I honestly don’t know when we decided that a live edge slab table would be perfect for the dining room. For me it may have taken root when we were featured in Alive Magazine along with some other owners of unusual homes and peeped Charlie Smith’s beautiful table. Whenever it did take hold, it grabbed on and didn’t let go. We’ve been picturing a gorgeous slab of wood for that space for awhile. It will add the perfect natural, warm element to the white space (are you new here? We love white paint) and black chairs.
The search for the slab was one of the most time intensive processes we’ve undertaken for the firehouse to date. It was complicated by so many variables, some usual, some unique to the particular item we sought. We looked at so many slabs, inquired about several, and lost a few due to timing or miscommunication. So by the time we found the one we bought it was almost a fever pitch of “let’s get this done! SeriouslyHURRYbuyitnow!!” So here I am, well past the point when an enormous piece of wood came to live in our studio and ready to tell you about the hunt, but with basically zero real examples of slabs we loved and lost. #badblogger
What I can share are the lessons we learned along the way. Let’s start with what we wanted: A large, live-edge slab of wood, preferably walnut, rot/holes/knots that added interest welcome, budget: $1,200
1. Measure first
Yeah, I know. This should always be the first step, but we started this process assuming we knew what size we needed. Aaron launched into a search with a rough idea in his head, pulled lots of options and THEN we measured. It was a very scientific effort involving a card table, chairs and some painter’s tape.
It turned out that the space could hold a pretty large table: 48 – 50″ wide by 120″ long.
2. Start early, like really early
It probably goes without saying that something natural like wood slabs have a limited and often changing inventory. Also, once you find the perfect piece it may need some time to dry. A green slab air drys for about 2 years and then it goes in a massive kiln for 3 – 5 months, which leads me to the next point.
3. Learn the lingo
It’s critical to understand the steps involved in prepping a piece of wood to live in your dining room because you can buy slabs at every stage. Ultimately, it will affect the cost and how much work you have to put in once it arrives.
After a tree is cut into slabs, those pieces of wood must be dried to be used for furniture. See process above. We knew we wanted a slab that was already kiln dried.
A particular slab can have some cupping, bowing on either side that doesn’t make it totally flat. This is why it’s helpful to get a slab that has been planed to flatten it on both sides. Unless you have an industrial-sized woodshop with an equally industrial-sized planer, you want a slab that has been planed.
Then there are more finishing steps like sanding, adding epoxy or otherwise reinforcing any holes as needed, and coating it (oil, stain, etc). Sometimes you can do these yourself, sometimes they are offered for an additional charge. Know your skill set and choose appropriately. We were comfortable with doing most of these steps on our own if needed.
You can also get sets that are book matched. Basically these are consecutive slices from a single log that are joined to make a wider surface. They look like this:
Source: Jewell Hardwoods
4. Don’t live in the Midwest
Kidding… although it would be easier to buy a HUGE tree chunk if we lived near HUGE trees. There aren’t many slab sellers in the Midwest so you’ll have to accept the fact that you won’t see your slab in person before it arrives. You’ll also want to budget some money for shipping.
5. Be flexible about material and size
Originally we were looking for black walnut, but realized that claro walnut (pictured above) lacked the lighter growth just below the bark. It’s a more consistent look and also more expensive. (Because of course we want the more expensive thing…) We realized pretty quickly that a slab of walnut – of any variety – was cost prohibitive.
That left us open to looking at different species, but none of the tones fit our vision. So we went back to claro walnut and looked for a bookmatched. We don’t love the look as much, but it was cheaper. We actually had a few we seriously considered, but when we were ready to buy after only a few days of consideration the pieces were gone. At this point we jumped the budget to a max of $3k.
Next we moved on to teak options from Origin Teak Cabinet Company.
After weeks of emailing, there was a serious miscommunication about the budget (the updated budget) and we had to walk away.
Parota, a tropical tree, kept popping up as an option because of the massive slabs that come from this fast growing species. Originally we discounted it because the finished pieces looked so red. We went back to square one with our search, and unwilling to yield on the overall size, we did some research and discovered the redness comes mostly from the popular way to finish parota. So we turned back to the world wide web.
6. Google, Google again, Google some more
Slab vendors are on the interwebs, but only the biggest shops are good at SEO. Don’t stop at page 1 or page 20 of your search. Go deep down the list and if you start over, get more specific. Look for a particular type of wood (you’ll know what you want because you followed all the tips above) or search for vendors in a particular area. A friend recommended we look in Canada thanks to the favorable exchange rate.
Eventually we found the perfect vendor in CaliforniaWoodSlabs.com. This small company was established by two friends, one in Costa Rica where huge Parota trees grow, and one in California with warehouse space in Colorado and inkling to start a business. They offer sustainably harvested, kiln dried, sanded Parota slabs, and they include epoxy work on any imperfections for free. Remember why all these things are important? It means less work on our end. Basically these slabs are ready to finish.
Thanks to an old email chain, here are some slabs we actually considered:
California Wood Slabs – G15551
This slab is a really nice size – very uniform width and fantastic length for the price. The grain pattern is very even, a little on the boring side.
California Wood Slabs – G15612
Nice size, even a bit on the long side. Really pretty grain and wide enough to work.
California Wood Slabs – J16302
This one stopped me in my tracks. This is the kind of uniquely grained, imperfect piece I wanted. Sadly, even with the upgraded budget, at $3775 it was a budget buster.
We settled on a slab that was perfectly sized for our space: 48″ x 120″ with enough visual interest in the grain and a price that actually came in below budget.
So now we live with this beautiful piece of wood that is just quietly waiting for us to finish the dining room and give it a home. When the time comes we may need to host a table moving party. Who’s in?