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In the past I've seen many beautiful pieces making use of a "natural edge", such as this: https://www.houzz.com/photos/44117627/Live-Edge-Conference-Table-rustic-dining-tables. Other examples:

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The term natural edge seems to be applied to the very bumpy organic shape of the edge, which is different from live edge which refers to the slab going up to the bark or cambium layer. I always assumed these went together, but now that I'm looking to give something like this a try and have been looking at live edge wood slabs to purchase, I've noticed that the edge seems relatively flat under the bark; or at least it doesn't have nearly as much variation as show in the photos. Especially once the bark is peeled off with a draw knife. Though I've only really looked at a few species of local trees.

Is there term live edge actually referencing a natural feature that some woods have? Or is it a term that actually refers to an artificially chiseled edge made to look organic? How does one create a table with a natural edge like this?

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    Wood varies! Even different full-width slabs taken from different trees of the same species might look very different because of varied growth conditions. (Related, this is why bark is such a poor thing to try to use when seeking a wood ID, because occasionally a tree's bark looks nothing like it normally does.) – Graphus Sep 7 '17 at 9:05
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    BTW if you ever see the term 'waney edge' (British English) that's the same thing as 'live edge'. – Graphus Sep 7 '17 at 9:06
  • not only that, everything under the general term of "live edge" can vary.. bark can be left on or off, and the surface can be treated or not in a variety of ways. I prefer a more refined look and feel that matches the smoothness of the non-live edge surfaces while still capturing the contours of the tree. very different from the examples you've shown, but still very much "live edge." – aaron Sep 7 '17 at 12:09
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Live edge furniture refers to the inclusion of the unsquared, natural edge of a tree in the lumber being used for a piece. Typically this is the sapwood with the bark removed. In standard lumber this edge is milled off.

In general bark is actually hard to keep on the wood as it expands and contracts at a different rate to the wood it's attached to, so therefore tends to detach over time. The sapwood is the actual "living" part of a tree and encompasses the outermost ring through which nutrients travel. Sapwood is generally a lighter color that the heartwood (inner rings) and therefore is preferred to add an accent to the piece being produced. Sapwood inclusion in dimensional lumber (read squared edges) usually denotes lower quality lumber.

A piece of lumber that includes 2 live edges is typically referred to as a slab, although a very wide piece of wood can also be referred to as such without the live edges. Hence, slab tables often are a table made from the cross section of a tree with the bark removed but maintaining the 2 live edges. The angle of the live edge can be used to get a general idea of what part of the layered cross section the piece came from. The more parallel the edge, the more central the slab. The more angled the edge, the more peripheral the cut. This can also be seen in the grain pattern of the end grain, as it will invariably reflect the angle of the edge.

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Live edge and natural edge are used interchangeably. Some people may try to artificially create such an edge, or it may just be the different processes or woods used to achieve the live edge that you are seeing.

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  • Could you expand on this? If I wanted to create such an edge would I seek out a slab with this naturally or try to create it? If creating it what tools and techniques would be used? – Nicholas Sep 7 '17 at 17:01
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    @Nicholas If you want to ask about creating a faux live edge that's really a separate Question. But the answer is really very straightforward, just use drawknife, spokeshave, rasps, files, burrs or whatever to shape the edge as needed, then scrape or sand smooth and finish. – Graphus Sep 7 '17 at 18:35

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