walnut slab table

interlude: my walnut slab coffee table.  In 2008 I became enamoured of live-edge tables a la George Nakashima and decided I could (try to) make one of these.  I called around the Bay Area and found a place that stocks slabs, mostly Claro Walnut, kiln dried and ready for a project.   Here are some photos of what I found there, gorgeous slabs of all shapes and ‘figure’ level (grain/pattern).

Not having a shop or any real tools, I selected a slab that needed only some good sanding and finishing.  This was all going to take place in the basement of my building!  I chose this slab below – resting on the old table in front of the couch to see how it would look.

I liked that this slab had an asymmetrical shape, some ‘burl’, good color tone, nice irregular edges – with bark still on – and the size worked for the room.   Walnut has a unique smell, and over the course of weeks sanding it down I got to know it well…  I did a lot of research and found the people on the Sawmill Creek forum to be really helpful – lots to read there!  [My biggest mistake was starting with a low-grit sandpaper, which etched the surface and probably tripled the time it took me to achieve a really smooth surface..ugh..]  For finishing I chose to go with Watco Danish Oil rather than a lacquer/polyurethane finish.  I found that oil brought out better color, it could always be redone in the future, and after talking to some woodworkers I was convinced that this was a more ‘true’ treatment for wood.  Poly would essentially encase it, not enhance it.

This is before and after the oil.  I applied 3 coats.  In the beginning I was paranoid about watermarks, spills, but now I’ve come to accept that these marks will add character and tell a story.  I had a local metalsmith make the ‘legs’ out of 2″ wide 1/4″ thick steel, shaped into rounded rectangles, which I screwed into the slab bottom.  So far, it’s held up well!  Some completed photos below -

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18 Comments

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18 responses to “walnut slab table

  1. Kristin

    Hi Tom,
    Great blog! I love the walnut live edge table you created and am interested in making one very similar. Where did you have the legs made? What was your total ballpark cost for the table?

    Thanks!

    • mcelroyarch

      Thank you! I had the legs made by a local metalworker here in SF. Total cost came out to about $400… wood was about $190 and legs were about $180, got the oil from a friend and borrowed a sander.

  2. Erik

    What a beautiful table. I’m making a similar walnut slab table (channeling my woodworking days from high school) and was having trouble deciding on what kind of legs to use. After seeing your site I’ve decided to do the same legs you’ve got on your table. I was wondering if you could answer a few questions?

    1) What size/type of screws did you use to secure the legs to the slab? How many screws per leg?
    2) What color Watco Danish Oil did you use? Natural?
    3) I would like for the screws to be flush with the legs and therefore have the holes in the legs to be countersunk. Any tips on this?

    Thank you very much,
    Erik

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  4. I saw Sarah’s interest in a floating walnut slab vanity. I did one she might be interested in for diy bath crashers show http://www.diynetwork.com/diy-bath-crashers/videos/index.html watch Nature inspired eco bath. anyway I also supply walnut slabs rough and finished in Sacramento. NewHelvetiaHardwoods.com

    • mcelroyarch

      Clark – that was a great opportunity for you to get involved – great job. I like all the walnut in their bathroom – but I don’t like some of the other stuff: the walnut itself is a heavy enough natural feature that it should contrast with its surroundings.
      Good to know another walnut resource – thanks!

      • Clark

        I agree my suggestion was for glass sinks or somthing on the lighter side. Posting on this blog turned out well as Sarah and her family can to visit me in Sacramento and left with an awsome Claro walnut slab. Maybe she will send us a picture when its done.

  5. mcelroyarch

    Clark – glad to hear how that worked out! I look forward to seeing how her table looks.

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  7. Jennifer

    Thank you for this description of making slab coffee table – I too am obsessed with slab Claro Walnut and would love to make my own table. I’d appreciate knowing the answers to Erik’s questions about securing the table top to the steel legs. Also, any ideas for search words on Sawmill Creek about the finishing process would be appreciated. Thanks so much!

    • mcelroyarch

      Hi Jennifer,
      I used (4) screws per leg about half as long as the slab is thick, so the slab wouldn’t split. I used Natural finish Watco oil. The screws weren’t countersunk because when I had the legs made I hadn’t chosen screws yet, but if you provide the metal fabricator one of the screws, they can make it work. For Sawmill Creek try ‘natural finish’ ‘oil finish’. Good luck!

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  12. Monique

    Great work!!! I am making a mirror of this – except bar-height! A couple questions:

    1. Did you have to use any wood filler, and if so, how long did you wait after the filler to put on the Watco?
    2. What kind of steel stain did you use to get the legs black?
    3. Did you sand or wet-sand between coats of Watco?
    4. And now that it has been a while, how is the sealer holding up?

    Thanks!

  13. Excellent job splitting the large slab into a smaller size for a coffee table. Thank you for sharing your skills with us. You did Nakashima great justice! Wish you all the best on future projects.

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