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Advice on putting live edge wood on a kitchen bar counter?
December 6, 2013 10:49 AM   Subscribe

I'm remodeling my kitchen and have had an island built that is 2-level. The main counter is granite and the second 'bar' level for people to hang out at on bar stools is as yet undefined. I'm looking for some advice about what kind of surface I can put on the second level. I'm very interested in wood and was thinking 'live edge'. It would be about 24" x 72". Is this something best purchased from a supplier or is it a moderately DIY project from a tree cut by a tree service? Difficult to maintain? Easy enough to find? Suppliers north of Boston? Thanks!
posted by GernBlandston to Home & Garden (10 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
I would not recommend cutting your own tree unless you have a long time to wait -- for a counter that large you will want material that has been properly dried to avoid cracks and maximize longevity. You could probably find a slab (basically just a slice from the middle of a log) that's 24'' wide, and would have a live edge on both long edges. At that size it would be pricey, but the effect could be quite stunning. Alternatively you could build your top out of strips of wood with the edges made with live edge material. In this case you want the live edges to come from the same tree as the rest of the counter so the color matches.

What you need is a good lumber yard. New England has many. I've heard good things about Downes & Reader, Longleaf Lumber, and Highland Hardwoods. Call ahead and let them know you are looking for; they can tell you if they have anything in stock that suit your needs.
posted by cubby at 11:09 AM on December 6, 2013 [1 favorite]

Seconding lumber yard, find one that deals in hardwoods. Select a single board that's well-seasoned. Cherry or maple would be good. Do a rubbed oil finish, not one of those abominable super-thick polyurethane jobs. I know you said north, but this outfit south of Boston looks decent.
posted by beagle at 11:17 AM on December 6, 2013 [1 favorite]

A tree service won't have the equipment for milling a board out of a tree; they can give you the whole trunk, or they can buck it into firewood lengths, but beyond that you'd be on your own. And, cubby is right about drying time; unless you have a few years to wait, you'd need to have it kiln-dried somewhere.

I don't know about your neighborhood but in my area you would need to look to a specialty hardwood lumber supplier, not the sort of lumberyard where you buy 2x4s, plywood and roofing. Such lumber is likely to be roughsawn, meaning it will be somewhat cupped and/or warped and have very rough broad surfaces. Ask if the supplier can plane it flat for you, or if they know someone who can. Expect the unfinished plank to be at least a few hundred dollars. I recommend removing the bark.
posted by jon1270 at 11:40 AM on December 6, 2013

Check Craigslist materials section, or your local reclaimed materials places. Around here (north SF Bay), the slab sellers are largely specialty people, and they'll have a bunch of cut and dried slabs you can look through, and may even have the facilities to smooth the slab (or suggest someone who can).

As others have commented, if you find someone with a portable mill they can cut one for you, and you can flatten it with a router and a router sled, but you're going to have to wait at least a year per inch of cut wood to let the lumber dry, and anyone who's got the portable mill probably runs a tree service and has a selection of slabs drying somewhere anyway.

Plenty of people make absolutely bombproof tables out of live edge slabs, and the house that was just remodeled and flipped next to us has exactly the setup you describe. It looks really nice.

Like "our kitchen counters are laminated maple block and I'm starting to think that we should spend the couple grand it'd take to make them solid slab live edge" nice...
posted by straw at 12:19 PM on December 6, 2013

If there is a reclaimed wood source up that way, that would be a good start. There's one here in NC for example. A quick search for Boston area reclaimed wood turned up this place. These guys turned up when I added 'live edge' to the search.
posted by yoga at 1:01 PM on December 6, 2013

You want somebody else to mill it; they have big saws. How deep will the surface be? I have live edge pine counters in my kitchen, and used an extra piece to have a breakfast bar. The pine is @ 3" thick. I used Waterlox to treat it - 5 (?) coats - and it has held up well. It will dent if something gets dropped on it, and visitors seem to think it's a giant cutting board, umm, no, but if needed, I can sand it down many times before it's too thin. No time for photos at the moment, but memail if you want. I made a lot of calls looking for live edge/ slab pine, finally found a guy in Raymond, Maine, when I drove by, saw the wood, and left a note in his mailbox. I really love it a lot.
posted by theora55 at 3:42 PM on December 6, 2013

According to my household expert, who would drive almost anywhere for the right lumber, Downes & Reader and Highland Hardwoods probably wouldn't have what you're looking for. A better bet would be Artisan Lumber in Lunenberg MA; they will definitely have some gorgeous options.

Goosebay Lumber and Sawmill in Chichester NH is another possibility.

A closer option for you is Keiver-Willard in Newburyport; they're like Downes & Reader, and they can probably suggest other places if they don't have what you want.

Some places can do the milling for you, and possibly rip one edge (cut it straight) for you, but the final sanding & finishing would need to be done elsewhere. If they can't do the milling, then they probably have someplace they can recommend.

Last but not least, think about how you'll get it to your house; at the size you're looking for, whether you can/want to pick it up yourself will depend on your vehicle and the slab thickness. A 4" slab at those dimensions may too heavy for the top of an SUV.
posted by orange (sherbet) rabbit at 4:47 PM on December 6, 2013

Join the forum at Lumberjocks. One answer I've seen there is to check Woodfinder.

A good way to flatten and smooth extremely wide boards (much easier in pine than in hardwood) is with a jack or jointer plane before going over it with a smoother. You'd also need sharpening stones and a bit of knowhow but it avoids the dust and noise of belt or disk sanders.
posted by bonobothegreat at 8:53 PM on December 6, 2013

I made my kitchen island with live edges from a spalted sycamore. The top is about the size you are planning, and is made from three boards with the outer ones bookended for a somewhat symmetric shape. The wood dried for about a year in my shed; it's dry here so no kiln-drying. The guy who cut the tree down at my neighbors charged me $100 to chainsaw the trunk into quarters and move it to my house, and a local lumberyard with a horizontal bandsaw cut it into boards. Some cracks developed as the wood dried that I filled with putty with a contrasting dye. I sprayed the table island with a flat lacquer but that didn't last on the top, so I sanded it off and used tung oil, and I reapply it a few times a year.
posted by Killick at 11:31 PM on December 6, 2013

If you leave the bark on how are you going to clean up liquid spills? Live edges look good but consider removing the bark.
posted by jewzilla at 10:39 AM on December 7, 2013

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