March 25, 2023 - 8:00 am
Sometimes a statement piece is needed to give a room or area of the home that extra touch of character. It may be a vase, a light fixture or a distinguishing piece of furniture.
When it comes to dining areas, custom-made live-edge wood tables are certainly an option. In fact, many of today’s homeowners are often surprised to learn that they are not solely for traditional or rustic interiors. They add something quite unique to modern homes as well.
“Classic live edge is anything but a traditional block,” said Bill Watchman, principal of local custom table maker, Live Edge Slabs of Las Vegas. “Our tables have been embraced by the contemporary market because all of that steel, marble and glass you find in modern homes can be a little cold. So, I think architects look for those points of warmth that can become the centerpiece of a living area.”
Watchman and another local live-edge table builder expand on what it takes to create one of these memorable furniture pieces.
Wood types, popular styles
Local table builders such as Watchman and Andrew Moore, owner of Reclaimed Secrets, in Las Vegas, have warehouses stocked with wood slabs from a variety of locations. Moore started building live-edge tables in 2005. He initially worked with reclaimed wood, beetle-killed pine most often, before venturing into hardwoods.
Today, his company offers pecan, American elm, walnut, sycamore, maple, cottonwood, oak and others. Moore’s business is a family affair. His brother, who lives in Oklahoma, sources the wood there, kiln dries it, then ships it to Las Vegas. The pieces are salvaged from ranches and tree removal requests.
“We don’t cut green, and salvage is better for us because it’s more sustainable,” Moore said. “Plus, those are the woods I want because you get all the crazy coloring and it’s not so straight-grained and boring.”
Watchman imports his wood from Costa Rica and carries two varieties: parota and monkey pod. Both hardwoods are “exceptionally dense and feature amazing grain,” he said. Costa Rica has strict controls against clear-cutting these fast-growing trees (they grow about a yard per year), and no more than three trees can be cut per 2.5 acres, Watchman emphasized.
Most of the wood slabs are cut length-wise along the height of the tree trunk. They can range from 6 or 7 feet in length, even up to 18 or 20 feet for some. You can also find circular pieces cut across the diameter of a large trunk.
Some requests require fusing pieces together. In fact, book-matched tables, where two slabs are an almost mirror image of one another are the most popular request from Moore’s customers.
Moore and Watchman also say river tables are popular, where epoxy with a blue or green hue is poured into gaps in the table or areas that are dammed off on the structure’s edges or elsewhere in the design. Custom steel frames are the most common and durable leg options; the tables are heavy, anywhere from 200 to 800 pounds.
Preparing the wood for use
It would serve a customer to understand what it really takes to prepare a slab of wood for the dry Las Vegas desert, both experts say. Watchman’s team uses a kiln-drying process that involves keeping the wood at 170 degrees for three months, a process he and his team has fine-tuned for preparing the wood for the desert.
Simply taking wood from a moist climate like the East Coast’s and building furniture with it is impossible, Moore emphasized. The dry air will crack the wood quickly. His process involves kiln-drying to 8 percent to 10 percent moisture levels in Oklahoma and then getting the wood to Las Vegas as quickly as possible to adjust to the local dry air.
“The whole thing with tables is that you have to be confident in the wood you’re using,” he said. “Wood is porous and it absorbs water and it acclimates with the air it’s in. Once they get it out of the kiln, I get it here in a week. Then I let it acclimate to the air out here for about 30 days before I offer it for sale.”
Pricing, timeline, building process
When the customer chooses a slab, the makers get to work filling in cracks with specific types of epoxies or fusing pieces together, then sanding and planing until the surface is smooth. The work is extremely labor intensive, and it takes between four to six weeks, in most cases, to finish a table.
Prices for a typical 6- to 8-foot-long rectangular dining room table can start around $3,000. Smaller circular tables involving only one piece are less. If you need a larger table fusing multiple slabs, prices can climb up to $10,000 or higher.
Craftsmen start the sanding process with a heavy 80-grit sandpaper, then progressively move to an ultrafine grit exceeding a 1,000 rating. Moore even goes as far as 8,000 grit. For context, the typical ultrafine grit for around-the-house sanding is a 220 rating. This process ensures that there are no machine sanding marks or unwanted scuffs and that the surface is ready for its protective coating.
Moore hired a chemist to develop his top seal, which would be as strong as aluminum oxide but still highlight the wood grains. Watchman uses Odie’s Oil, a commercial-grade finish. He likes the matte finish, which won’t take away from highlighting the wood’s grain.
“Once cured, it’s highly waterproof and stain resistant,” he said. “The matte finish optimally brings out the grains of the wood. The grain is really vibrant.”
Maintenance, a DIY option
A quality custom live-edge table probably will require little to no maintenance. Moore asserts you won’t have to do a thing to maintain one of his tables, outside of regular wipe-downs, for 50 years. Watchman leaves a small jar of finishing oil with the customer.
“You just apply a small amount every year or two. The jar should last a few years,” he said. “Otherwise, you just wash it with water and a wet cloth or a mild dishwashing soap at the most. Don’t use any bleach or chemicals or spray wax, like Pledge.”
Moore also sells wood to DIYers and recently conducted his first workshop where he taught customers how to build their own tables.
“It’s cool to see people take on new hobbies,” Moore said. “I tried a live-edge class recently and had five sign-ups, and they built beautiful tables. … A couple had tears in their eyes when they were done; they never had a chance to do something like that.”