Build / DIY

DIY // Easy Live Edge Shelves + Finishing Technique

07.20.15 By //
The Design Confidential DIY // Easy Live Edge Shelves + Finishing Technique

I'm excited to share this project with you guys today – and not because it is the first of it's kind – by any means… because it most definitely isn't. Nay, it's because this method for making any sort of project like this is so easy it's stupid. Stupid good – and for you folks who like to play with the big boy tools, this is definitely worth sharing. So I dedicate this fine finishing technique and project to my gal pal Kristin and hereby deem her as the creator of this method and an all around sweetheart too! So yahoo…

If you follow blogs or hang on Pinterest (duh, that would pretty much be all of us), you may have seen a couple of these amaze projects roll through your feed (this one and this one). Her latest version of this organic finishing touch was featured on Domino and is a big focal point in such a fabulous space. Teenage boy, shmeenage boy… let me in there!

So good, right? When it came time to create some surface space in the photography studio (you can see the design plan for that space here) and a few shelves in my home office, I knew this was the perfect thing and would balance out the stark industrial feel of the other elements in both spaces. No space is complete without a healthy dose of texture and a bit of something organic feeling, to breath a bit of life into it.

The Design Confidential DIY // Easy Live Edge Shelves + Finishing Technique

You can see this technique in play in the image above and it provides an added level of interest where function is necessary and I love when that happens! So let's get this show on the road so you can see exactly how easy this is, along with a few extra tips and tricks for doing this successfully!


  • Wood – 1×12 or any dimensional lumber you prefer, I used Poplar (my fave) – Something with a gorgeous grain pattern will work best and if you can use a real board rather than joined boards or plywood you will have greater success in making this look realistic.
  • Jig Saw
  • Sander
  • Sanding Supplies
  • Finishing Supplies – I recommend a Paste Wax to leave things natural and protect
  • Brackets – if making a shelf – The smaller sizes in 6″x8″ or 5″x6″ are more ideal if you plan to get creative with your curve.
The Design Confidential DIY // Easy Live Edge Shelves + Finishing Technique

There are essentially only 3 components involved in creating a live edge finish – so simple! You will basically be creating the shape, cutting the curve, and sanding it smooth and you are done. Rather than reiterating Kristin's instructions, I am going to give you some helpful tips below for each of these steps.


You will start by sketching out the shape of your live edge. If your wood is amazing, you can choose a grain line and go with it. However, if you want to give it more interest than it happens to have, you can create your own grain line like I did above, and I promise as long as you keep your cool, it won't look odd. Just be sure to give your line a realistic curve throughout and keep things irregular. Too much same, same is not so good, good and it will end up looking contrived.

The Design Confidential DIY // Easy Live Edge Shelves + Finishing Technique

Finishing off the edges is just as important as the straightaway portion of your live edge. If you continue with your curves right up until the edge, and then stop, it will look less realistic. Once you know the length your board should be for your project, find a clever and interesting way to finish it off on the ends. I would suggest an asymmetrical shape that curves in more on one side than the other so it mimics real wood that is drifted and has been out in the ocean or the elements for some time just as the real deal might be found in nature.

The Design Confidential DIY // Easy Live Edge Shelves + Finishing Technique

Don't be afraid to get creative. Maybe an extreme indentation or curve won't work for your particular project… so consider a cutaway section and channel your inner whale watcher (doesn't this portion above look like a whale's mouth!).

The Design Confidential DIY // Easy Live Edge Shelves + Finishing Technique


Once you have your perfect shape with asymmetry and perhaps a cutaway or two, you are going to whip out your jig saw and start cutting.

** It will save you so much time if you have a jig saw with an adjustable cutting angle blade like this one (my fave and really inexpensive) then you can alternate your cutting angle throughout so that some of your curves cut and angle inward and some of your curves angle out like you see above.

The Design Confidential DIY // Easy Live Edge Shelves + Finishing Technique


After your edge is live and your project looks amazing, you need to sand those edges smooth to finish it off and complete the look. Since you used a jig saw and altered your cutting angle throughout, you can get away with using a finish sander or any sander that you already have to smooth out your curves and create a rounded look for your edges. This should be a relatively quick process, unlike much of the sanding we have to do when we work with wood and is easiest to do if you start with a medium grit paper of around 100-150 and then you can follow that up with something closer to 220 and above to refine things.

Just as you did with your jig saw, be sure to angle your sander as you go along to get that weathered realistic look you are going for! For tricky spaces and tight corners it helps to fold a small piece of your sandpaper in half with the grit facing outward, then run it through your tight space by hand. It will sand both sides of a tight angle for you and truly smooth and finish every portion of your live edge.

That is it, so super simple and totally gorgeous. Leave it natural or give it a nice paste wax protective finish and call this baby done!

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