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What to look for when picking a slab for a desk

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Forum topic by LiveEdge posted 190 days ago 1076 views 0 times favorited 33 replies Add to Favorites Watch
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LiveEdge

210 posts in 246 days


190 days ago

Topic tags/keywords: desk slab flitch

I’m thinking about building a desk with a flitch/slab top. We have a local outfit here in Oregon that specializes in slabs and flitches (not sure if I understand the difference between those words). I’m curious if there are things I should be sure to look for aside from the aesthetics of the piece to avoid a bad outcome.

While I’m talking about slabs and desks, I noticed that when I google images of what other people have done I mainly see desks that are pretty minimal, ie. a slab with simple metal legs attached. I sorta had a more traditional desk in mind, but replacing a traditional top with a slab top. By traditional desk I mean a bank of drawers either on one side or on both. Something like this:

I think that might look cool with a slab top. Is there a reason structurally why I wouldn’t want to do that?


33 replies so far

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mrjinx007

1357 posts in 394 days


#1 posted 190 days ago

Not at all. The only problem I see with it is the natural curves of the slab might clash with the symmetrical parts and create an odd shape. I have a desk and a coffee table on my projects that incorporate a natural edge you might get some ideas from.

-- earthartandfoods.com

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richardwootton

1153 posts in 581 days


#2 posted 190 days ago

If the live edge isn’t too drastic it might look pretty darn cool. Check out jcsterling on this site. His projects have always been inspirational for me.

-- Richard, Hot Springs, Ar -- Galoot In Training

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LiveEdge

210 posts in 246 days


#3 posted 189 days ago

So any tips for picking the flitch itself? I have an appointment next monday to look over the inventory.

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brtech

664 posts in 1549 days


#4 posted 189 days ago

A “slab” is a wide, thick piece of wood. Usually, it’s big enough so one piece forms the top of the item you are building. Sometimes slabs have “live edges” meaning one side or two is left natural, and not cut straight.

A “flitch” a block of wood that veneer slices are cut from. The idea of a flitch is that you get sequential cuts from the same flitch to do grain matching. While a flitch may be wide and thick, what you typically buy is the thin veneer pieces. Of course, someone had to get the flitch, so you can sometimes buy wood that is good enough to be a flitch.

A conventional top is made with multiple pieces of wood glued edge to edge.

What you need most of all is to know what the moisture content of the slab is. If it’s not dry, it takes a looooong time to get it ready to use, unless you have your own kiln. We usually accept defects in slabs we wouldn’t otherwise, and we use epoxy or bow-tie shaped inlays (“Dutchman”) to fix loose knots cracks and splits.

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LiveEdge

210 posts in 246 days


#5 posted 189 days ago

Excellent vocabulary lession. Slab is the word I’m looking for then.

What moisture content would you find acceptable to start working with immediately? 12%? Higher? Lower?

I’ve let the supplier know I’m not looking for a gigantic piece. 3’x7’ would probably be ideal, but I’m guessing that, as far as slabs go, that might be “small” and nobody is going to cut to size. I also get that it’s the thickness that matters for the drying.

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richardwootton

1153 posts in 581 days


#6 posted 189 days ago

Depending on where you live 12% might be acceptable, but a bit on the high side. You probably won’t be able to get much lower than ten percent with air dried lumber. 6-10% I believe is typically desired for furniture.

-- Richard, Hot Springs, Ar -- Galoot In Training

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LiveEdge

210 posts in 246 days


#7 posted 189 days ago

And since it’s going to be one piece on top, I’m not necessarily worried as much about some movement along the horizontal axis of the wood, but rather would be concerned about twisting, bowing, or cupping?

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Nomad62

706 posts in 1584 days


#8 posted 188 days ago

You will want to ensure that the piece will be kiln dried to the center down to at least 10%, 8 would be better. This is because moisture loss or gain will cause a figured piece to change shape, and it will gain or lose moisture until it has been in an inside environment until it stabilizes. Some kiln operators put wood in the kiln and bake it for a few days until the outside reads their target moisture content on the outer edge of the piece, not considering the fact that the core is still relatively wet; the resulting drying/stabilizing will allow wood movement, ruining your project if you haven’t allowed for it. Understanding it is hard to be patient, this is important. I just got done drying some tiger striped and burled maple in the sizes around your target, it is definitely a science more than a task. Best of luck with your project, take your time and you will be grateful for the outcome.

-- Power tools put us ahead of the monkeys

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CharlesA

1212 posts in 424 days


#9 posted 188 days ago

If one used a single slab top, would you need to account, even more than usual, for wood movement in the way it was attached to the desk? Not sure why I think this, just seems intiutive.

-- "Man is the only animal which devours his own, for I can apply no milder term to the general prey of the rich on the poor." ~Thomas Jefferson

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brtech

664 posts in 1549 days


#10 posted 188 days ago

Nah, it’s the same whether it’s one piece or 20

Of course, if the MC of the pieces are different, you might get different movement, but usually we start with everything at the same MC. Same if you are mixing species. But a slab that is 3’ wide is gonna change about as much as a 6 board edge glued piece, assuming same species, thickness, MC, etc.

Remember that for flatsawn pieces, it’s width that changes and not length (much, it does change a little). Usually, you have a stringer or other support piece that is underneath the top and it’s long grain, and the top is cross grain, so the length of the stringer doesn’t change but the width of the top changes. So, you need something that allows the top to grow when the stringer doesn’t (much).

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CharlesA

1212 posts in 424 days


#11 posted 188 days ago

Ok. For some reason a big slab just seems more unruly to me than a table top with 3 inch strips where the joinery (even if just glue) “locks” it in a bit. but it wouldn’t be the first time my intuition was incorrect.

-- "Man is the only animal which devours his own, for I can apply no milder term to the general prey of the rich on the poor." ~Thomas Jefferson

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mrjinx007

1357 posts in 394 days


#12 posted 188 days ago

Charles, yes they still move but one thing I am still questioning myself is how can a piece of wood move once it is totally sealed with something like lacquer or poly. I would assume the initial movement would occur when the sealer is applied (expansion) and then it will be stable. Richard, AR here too.

-- earthartandfoods.com

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LiveEdge

210 posts in 246 days


#13 posted 188 days ago

Well, I’m hoping I hear that the slabs are all dry and they have been watching the moisture content. :) I thought about attaching the slab to the desk structure with those “figure 8” pieces that you use to attach an apron to a tabletop that allows for wood movement. That might be an effective way to allow for lateral movement at least.

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CharlesA

1212 posts in 424 days


#14 posted 188 days ago

I was assuming counterbored screws. I like that the counterboring allows for 360 movement.

-- "Man is the only animal which devours his own, for I can apply no milder term to the general prey of the rich on the poor." ~Thomas Jefferson

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brtech

664 posts in 1549 days


#15 posted 188 days ago

That’s usually not what you want. Wood movement direction is predictable, length is not quite as predictable.

You want an elongated hole, not a circular hole, with the elongation in the direction of the wood movement.

You really don’t want the top to move relative to the base other than what change in moisture does to it. You pin one end down and let the other end expand. For the length, you can pretty much hold it down on both ends, but allowing for some movement is sometimes wise, especially if the length stringers are a different species than the top.

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