My Journey into Slab Furniture…..

I’ve always had an interest and appreciation for Slab Furniture. I’ve started with a simple google search on the topic, and an hour later I find myself trapped in a rabbit hole of awe. OK, maybe not that bad – but it’s definitely awesome to see a massive chunk of tree exposed as a table, shelf, bench or even a door. The possibilities are truly endless, and I’ve decided to dive down further and make some of my own…

With some recent lumber [collection] purchases, I have acquired several interesting slabs of various species including Walnut, Ash, Maple, and Oak. Add that to the awesome blessing of having a friend with a mill, I certainly have some interesting pieces to work with. To start this off, we’ll talk about the bench I made a couple months ago. (backstory: My friend with the mill, his name is Jason. Earlier this year he gave me a Massive Slab – I mean, that thing was almost 7 feet long and about 22″ wide and wider in parts. This slab was twisted, and distorted to the point that it wasn’t usable to him – so I gladly accepted it.)

So, this massive slab was standing in my shop for several weeks – during the course of the summer woodworking lifegroup – waiting to be made into something cool. Every day I would look at it in different angles, and try to get some ideas. Members of the lifegroup suggested maybe Wall Art, Shelf, or….. I, myself, was partial to a bench – just wasn’t sure exactly how to approach it. I could have done more research, or googled for more ideas – but sometimes you need to just dive in head first. And, so I did.

The Slab, which is Red Oak, was twisted and definitely needed some MAJOR work to make it suitable to mount, in any fashion. It also had some bug and rot damage that needed to be dealt with, along with cleaning up the slab to allow for a better idea of what it will look like finished. So I decided to go at it with force. Using a combination of hand planes and Power Carving (which was the most effective) I worked over the entire slab  – Trying to minimize the high spots and blend in the low spots. There was nothing “technical” about this. It was simply an attempt at removing a lot of material at once, and it worked.

After the surface was “flat enough”, I continued to sand. (by the end of the work on this slab, the shop had a solid coating of dust, probably a quarter inch…) Now I was focused on the live bark edge and the bug/rot holes. I wanted to clean these up, while preserving the character underneath, This was a delicate procedure in some places, but overall, it left a beautiful blend of character throughout the whole piece.

After the majority of the sanding had been done, I could move on to what I would be making. I looked through my lumber supply and found a long, wide plank of Maple and decided that I would be making a bench. The Maple plank would be the seat, the Massive Red Oak Slab would be the back and I would make the arm/leg assemblies using poplar. I also added horizontal stretchers which were Poplar with one live edge. The Red Oak Slab was to be the Feature and Focus of this bench, so I played with a few design ideas and then just ran with it.

The arm/leg assemblies went together very easily, using pocket hole joinery and exterior screws. The mounting of the Back was a little more of a challenge. Since The Back is the feature, I wanted to make it unique. I decided to go with a “floating” back – this was something I have never done before and I am very pleased with the end result. Since the Slab was still twisted and not, in any way, actually flat on either side, I would need to be creative in the way I chose to mount it. I decided to make some angled brackets and mount them to the back [of the back] and also under the seat. This allowed for the illusion of a “floating back”. It worked out pretty well, and when you look at the bench, you have to be looking for the brackets in order to see them (well, duh….). At first glance, you don’t see the brackets and it seems as though the back is floating.

For the brackets I used 1″ square tube, welded at an angle. Then I welded small pieces of 1″ flat bar so that the bracket could be mounted to the wood. My welding and metal working experience is limited (but getting better now) but the brackets are still holding now, after a few months….outside…

The Bench was assembled relatively easily. After assembly, I decided to finish it off with an exterior sealer. I wanted to preserve the character of the slab and other wood used, and I DO NOT like painting wood, especially a slab that I’ve spent over 12 hours sanding…. I looked at many options, but in the end landed on a very common finish. Well, common for decks that is. I have used exterior polyurethane on outdoor projects, only to find the finish is obliterated by the following year, and usually the wood below is damaged as well. I DO NOT want to see this thing destroyed by the elements. So I decided to go with Thompson’s Water Seal. It repels water wonderfully, and added a nice color to everything. I went with their Honey tone, which provided a nice golden touch. (much different than Honey Wood Stain from MinWax, which is a dark red/brown) And, since this bench is for our home, by our fire pit, almost overlooking the Honeybee Hives….I thought the Honey Seal would be a great match.

Overall, I am very pleased with this exploration into Slab Furniture and I definitely love the bench. We have had gatherings since its inauguration, and it has been an extremely comfortable conversation piece. As a statement of its size and strength – it has help 3 adults and a kid with room to spare. After completing this project, and enjoying every night we have a fire – I definitely have the bug and will be making A LOT of Slab Furniture in the future.

Actually, a few weeks ago I decided to play with another slab I have. This one is Maple and I absolutely love the figure and character it contains. It features some Crotch Figure and feathering along with bark inclusions and the full Live Edge. I started power carving this down a bit, and got a little carried away. I actually went through all of the steps including finish sanding. I couldn’t wait to see how it would look with a finish, so I added a finish as well. I used Tung Oil and it looks awesome. What do you think???

I will certainly be going into more detail regarding this Maple Slab when I return to it and finish the project. It will become a side table for our house and I can’t wait to see it completed. However, the customers come first. So, until next time….