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Getting the Edge

I get asked daily about the best way to achieve a great live edge. There are no wrong ways to go about creating a live edge, there are just lots of methods.

In this blog post, I want to focus on just a few of these methods, one could call them the most popular, but first, I need to explain the difference between a natural live edge, and a carved live edge.

An all natural live edge can be very hard to achieve, especially when milling larger stumps and burls. The reason is that most larger pieces have to be halved or even quartered to be removed. This leaves at least one section of the stump or burl with an unnatural live edge. To achieve an all natural live edge on a piece, one almost always needs a fully intact stump or burl. Of course, there are ways to turn the stump and achieve an all natural live edge, just like milling logs. Logs have the advantage of almost always having two natural, live edges.

However, even though logs almost always have a live edge on two sides, they don’t always have a solid one. In most circumstances, the slabs will need edging. Below I have highlighted a few of my favorite techniques. All methods involve carving the edge first. I use a King Arthur tool to carve my edge, but lots of people simply use a chainsaw. They both give a different type of edge, especially if you have a carving bar. The more edging you have to do, the better quality tool you will need. For most, an electric chainsaw or a belt sander with a heavy grit can carve a fine edge. Whatever system you choose, be sure to do it before working the edge.

Burn & Blast: This method is my favorite. Yet, it’s not very practical if you are working on your project from home. That said, there are lots of business that do commercial sand blasting. If you have a really big piece, it may be worth it to take it in to have it commercially blasted. Before blasting, be sure to really burn the heck out of the edge with a torch. A small torch will work fine, but if you are really looking to produce, I recommend a propane cutting torch.

It may seem silly to burn the edge when the blaster is going to just eat away the burn, but burning the edge helps bring the grain you just carved back to a natural state. That’s the best way I can describe it. Blasting alone does not achieve the same result. I don’t usually burn the natural edge, just the carved portion.

Once the edge is burned, blast the heck out of it. I always blast the entire edge, even the natural parts. It helps one achieve an even edge that blends together, and if nothing else, it will help you get all the bark incisions in the hard to reach spots.

Next, use a fine wire wheel on a drill and go over the edge. You should see it start to polish up. After you wire wheel it, you can lightly sand it with your sander. You can hand sand as well.

Finally, apply your finish!

Burn and Wire Wheel: This is the method I use the most. I like it because it allows me to choose how much black I want to remain on my edge, and it’s easy for the DIY builder.

After going through the carving and burning steps outlined above, instead of blasting, get out your wire wheel. Anyone wanting to work a live edge should have a drill with a wire wheel attached to it. I use both a drill and a grinder. The drill lets you go lighter with the wire wheel, where the grinder will actually carve into the wood. It’s really all about how much material you want to remove and how fast. I recommend wire wheeling the entire edge, even the natural parts. Once you achieve the desired edge, sand it and finish it. That simple!

Carve and Wire Wheel: This method is the same as all the methods outlined above, but with no burnt edge. Instead, start with a heavy or corse wire wheel and really go to town on the edge. You will notice the edge start to brighten and become more natural. The more you wire wheel, the more the edge will change. Once you have the desired edge, use a finer wire wheel to polish up the edge.

I hope you find these tips useful, and I encourage you to look around the web and find other ideas and tips to achieving a live edge. I have and continue to sell thousands of live edge slabs. To see what we have in stock, visit my eBay store. All our slabs come edged and ready to go.

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