make attaching the top a hundred times easier.

Keep in mind that a large slab like that will expand and contract with seasonal changes. Table top fasteners (like a saw kerf clip or the figure 8 kind do a good job). That will allow for the top to move around and not bust things apart.

Filling any cracks or voids with epoxy will keep paperclips and dust from falling in or getting stuck. Just fill it, let it dry, and sand.

For the live edge, I’d probably scrape it all off.. Yes, you can stabilize it, like Rich said, but it might be uncomfortable to rest your hands on it and it could catch on your shirt.

Hope that helps :)

-- Dan, Rochester, NY

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