DIY Live-Edge Wood Bench with Hairpin Legs

You know how sometimes often you have no actual meal planned, but you’re hungry, so you cobble together a delicious dish from left over bits?  This live-edge wood bench with hairpin legs is the furniture version of that meal.
How I made a DIY live-edge wood bench with hairpin legs

I haven’t quite decided yet whether to put it in front of the window, or at the end of the bed. Which do you vote for?

How I made a DIY live-edge wood bench with hairpin legs

From looking at these pictures, I realized it could also be a live-edge wood coffee table or side table, rather than a bench. It would be perfect for a small space with a narrower piece of wood like this one, or you could find a wider piece for a bigger table.

Live-Edge Wood Bench with Hairpin Legs

How I made a DIY live-edge wood bench with hairpin legs
The wood was left over from our kitchen shelves. It was pretty wood to begin with, so I can’t take too much credit for the outcome. (Alder, in case you’re wondering.) When we bought the wood from Salvage Works, we had to buy it in the form of two large boards, which we had them cut down and finish into the three shelves. That left us with three unfinished pieces of wood that I knew someday I’d think up a use for. Someday has arrived, for this piece. Here is is, pre-sanding, in my very messy garage.

How I made a DIY live-edge wood bench with hairpin legs

The steps for making this bench are basically:

  1. Sand.
  2. Attach legs
  3. Fill knotholes
  4. Seal

Which sounds very simple, right? I’ll go into more detail on those steps, though, and share some stuff I learned in the process.

Sanding

I thoroughly sanded both sides with 100, 180, and 220 grit sandpaper and my random orbital sander, then 320 grit by hand. I wanted to retain most of the bark on the sides, but smooth them down, so I lightly sanded the sides with 220 grit sandpaper by hand, and I also had to saw off a sharp branch that was sticking out, then sand that down.

Attaching the legs

The legs were from my faux fur stool with hairpin legs. After I made over my wood stool, I started using that one in place of the faux fur one, so I decided to cannibalize it for this project. I hope I’m not destroying any illusions when I admit that sometimes I take apart old projects and reuse parts for something new. If you need to buy some hairpin legs, though, these look like a good option.

How I made a DIY live-edge wood bench with hairpin legs

To make sure I was happy with the leg placement, I clamped the legs in place and flipped the table over to check it out, then adjusted slightly. Just make sure to put a scrap spacer piece of wood between your clamp and your nice wood, so you don’t dent it with the clamps. I drilled pilot holes for my screws, a step I highly recommend.

Fill knotholes

When I posted about women woodworkers the other day, what sent me down that path was searching for instructions on how to fill large wood knotholes. This piece has two knotholes on the side that I decided to use for the top, and a bigger knothole on the bottom. I could have just left them (I did leave the one on the bottom), and sealed them up with regular wood sealer, but it seemed like they would just end up as dust-catchers. So I decided to fill them. Although I’ve filled holes in wood before, it’s always been in painted pieces. After some research, I discovered three main options that appealed to me:

  1. Fill the knot with clear epoxy.
  2. Fill the knot with epoxy + dark material, to mimic bark.
  3. Fill the knot with epoxy + a decorative material, like turquoise or metal shavings.

Option 1 would have been the simplest, and option 3 is intriguing, but I ultimately settled on 2. It seemed like it would compliment this piece of wood the best, plus not be too technically challenging. But what dark material to fill it with? It turns out that a common filler people use for this is dried, used coffee grounds. As a regular coffee drinker, it’s definitely easy to get my hands on those, so that’s what I decided to use.

I spread out my used coffee grounds on a baking sheet, and put them in the oven to dry out. Actually, first I put them in the sun for a few hours while I was out of the house, then I put them in the oven at 170F, then I turned the temperature way up while I was preheating the oven for dinner. I watched a video where a guy dried his grounds out on a skillet on the stovetop, so I don’t think it matters too much as long as they’re nice and dry. After mine were dry, I threw them in an electric spice grinder, and ground them up extra fine.

So I also had to get some epoxy. Or at least I thought I did. After watching videos of  professional woodworkers filling knotholes and cracks, I thought I should use the products that they used. A couple that I saw recommended were System Three 5-minute epoxy,  and West System 5-minute epoxy. But the only one I could find locally was the West System one, and it only came in amounts way more than I needed, like gallons (it’s used for boat repair). Since I didn’t want to wait for shipping on the System Three epoxy, I finally decided to just use up the dregs of some Gorilla Glue 5-minute epoxy I had laying around.

Here’s the smaller hole, pre-filling:

How I made a DIY live-edge wood bench with hairpin legs

First, I taped around the perimeter of the knots with blue painter’s tape. Then I mixed up the epoxy in a disposable cup, added coffee grounds, mixed it up, added a bit more coffee, then poured/spooned the mixture into the holes until they were slightly overfilled.

I let the epoxy set overnight, then in the morning I planed off most of the excess with a hand planer, and then sanded until smooth. This meant that I had to go through some of the sanding steps again, so I should’ve done the filling before I finished the sanding. For the sanding, I put the orbital sander on the lowest speed, and kept the sander moving to make sure there was no danger of it melting the epoxy.

Here’s the same knothole, post coffee-epoxy filling:

How I made a DIY live-edge wood bench with hairpin legs

As far as I can tell, it all worked just fine. Would one of the epoxies that professionals used have been better? I have no idea, but if I ever need to fill more knotholes maybe I’ll test that theory.

Seal

Theoretically, an easy step. But I initially used an epoxy that left a bubbly finish. So I sanded it all off, thinking that maybe it was the fact that it was a water-based polyurethane that was the problem, and that I should switch to an oil-based poly. But then I decided to just try a different water-based poly, so all of that sanding was probably unnecessary. I still don’t know why I had problems with bubbles. Was it the sealer? The brush? Random dust in the air? We’ll never know. But I can tell you what worked for me in the end.

Minwax water-based polycrylic in satin is what I ended up using as a sealer, and it worked perfectly. Just be sure to use a good synthetic brush, don’t overbrush, and sand lightly (320 grit) between coats.

So now the only question is, what should I do with these other two pieces of wood?  I’d say the little one would make a good cutting board, except that alder is pretty soft, so it would have to be only for serving, not cutting. Maybe shelves of some sort?

bench progress

Oh, you had another question? What can’t coffee do? No, that wasn’t it. Why is my garage so terrible? Yes, there are random holes in the gross drywall that only covers one wall, and a wicker placemat or two that somebody nailed up there. Because we haven’t changed anything in it since we bought the house, except to add electricity and lights. Actually, my dad did most of that, and he also pushed one of the walls back on the foundation because it had fallen off. True story. I did clean it up slightly since I took these photos. Someday we’ll give it a real makeover.

4 thoughts on “DIY Live-Edge Wood Bench with Hairpin Legs

  1. Rachel. It looks good in both places but I would choose the window. I love how it looks with the plants. It’s a little oasis of nature. Pat S

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