Video: Making Live Edge Floating Shelves
In this video, April Wilkerson takes you through the process of making floating live edge wood shelves.
April Wilkerson turns a uniquely featured slab of live edge walnut lumber into a series of floating shelves. She uses epoxy to maintain the unique character of the wood and Rockler's blind shelf supports to create a truly unique build.
You can find more great projects and techniques from April Wilkerson at her website.
April Wilkerson: In this video, I'm going to show you how I made these floating live edge shelves. It is a very simple process, but can turn any wall space into something visually unique, but also functional. Let's go ahead and get into the process. I am starting off with a walnut slab that had a good amount of bug tracks on one end and a very deep but beautiful bark inclusion on the other. I think features like these give the shelves character so I intentionally chose a board that wasn't flawless. However, since there are so many cavities, I went ahead and started the process by first filling them with clear epoxy.
I flipped the board over to what will be the bottom of the shelves. Then started taping off any and all cracks or holes I saw. After getting a good amount of coverage over any, I used a pencil to press the tape down firmly. Leaking epoxy is not fun. However, you also see, I laid down some cardboard on my workbench before getting started. Now for the very edge, I went with something a little bit more thick than painter's tape. I did four layers of duct tape to try and build up a dam on the side. I just need something to keep the epoxy from spilling over once I start pouring it into the voids.
Even after a few layers of painter's tape though, I knew it wouldn't hold so next, I grabbed a thin scrap that had some flex to it and screwed it into the end, making sure that it took the curve of the slab. Then the last thing I did before pouring was clear out all of the dust and debris from the voids. Now, if you don't want to go through all of this work of pouring epoxy, then know you can skip this step. With these being shelves there wouldn't have been anything wrong with leaving them as is. I just liked the look that clear epoxy gives the surface.
Before pouring, I like to raise the slab up off the workbench so that I can check for leaks along the way. I grabbed a few bench cookies from my dispenser and set them on either end of my slab. For expoxy, I'm going with my go-to brand of epoxy, which is Total Boat. Here, I'm using Total Boat high performance. This stuff is crystal clear, is a simple two to one ratio and dries pretty quick. I poured this in the morning. Let it sit overnight. Then it was ready to start being sanded the next morning. Be sure to read the mixing time and stick to it when using epoxy and also make sure to have a flame on hand so that after you pour, you can use the heat to remove all of the air bubbles.
I typically try and keep a small torch in my shop for this reason, but I couldn't find it and tried using a regular lighter. It makes the fingers a little toasty since it's so close so I went with my only other heat option I had around, which was my mega torch. It is a little overkill, but a quick spritz and all the bubbles were gone.
Now be sure to overfill any voids because in the next step, you sand it back and you want the surface of the epoxy to come out flush with the surrounding wood after. After letting that set up over night, it was sanding time. I rigged my shop VAC and separator cart into place, hooked up my Triton ROS and started the process. I always start with around 60 grit sandpaper to take down the bulk of dried epoxy. I also prefer to use my larger ROS since I have one, but a belt sander would also take it down quickly. After getting it flush, I switched over to my palm ROS and then ran through the grids, going over the entire slab at the same time. As I ran through the grits, going from 60 to 100 to 152 to 220 to 320 to 400, I would really focus on hitting the epoxy portions to remove as many scratches as possible so that in the end it would be crystal clear.
I like to use a little mineral spirits to get a sense on how it will look with finish on it. When I was happy with the results I moved on, hitting the entire edge with my sander, then wiping it all down to prep for applying the finish. I'm testing out a new finish called walrus oil on this project and found it very simple. Of course, it makes the Walnut just absolutely pop as soon as it spread on. I also start off with finishing the bottom of projects first, then flip them over to do the show face before letting the entire thing set up to dry.
By the way, even though these will be five separate shelves, it is much easier to do all of these steps with one board as one big unit, rather than working with five smaller pieces. After letting the finish dry, I then started marking out my shelf boundaries on the slab. I'm using a soapstone pencil and my track saw guide to draw out where I think the shelves should be so that I can make sure I like the visual of them before actually making a cut. I wanted the shelves that will be most at the visible level to be the ones with the most character in them, so the large bar conclusion and the bug tracks.
