How to Make Custom Live Edge Wood Shelves

I’ve always liked the industrial look. A lot of it is because I like to salvage materials or repurpose them for other projects. These days with reclaimed wood and an interest in black pipe, you see a lot of influence in other areas. I wanted to make a simple industrial shelf using a live edge slab.

Materials Needed:

  • Live edge slab of the desired size
  • Black pipe fixtures for hanging

Tools needed:

  • Chisel set
  • Stud finder
  • Hammer
  • Thick angled paint scraper
  • Saw (circular or table)
  • Sander
  • Power Drill with various circular bits (optional)
  • File and Needle (might not need)
  • Stain
  • Sealer
  • Epoxy (might not need)

Step 1: Get the Material

I went down to my local sawmill/lumber yard to see what kind of live edge wood they had. A live edge is one that still has the bark or the natural edge. I always look in the discount area first because if you know what you are doing, you can find some really good deals. If you notice on the slab I picked up, there are some discolorations on the left side. I figured I could either chop it off, sand it down or stain over it, so I got this one at a good price.

Step 2: Remove the Bark

Some things I like with bark on them and some things I don’t. With the industrial look, I didn’t want it to look too rustic. I wanted clean lines and texture. To remove the bark, if you don’t have a draw for removing the bark, which I don’t, use a combination of chisels and paint scrapers. First off, I started with my set of dull chisels. I didn’t want to use the sharp ones as it can go too deeply in and hurt the edge. If you notice on the bottom right, you can see where a chunk of the wood accidentally got chipped out. As I was removing the bark, I started revealing the true wood edge and noticed that there were a lot of wormholes/tunnels/markings. I was happy as that would give the edge some cool design elements. Therefore, I needed to be careful to leave as much of that as possible while removing the bark.

Step 3: Clear Out the Worm Debris

When the worms bore through the wood, they ingest the wood and then leave behind the waste which is like a fine sawdust. You want to remove it for a variety of reasons. Since it is a different material, it will stain a different color. As the wood ages, pieces may fall out of it, taking with it the stain. Also, you want to highlight the 3D aspect of the worm tracks. This was tedious, but it makes the finished product that much better. For the larger tracks, I used the edge of a file, but you could use any thin, hard objects. Be careful about using anything sharp as you can very easily score the wood and as this is the side you want to feature, you want to preserve it as best you can.

Step 4: Remove Some Material to Bring the Weight Down (Optional)

Good wood is heavy! First off, I cut my slab in half as I wanted a smaller shelf. Even then, the piece was around 30 – 35 lbs. I wanted to make it even lighter so that there wouldn’t be as much strain on the fixtures when I hung it.

Step 5: Sand it down and prep it for staining

Like any project, you want to start with coarser grit and work your way to finer. I started with a 150 grit, my usual standard go-to grit for starting the sanding process. Then I worked it down with a 220 grit. On the surfaces, I used an orbital sander but for the worm face, I did it by hand so I could work around and preserve the wormy texture. All those holes you see I had to clean out with that little needle.

Step 6: Stain and seal it

Since I knew I was going to use black pipes, I wanted the stain to be on the darker side. I picked a walnut stain and applied the stain with a rag. I did three coats over the course of a couple of days. Staining also helped me locate any other worm debris that I didn’t catch, as it would be a different color. After all the staining, I wanted to make sure that I protected it. An industrial look is not polished or shiny so I didn’t want any sort of gloss on the wood.

Step 7: Choose and hang the hardware

The shelf was 24” long and standard studs on walls are about 18” apart. I wanted the fixtures attached at the ends, so I knew I needed to come in towards the center on both sides. I spend a good 30 minutes sitting on the floor of Home Depot with my shelf, playing around with all the various pieces, angles, sizes, and thickness. I decided on ¾” pipes. On the bottom attachment, I used a T-attachment with one open side in case I decide to build a shelf below it. That way I can connect all the fixtures for a continuous flow. I found the studs by using a stud finder and drilling small pilot holes to make sure. This shelf is heavy, so it definitely needs to be into the studs and not just a wall anchor. First I attached just the flanges to the wall and then put together the rest of the fixtures.

Step 8: Attach the shelf

First I held up the shelf to where it would be fastened to the pipe flanges. I used a sharpie marker to mark where the four holes of each flange were so that I could drill pilot holes for the screws. I knew it would be difficult to attach the shelf in place, so I wanted to make sure it was as easy as it could be. Using a bit just a little smaller than my screws, I drilled all eight pilot holes. Then I put the shelf back up and attached it to the pipe fixtures.

Step 9: Decorate!

Removing the bark was difficult as I was trying to find the best way of doing it. I cut too deeply a couple of times, removing more of the wood and worm tracks than I wanted. Also, be careful with the chisels! They are sharp!

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