Ever wonder how to make a beautiful floating live edge shelf. Here’s the process from start to finish.
Purchase a live edge slab
Purchasing a live edge slab is not the easiest thing to do in the UK necessarily. DIY shops don’t stock much outside of MDF, plywood and constructional timber – no hardwoods and local timber merchants aren’t always the easiest to find.
The best source I’ve found is an eBay seller called waneyedgestore, this is their shop: https://www.ebay.co.uk/str/waneyedgestore
They have a large selection online, with good pictures, dimensions and once ordered, the ship quickly and arrive in a couple of days.
This is the slab that we chose, a nice large chunk of walnut.
For this project we chose a 50mm thick slab as with planing and sanding you’ll lose some thickness of the slab and we wanted it to be relatively thick as well as having plenty of leeway for large fixings or whatever would become necessary to fix it to the wall.
It’s important to look past the superficial imperfections when choosing a slab because no matter what you pick, there’ll be something that needs fixing. We could see that this one had a lot of potential though and nice colour and grain.
Preparing the slab
First step is always to remove the bark. As nice as the bark may be or tempting, the bark is dead, not well attached and not salvageable. I think there are large bark removal tools out there, but I use a decent sized chisel with a hammer to take the major chunks off and then I find a belt sander works well to remove the rest of the bulk. Once you get through the brittle outer layer, there’s usually a slightly darker layer of soft material to get through before you get to the hard wood. If you can get under it with the chisel then great as it may peel up in one big go, but the belt sander works great on this material.
Next you’ll want to cut the ends to your preferred angle and seeing as this is mounting to the wall, choose an edge to cut straight, which will face the wall.
I find the easiest tool to do this with is a track/plunge saw. A circular saw with a straight edge would also work, but the track saw is nice, especially if it is big enough to cut through the full thickness. I used my Erbauer 185mm track saw: https://www.screwfix.com/p/erbauer-erb690csw-185mm-electric-plunge-saw-240v/3875p which made easy work of the thick walnut.
Lots of live edge slabs have defects, whether they are cracks or knot holes. Traditionally, bow tie inlays would be placed across cracks to stabilise them, however these are very challenging to perfect at a DIY level and honestly in some cases I don’t like the distraction from the main slab. As such, I chose my preferred method of filling – epoxy.
If the defects go all the way through the wood, then you’ll have to seal them off with tape. I use this tuck tape to do this: https://www.amazon.co.uk/Tuck-Tape-Construction-Grade-Sheathing/dp/B01N6L7FK0?th=1 Unfortunately epoxy is such a strong glue it can stick this down hard, but the goal is to make a watertight seal on the underside of the crack, so the epoxy doesn’t leak all the way through and this does the job. On the top surface for superficial defects, I use a hot glue gun to make a bit of a well to keep the epoxy only to that area, not leaking across the whole board although sometimes you drip or it leaks if you’re not careful.
For walnut especially, but a lot of live edge slabs, I like to use black epoxy as it is very subtle. I will do a separate post about how to do the epoxy.
For very superficial defects that don’t require filling with epoxy, the alternative is to use black superglue (cyanoacrylate aka CA glue) with an activator. You can fill the tiny defect, spray with the activator and by the time the activator has dried/evaporated, the glue has set and you can sand it almost instantly.
This next picture shows what the large crack in this slab looked like after sanding the epoxy that was used to fill it. It creates a seamless fill, which looks great:
Sanding & finishing:
To remove the excess epoxy, I typically sand it with coarse sandpaper until it’s flush, but a card scraper helps to get the bulk off first: https://www.amazon.co.uk/gp/product/B0000DD4NQ/ref=ppx_yo_dt_b_search_asin_image?ie=UTF8&th=1
This board has a slight bow in it (low in the middle with our chosen upper surface), but we liked the natural look and so chose not to plane it completely flat.
