Buying/working with slabs

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Forum topic by Tom posted 07-11-2017 11:34 PM 804 views 0 times favorited 6 replies Add to Favorites Watch
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182 posts in 1836 days

07-11-2017 11:34 PM

I’ve been thinking that our front room needs a coffee table. I’d like to make one from a slab but have some questions about buying the slab and how to work it.

First…price. What’s a fair price for slabs? I’m not talking about a 6’ wide piece of black walnut…something 18” to 24” wide and 3-4 feet long. One guy on CL is asking $20/bf for walnut which is WAY more than I want to spend (or can afford right now.)

Second…material. Do I need to use a hardwood or can I get away with something like pine/Eucalyptus? Mostly I want it to have nice grain pattern. If I get a “green” slab…I’m assuming I’d have to dry it out in the garage before working on it.

Third…working the slab. It seems that a router sled is the best way to surface the board since I don’t own or have access to industrial size tools. Once that step is done is it a lot of sanding or break out the hand plane then sand? Cabinet scraper?

Finally…finish. Oil finish looks great BUT we sometimes have family/friends over and some are slobs. I’d want a finish that looks great but would be durable enough if someone put/spilled on the table. I don’t want the mirror finish look, prefer the matte finish.

Thanks for the help…and if anyone in the SF Bay Area has info on slabs I’d appreciate it.

6 replies so far

View Loren's profile


10477 posts in 4424 days

#1 posted 07-11-2017 11:51 PM

You should be able to find a sawyer on who will sell you a slab at
a reasonable price. Lots of ornamental
trees have interesting figure when slabbed
and if you can accept defects as part of the
wood you can probably get one pretty cheap.

Slabs can be flattened with a handheld
power planer without enormous effort,
using it like a hand plane. The corners
of the blades can be ground off to avoid
ridges. You may find that after seasoning
the wood and doing a modest amount of
flattening it makes sense to pay a shop
with a wide belt sander to bring the slab
to final dimension makes sense.

Eucalyptus is a hardwood. Pretty wiley
though because it twists as it grows in
the California climate.

View bigJohninvegas's profile


776 posts in 2238 days

#2 posted 07-12-2017 12:30 AM

$20bf is actually not to bad when dealing with thick live edge slabs.
You can use just about any kind of wood you want.
I just finished a sofa table, and am still working on the two matching end tables.
I used Alligator Juniper for the table top, and walnut for the legs.
the Juniper was a soft wood that was quite easy to work.
I had never even heard of the wood I used. Took a class here in Las Vegas at a local wood school.
Guest instructor owns a business here called Reclaimed Secrets. He had a good selection of different wood species to choose from and my wife and I choose this. Not the best photo
Loren is right, check out places like woodfinder.
I just Googled Northern California live edge slabs and got all kinds of hits.
This one is in Sacramento area.
Here is the store in Vegas, Not at all in your area, but hey road trip. lol
Look for kiln dried wood, and a band saw style milled slab. The air dried and chain saw mill stuff I have seen where way inferior. seems it all had a twist and or was not a uniform thickness. What I saw and learned in the class was that band saw mill and kiln dried was by far better. Flatter more stable slab all around.
Don’t buy from a photo. Put your hands on it, see if it has a twist and uniform thickness.
Good luck..

-- John

View KelleyCrafts's profile


4219 posts in 1515 days

#3 posted 07-12-2017 01:51 AM

Eucalyptus is a very hard wood. Harder than the walnut you were talking about. It works great.

I would not use pine because the minute you use the coffee table to write down directions or a phone number on some paper it will be there for eternity. It’s too soft. Unless you want the farm look I suggest a hard wood.

Blue gum eucalyptus here.

These slabs were bandsaw milled and air dried for about 6 years. Just find something you like.

-- Dave - - pen blanks - knife scales - turning tools

View TungOil's profile


1382 posts in 1271 days

#4 posted 07-12-2017 02:03 AM

The wider the slab the more it will cost of course. One way to get around the “wide is expensive” issue is to buy a pair of thinner adjacent slabs from the same flitch and book match them into a single wider top. It’s a bit more work but it produces a very symmetrical table top.

I would not shy away from air dried material as long as you can look it over for cup/twist/bow before you buy it. In fact, if I prefer air dried in walnut, the color is better.

-- The optimist says "the glass is half full". The pessimist says "the glass is half empty". The engineer says "the glass is twice as big as it needs to be"

View WDHLT15's profile


1819 posts in 3252 days

#5 posted 07-12-2017 11:54 AM

Too bad you are so far away from Georgia. I sell a lot of slabs. I kiln dry them in my dehumidification kiln. If they are not flat, I put them back on the sawmill after kiln drying and make a skim cut to flatten the top surface, then plane them to get them dead flat. Since they are kiln dried to less than 10% at that point, they remain flat and stable. I cut my slabs at 9/4 which is 2 3/8” thick rough, and 90% of them plane out flat at a full 2”. As to price, I price slabs at 1.5 times the price for standard 4/4 lumber for that species. For instance, If I am selling a kiln dried and planed board of a given species at $5/bf, then the 9/4 slab is priced 1.5 times that so it would be $7.50/bf.

Some people price slabs ridiculously high. That is why I have a consistent and easy to explain process for pricing slabs, Also, they need to be fully dry and flat. That can be a challenge, but a kiln dried and flat slab is more desirable and valuable than one sawn out poorly and only air dried at best. It takes 2 times as long to dry 2” lumber versus 1” lumber, so there is no instant pudding with slabs. .

-- Danny Located in Perry, GA. Forester. Wood-Mizer LT40HD35 Sawmill. Nyle L53 Dehumidification Kiln.

View gargey's profile


1013 posts in 1552 days

#6 posted 07-12-2017 12:07 PM

WDHLT15 sounds like a stand up guy, and knows his stuff.

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