In early July I had the pleasure of returning to Peters Valley School of Craft in New Jersey to teach a class on live edge furniture. Live edge furniture, also known as natural edge furniture is furniture that celebrates wood in its most dramatic, organic and irregular way — by showing off bark, spalted areas and cracks. When designing a live edge piece, one has the luxury of stepping back from the traditional role of a sole designer, and letting the natural properties of the slab take the lead. This is both an exciting and humbling experience, as you allow the essence of the tree to be your co-designer.
My group at Peters Valley was very diverse. Some of my students had experience with woodworking while others were beginners. A few had actually milled their own slabs. They milled the slab during Peters Valley’s wood milling class. They let them air dry for two years before bringing the slabs back to our class. Other students purchased walnut that was obtained for the class, or chose to use beautiful hard maple slabs that Peters Valley’s director, Kristin Muller, donated.
Additional sources of lumber and raw wood that we gathered included abandoned posts and beams left near the dining hall, as well as miscellaneous furniture parts that I found over the years and thought could be useful to my students.
In this entry and the few that will follow, I will explain how my students designed and built their pieces. I hope that it will be helpful for anyone who contemplates working with live edge lumber or is interested in furniture design in general.
Nicky picked up one of the slabs that Kristin donated and decided to cut it into three parts: A top and two legs. After staging the parts to look like the finished piece, he decided to explore the possibility of carving out part of the live edge legs and incorporate one of the turned wooden parts that I brought.
The part that Nicky really liked was a portion from an old headboard rail that I salvaged. After drawing some sketches we decided to echo the coves and bead details that he noticed on the bed’s leg to his live edge legs. Scaling up the detail was not that difficult as we relied on a free hand interpretation. Nicky cut the detail line on the bandsaw, sanded the parts, drilled holes and finally glued the portion of the headboard rail into the live edge leg.
Nicky connected the live edge legs to the seat using four through dowels that were expanded at the top with contrasted wood wedges. At the end of the class all that was left for him to do was to finish the piece with his choice of clear top coat.
If you are interested in designing and working with live edge lumber, check out this previously recorded webinar from Yoav, “Urban Woodworking: Designing One-of-a-Kind Furniture” at shopwoodworking.com.