Once you’ve done that, then comes the long, boring task of sanding. I often spend a lot of time with 80 grit sandpaper and have found the mesh sandpaper (with dust extraction) the best way: https://www.mirka.com/en/p/ABRANET-SIC-NS-125—–GRIP-0?category=products/dust-free-sanding/net-abrasives Traditional sanding pads do not last long at all and these often work out cheaper than any name brand normal sandpaper.
Then in this case I worked my way up to 250 grit before finishing. I’m often in 2 minds whether to keep going crazy up to 1000s of grits, but I’m not sure if that might affect the finish absorption later on and 250 feels very smooth to the touch.
My preferred finish these days is Odie’s oil: https://odiesoil.co.uk/product/odies-oil-250ml-9oz-jar/. I’ve tried many things and although simple I’ve gone off polyurethane finishes, they’re harder to get in the UK and do not bring out the grain and the beauty likes Odie’s. Even though it’s expensive, it’s great quality and it goes a really long way, I promise! I recommend buying the starter kit as it comes with the pads to apply as well as towels to buff it off.
The picture above is half way through application to show the difference the Odie’s brings out of the wood. Odie’s instructions say to apply with their applicator pads, wait 45 minutes or so and buff off the excess with the terry towel. When in the US I bought these surbuf buffing pads (https://www.surbuf.com/Surbuf-R-Series-Applicator-And-Buffing-Pads.asp) which velcro onto an orbital sander and this leaves an incredible streak free finish on the wood, which would take a really long time by hand.
With this slab we left it 2 days after the Odie’s application really sink in and set before mounting.
Wall mounting the slab:
We bought these huge concealed shelf supports to put it up on the wall: https://www.amazon.co.uk/gp/product/B07FYNDJWL/ref=ppx_yo_dt_b_search_asin_title?ie=UTF8&psc=1 4 of them will support 45kg and the slab is maybe 15-20kg.
The original wall we considered putting it was full of electrics, ethernet ports, power sockets, speaker cables and an inset wall mounted TV, so that wasn’t an option.
On the wall we ended up going for, I used a Bosch stud finder to try and find the studs for it. I’ve read the instruction manual, I’ve watched YouTube videos and these things are a waste of money I promise. The readout is confusing to interpret and not repeatable or trust worthy. I didn’t believe it for a while and changed tack and bought a StudBuddy: https://www.amazon.co.uk/gp/product/B00E4690X4/ref=ppx_yo_dt_b_search_asin_title?ie=UTF8&psc=1 This is literally a fancy magnet that magnets to the screw/nail heads that hold up your plaster board. The nails through the plaster board go into the stud behind it, often near the centre (as when 2 plaster boards meet at their predetermined width, you can’t have one completely covering the stud and the next one floating in mid air).
So I found a stud with the StudBuddy and made a mark and this gives you a vertical for the stud. Then I measured 16″ over (studs are usually either 16 or 24 inches apart), waved the magnet around and found the next stud. Based on the length of the slab, we could incorporate 3 studs along its length.
I had bought a 10mm and a 12mm drill bit to attach the concealed supports. The wall plug is a 10mm diameter for the screw into the stud. I got a scrap piece of MDF that I had cut to the length of the slab. I marked my 10mm drill bit with masking tape to the depth of the screw on the support and drilled into the wall studs to that depth through the MDF, which we were holding flat (according to spirit level resting on it) against the wall. Drilled all 3 stud locations, and removed the MDF to finish drilling to the correct depth. Now I could lightly tap in the wall plugs and screw the supports in. I initially attached it to my electric screwdriver to go most of the way in and then used an adjustable pliers to do the final tightening.
Now I have 3 holes in the piece of MDF (which I also wrote which way is up and down and left and right). I took this to my workshop and transferred these marks to the slab for where the supports will go into. The rods that insert into the slab are 12mm diameter, so I drill these 12mm holes at the 3 locations to the necessary depth. Now I can take the slab to the wall and these press fit tightly into the slab, leaving us with this beautiful floating shelf vanity.