Tuesday, August 29, 2017

The slab is done

Having used the bottom as a learning experience, I enlisted some neighbors to help me turn the slab over and repeated the process on the top.  It was extremely time consuming and challenging.  There is a reason that people who do this commercially use a router sled.  I ended up removing 3/4" of material on a slab that is 40" wide and 8' long.  In the end, a power hand plane and a belt sander saw a lot of use.  I regret this but, by coincidence, learned that Chris Schwarz does the same thing for his Roubo benchtops.  His stock is half the width of mine.

Why do you have to remove so much material?  A slab like this will almost inevitably twist and cup.  Across its width you have vertical grain changing to flat sawn and back to vertical grain.  It basically has to cup.  The wild grain pattern associated with the huge knots almost guarantees that the slab will be "wonky."  That is its beauty.  During the course of this project I came to understand that there is an entirely different aesthetic at work here.  The cracks and knots are part of the tree's story.

I elected to use Arm-R-Seal to finish the slab, brushing it on the bark and using a cloth on the top.  I didn't want the "plasticky" look that you often see, the result of a thick hard finish.  Here is the result:

I am very pleased with the result.  It is unique and has character.  This is about as rustic as you can get short of just using the rough sawn slab as is.  It's certainly not for everyone.  Welcoming cracks, pitch pockets and knots is kinda weird I admit.

I got the ultimate compliment from the cable guy as I was applying the finish.  He admired it and said, "It looks like it belongs in a brewpub."  As it happens, I am a big fan of brewpubs and knew exactly what he meant.  Douglas-fir is our state tree, it played a central role in our history, it is fundamental to the beauty of our landscape and we like to keep it close.  Same with draft beer.  You can travel the world but you won't find a beer better than an Oregon IPA made with our own Cascade hops.  This table is going to see a lot of it.


  1. It would also make a good workbench top. DF slabs are ridiculously high priced here.
    How many coats of Arm r seal did you put on it?

  2. Ralph,

    8' douglas-fir rough sawn slabs 38" wide were $300 at the small mill I purchased mine from, which is good for here. I put the recommended three coats of Arm-R-Seal on it. The first coat was very thick. Essentially, I poured it on and smoothed it with a foam brush so it would fill the cracks. Another coat might have been a good idea.

  3. That's a gorgeous piece of wood and I am feeling the inspiration to do some slab construction in our shop. Like the Douglas Fir in Oregon, we have our native wood in North Carolina, yellow pine, and something out of a big slab of old-growth pine would be spectacular. My shop partner Joe is a great fan of knots and figure, and I think I could talk him into it. We have a vibrant craft beer scene here in NC, using lots of Oregon hops, and a slab of yellow pine would make just the tabletop for our after-work IPA.

  4. Beautiful. Did you have to do anything special to stabilize the bark?

    1. Brian,

      The bark was surprisingly stable just as I got it and I am not sure I understand why. All I did was saturate it three times with Arm-R-Seal.