Once I was happy with the layout, I hopped up on my workbench and used my Triton Track Saw to start making some cuts. The track saw is great to get straight cuts on a natural shape like this that doesn't have a straight edge reference to start. However, I'm using almost every inch of this slab and couldn't overcut my lines. I would sneak up on the corner with the saw as close as I could then finish it off with a hand saw. Once I broke down the slab a bit using that method, I was then able to take the remaining slab and the small pieces to the table saw to use my Rockler Crosscut sled to finish it off. Oh yes, that is going to look cool. I not only cut up the rest of the slab, but I also used my sled to get all of the edges at a perfect 90 and the shells to the final link. The hardware I'm going with can be found at Rockler and it's called floating shelf hardware. It's a pretty fitting name. It comes with a rectangular mounting bracket that will butt up to the back of the shelf.
I like to cut it in a small recess on the shelf so that the back will sit flush up against the wall when it's mounted. After marking off the placement of the two brackets, I used a straight bed in my router table to carve this recess out, plus fitting the bracket afterwards to make sure it would comfortably fit. With the bracket cavity cut in, now I just needed to drill the holes for the hardware. With the band, a live edge and so tall using a drill press isn't an option. Instead, I'm using a new drilling guide from Rockler. It's pretty much a portable drill press and has quickly gone up the list of one of my favorite things. This quill here can be chucked up in a drill and can travel up and down.
There are two stops that can be placed anywhere in order to regulate the desired depth. It has onboard storage for a check key and even a tilting feature so that you can drill straight but at an angle. Tell me that's not cool. There are also two pins that have onboard storage at the top that can be screwed into the bottom. This way you can set the drilling guide on the edge of any piece of wood to help you quickly find center of that edge. I could have used this feature to drill my holes, but instead, I used the mounting holes in the drilling guides deck to secure it horizontally to my armor tool workbench.
I locked all four casters to keep it from moving around on me and just felt like this was a bit more secure for the depth of hole I was going after. I would line up the shelves so that the center of the mounting bracket recess was in line with the center of the drilling guides bit and then plunge. After drilling it to the depth needed for the first, I would move the shelf over and repeat on the second.
After knocking out one shelf, I repeated with the remaining four. Shelves are done at this point. Now I wanted to transport them over to the woodshed for mounting. Since I already applied finish and didn't want the faces to get marred up by stacking them on top of each other, I grabbed two of my simple straps, which I typically use for securing lumber down in the back of my truck and wove them in and out as I stacked my shelves. These straps are great for preventing sliding, but of course, can also double as a tying down method. After weaving through, I gave each side a few wraps, then tuck the end back into itself. This way I can set the stack in my passenger seat without them sliding around on each other.
Now hanging the shelves, it's pretty simple. I started off by first measuring out the height that I wanted each shelf to be then used a level to draw a straight line across. Now the mounting bracket can be holed up into place and the first screw sunk to secure it. After drilling the first screw set, I used a level again to make sure that it was level before driving in the second screw. Once the first bracket was attached, I used a level to make sure the second bracket went in the same. On this hardware, the top two holes are for mounting the bracket. The third is for a set screw to be inserted so that a metal rod can be threaded on. This is what will go into the holes I drilled in the back of the shelves.
Rockler actually has two versions of this mounting hardware. One that's rated at 50 pounds, which is still a lot or heavy-duty ones that can support up to 125 pounds. I left the links in the description if you want to check them out. For my shelves, I went with a staggered look. I don't know what I'll end up storing here in the end, but no matter what it is, the shelves definitely took this bare space and turned it into something more interesting and beautiful, and all from a slab I grabbed from the woodshed no less.
I was actually about to call this project done when I decided to add in a little hidden feature, just for you loyal viewers. I very quickly grabbed a few more scraps and threw together a simple and tiny drawer to mount on the bottom side of the lowermost shelf. In this drawer, I will always keep a few stickers. If you ever come to the woodshed in person, please feel free to help yourself to the secret stash. That really does wrap up this project. I've linked to everything I've used and mentioned down in the description and a big thank you to Rockler for sponsoring this video and supporting what I do.