What is Live Edge Design?

It’s easier to identify furniture made from live edge wood than to understand what live edge means.  When you look at custom live edge furniture, you probably can imagine if not see the profile of the tree that yielded the wood for the piece.  If you examine the edges of the wood slabs, the rough, thick texture of the tree’s surface is still visible.  The natural origins of the wood are readily apparent in these items.

Although frequently associated with rustic dĂŠcor, live edge design can fit with any style in which the natural beauty of wood and a tradition of craftsmanship are paramount.   Artisans who work in this manner abound here at CustomMade, and we can learn a great deal about the character, philosophy, and range of live edge furniture from their projects.

Can you visualize the tree that this cherry slab bench by Pernt once was?  Furniture maker Christopher Beidel reclaimed a tree that was struck by lightning to build this piece. He writes: “Its construction is influenced by Nakashima and Shaker furniture. Black walnut butterflies stabilize the naturally occurring crotch in the wood.” This bench is a good introduction to the basics of the live edge approach.  Using reclaimed wood reflects ecological awareness and a respect for nature. Stabilizing the natural split in the wood with exceptional workmanship, instead of disguising or removing a perceived imperfection, reflects George Nakashima’s “pride in craftsmanship,” in “doing as perfect a job as possible, of producing something of beauty even out of nature’s discards” and the Shaker design principles of simplicity and efficiency.  The live edge ethos embraces these three elements: nature, craftsmanship, and simplicity.

Cherry Slab Bench by Pernt at CustomMade.com

Cherry Slab Bench by Pernt at CustomMade.com

What does the term “live edge” mean? Artisan John Blunt of Blunt Woodworks explains: “‘Live edge’ refers to the living part of the tree, the outer rings. The log is cut into slabs and the entire slab is used, leaving the natural edge. Only the bark is removed.”  You can really appreciate the live edge look up close in this amboyna burl knife block by Where Wood Meets Steel.  Designed from a slab of amboyna wood burl provided by the customer, the pieces were carefully assembled so the grayish live edge at the top of the block would flow together on each side and around every corner. (Bamboo sticks hold the knives in place).

Amboyna Burl Knife Block by Where Wood Meets Steel at CustomMade.com

Amboyna Burl Knife Block by Where Wood Meets Steel at CustomMade.com

The live edge woodworker’s respect for wood as a living thing goes beyond the edges, however.  The wood is itself a partner in the creation process.  John Blunt continues: “In nature form does not follow function; they are one, in perfect integration. It is our job to respect that mystery, to make the idea of each design and the creation one. Look at the wood. Pick it up. Within the context of the type of object you intend, see how it fits itself. Using your idea as a flexible tool, embark on a childlike activity of creation. You are working in balanced partnership with the world around you, with practiced skill and a quiet mind.”  The “Maria” lamp by Blunt Woodworks, an embodiment of the spirit of woman, “steep and yielding, at once strong and graceful,” is made from a live edge maple base, a sculpted maple stem, and a shade of pomelle cherry wood veneer.

Maria by Blunt Woodworks at CustomMade.com

“Maria” by Blunt Woodworks at CustomMade.com

“Mother Nature is still my favorite Designer,” writes Shawn Straffin of Lyndon Furniture.  The Sherwood bed, with its Sherwood beder-9/”>sustainably harvested, unprocessed live edge headboard from the heart of a tree, lets Mother Nature’s creativity and design sense shine through.  Every Sherwood bed is unique “because no tree grows the same, so every cut seems to have a sort of personality.”  Take a good look at the bed.  What style would you say it approximates?  “At Lyndon we consider our furniture to be of ‘Transitional’ style. Meaning not totally Rustic, Cottage, Contemporary, Shaker, or other styles, but an eclectic mix of all, that will make the ‘Transition’ to oncoming generations.”

Sherwood Bed by Lyndon Furniture at CustomMade.com

Sherwood Bed by Lyndon Furniture at CustomMade.com

With designs inspired closely by nature and craftsmanship that will last for generations, custom live edge furniture would be a beautiful addition to any home.   Talk to a CustomMade artisan in your area about incorporating live edge design into your next project.

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