You Aren't Going to See It Here

Sunday, August 25, 2019 8:16 AM

I’m constantly amazed at the amount of projects containing live edges and/or epoxy on YouTube. It seems they have become the in thing to have and make. As some of you know by now one guy even went to the expense and trouble to patent the term "River Table” when he attached two opposing live edge slabs together with epoxy forming a “river” of epoxy in the middle. While not all their projects use live edges that’s become a phenonium. I’ve even seen some projects where there was no live edge on a slab of wood so the creator made the edge look like it was. It’s as if these woodworkers have totally abandoned straight edges in favor of a “natural” look. Some of these “makers” have even abandoned their woodworking hobby to become “epoxyiests” by making projects with only epoxy. I’ve seen some of the strangest things encased in epoxy and there are also many who make projects with solid pieces of hardened epoxy. The variety of epoxy pen blanks, for example is endless.


Several of the hardwood dealers I frequent have large stocks of “live edge” slabs. These slabs have taken over a lot of floor space but even more wall space. Many species of hardwood that these dealers used to carry have been replaced with these slabs. Finding good hardwood stock has become more difficult as a result of this influx of slabs taking up so much space. The lack of good hardwood lumber may also be something that goes back to the sawmill. A sawyer can make two cuts and sell a slab for much more per board foot than lumber from the same tree so why should they go through the extra steps and costs involved in cutting trees into lumber? I’m sure that many who frequent YouTube have seen even hobby sawyers doing the same thing.


Then there’s the gallons of epoxy that’s currently being used in conjunction with some of these slabs. It’s used to join them together, fill voids and even to square off the live edges. What’s seems to be strange is that the use of slabs started because of the natural look then plastic, which is certainly far from natural, is used to encase the natural looking wood. Other projects use the epoxy or a different plastic resin and leave the wood out. Using straight epoxy or other plastics gets even farther away from being natural and isn’t woodworking at all.


It’s interesting to me, mainly because of my age, that I see all of this as being nothing new. When I was a youngster we used to take vacations almost every summer. We’d stop at many of the “tourist traps” along the way. I remember seeing large numbers of slabs of wood encased in clear epoxy. This was especially true in areas where redwoods grow. The stores would have countless items made from these epoxy coated slabs that ranged from table top decorations to whole dining room tables. My recollection goes back to at least the 1960s and I’m sure these items go back even earlier.


The live edge tables go back perhaps even farther than the use of epoxy. In 1943 George Nakashima moved to the farm of Antonin Raymond in New Hope, Pennsylvania. In his studio and workshop at New Hope, Nakashima explored the organic expressiveness of wood and choosing boards with knots and burls and figured grain. George Nakashima's signature woodworking design was his large-scale tables made of large wood slabs with smooth tops but unfinished natural edges, consisting of multiple slabs connected with butterfly joints. Over the past couple of decades, his furniture has become ultra-collectible and his legacy of what became known as the "free-edge" aesthetic influential. It’s important to note that Nakashima didn’t cover his tables with epoxy. He used tung oil.


I remember making things from plastic in my junior high school "handy crafts" class. It was one of those elective classes that were prevalent back in the 1960s that especially boys were forced into. I actually enjoyed these ten week courses and would have loved for them to have been longer. We made plastic items out of Lucite and colored transparent glues. The plastic items were formend into different shapes using band saws and sanders. They were polished on buffing wheels. This was of course made from solid pieces of plastic but it was rather amazing what could me made from it using the different colors of glue. 


While I have admired the natural edge furniture of George Nakashima and even the epoxy coated slab tables made of redwood I personally will not be making anything like them nor do I plan to start using gallons of epoxy. They are just not the type of woodworking that I’d like to do. Yes, I may actually use some epoxy to fill voids left by knots in the wood I use or even fill some cracks. I may even use epoxy to stabilize some turning blanks if I ever get to that point. As I envision things those examples would be the extent of my use of epoxy. Live edge slabs just do not seem to fit into my desire to make mostly arts and crafts, mission, craftsman, Greene & Greene inspired pieces for my home. At my age I have more of those projects planned along with the things I need to make for my shop to more than fill up the time I have left.


Please understand that in no way am I putting down those who use live edges and/or epoxy extensively.  Some of them I’m subscribed to on YouTube and I enjoy their work. It’s just not something you’ll see from me. So, if that’s what you’re expecting please let me know so that I can suggest those who do for your YouTube viewing pleasure.


Yes, I realize that just the word epoxy in a title on YouTube seems to draw viewers like flys to dog poop and Live edges are very close behind. I’ll just have to survive the YouTube algorithm without them. Once the workbench project is behind me, hopefully fairly soon, I’ll be concentrating on shop organization projects, turning projects and furniture. It is my hope that you’ll hang in there with me and enjoy the experience.