debarking live edge slabs

A common question we get from those buying live edge slabs is whether or not they should remove the bark from the slab. In short, debarking the slab is something we always recommend. In this blog, we’ll go into the reasons why.

Reasons Why We Always Debark Our Slabs

There are a number of reasons we debark our live edge wood before building them into a piece of finished furniture. Those reasons are:

  • It’s highly likely to fall off with time, regardless of the measures taken to preserve it.
  • Slabs will slowly lose their bark, which can lead to weekly cleaning underneath your table or finished piece.
  • It allows you to sand the live edge making it less sharp and giving it a smooth feel to the touch.

Plan on Keeping the Bark? Here’s What You Need To Know.

One thing to consider if you want to keep the bark on your piece is that the time of year a tree was cut down can matter. Dried logs that are cut in the summertime lose their bark more easily as the sap production is down in those months.

Another thing to consider is that some woods just down make sense to keep the bark. For example, hickory, also known as “shagbark hickory” will lose it’s bark regardless of what you do. Sycamore is another that can naturally shed it’s bark. Other species, even walnut, can get small bugs between the bark and the sapwood, which can make it lose it’s bark more easily.

The last thing you need to consider is finish. Pour over epoxy resin is your best bet to hold the bark in place if you plan on keeping it. Polyurethane would be another option, but won’t be quite as strong. Oils and waxes seal the wood, but they aren’t going to serve as an adhesive like epoxy would to keep the bark in place.

How To Remove The Bark on Live Edge Slabs

Removing the bark on a live edge slab is a pretty simple process. We typically use a small chisel and hammer and angle the chisel with the way the live edge tapers. After all of the big pieces are removed, you can sand the rest until your edge has a smooth surface.

For cookies, burls, and other types of live edge wood, it may be harder to remove the bark. For these, you can often use a grinder and then a piece of wire brush on your drill to clean the edges.

Questions About Your Live Edge Piece?

Lancaster Live Edge specializes in live edge dining tables, epoxy resin tables, and more. If you’re building a piece of live edge furniture and have questions regarding bark removal or anything else, simply drop them in the comment box below and we’re happy to help where we can!

56 Comments

  1. Eric Norris on October 22, 2022 at 9:51 pm

    I have a kiln dried slab of white oak I plan to make into a bar table top. Sounds like you recommend removing the bark, correct? Also looking for good product to use for the finish. I don’t want to change the color, hoping to keep it as natural color as possible. What would you recommend for to give it that nice bar top finish? Appreciate your advice.

    • 91dom on December 12, 2022 at 6:32 pm

      Yes we do recommend removing the bark. Any wax or oil makes a great natural finish. Odie’s oil is a great DIY finish with a natural look.

  2. Chris on October 8, 2022 at 6:24 pm

    Hello, and thanks for the information. I have a tangential piece of birch with the bark – making a cheese tray. You recommend using pour over epoxy to try to keep the bark in place. How do you apply it?

    • 91dom on October 10, 2022 at 4:54 pm

      Hi Chris,

      The pour-over usually has instructions on the bottle. Every brand is a little different, but typically it’s just a two part mixture you stir together and pour over the wood.

  3. Corey on October 3, 2022 at 2:03 pm

    Hi thanks for the information. I have a 2 in thick cookie of cherry from a tree I recently cut down. I want to make a small table out of it. Does it need to dry out all the way before I finish it? If so should I take it to a kiln for this or just leave it set in my house? Also the bark is still attached and is difficult to remove will it come off easier when it dries?

    • 91dom on October 10, 2022 at 4:51 pm

      Hi Corey,

      Taking to a kiln would be the best bet. I have heard some people have success with storing the wood in dry areas of their home though, but can’t say I’ve tried that.

      The bar should remove pretty easily after it’s dried using a chisel and hammer. Or if it’s cookie with a lot of grooves, we’ve even used a grinder to remove it.

  4. Rob on September 28, 2022 at 5:44 am

    Good Morning Lancaster Live Edge (fellow PA resident) I have a 3inch thick slab of red oak. It was in a dry barn for several years, pretty sure it is as dry as its going to get. I am making a mantel for my parents and my Mom won’t listen to me about removing the bark, she wants it kept on and at the same time she listened to an old friend that told her that pure tung oil is the best finish to keep it natural looking. You see my problem here. Is there a way to lock on the bark and still use tung oil? I told her if she insisted on keeping the bark, epoxy was the better choice but she also doesn’t want a glossy finish. Any suggestions? Thanks in advance.

    • 91dom on September 28, 2022 at 6:39 pm

      Hey Rob! The bark isn’t guaranteed to fall off – just more likely especially as time goes on. If it seems stable (meaning you can’t peal it off with your hand) you may be okay for a good bit of time without removing. It’s impossible to tell how wood will age – it could fall off 2 years from now or 10.

      The good note with an oil finish is that it’s pretty simple to sand it back down and refinish the piece if needed. And with mantles, they are less prone to warping since you’re not using the heart of the wood.

      • Rob on September 29, 2022 at 6:17 am

        Thanks for the reply. right now the bark feels very stable and since it dried for several years and hasn’t loosened, maybe I will get lucky and it will stay on a good while longer. Appreciate the help!

  5. Kevin E on September 14, 2022 at 8:49 pm

    I have about an 8” quarter round of ash that I am making a mantel out of. The bark was all removed revealing very nice Emerald Ash Borer trails. I’d like to leave it as natural as I can, but want to preserve it as best I can. Looking for recommendations on doing so, without much of a gloss finish. Thanks in advance!

    • Lancaster Live Edge on September 19, 2022 at 6:18 pm

      Check out Odie’s Oil! It’s a great DIY finish that’s matte!

  6. Steve Secor on August 12, 2022 at 12:42 pm

    I have a 4’ rectangular black walnut piece that I am making into a wall guitar hanger. I stained the front and bark sides with Old Masters stain which resulted in white parts in the bark crevices. Should I have removed the bark which looked pretty cool before the stain? I intended to fish off the piece with Old Masters Armour semi gloss. Am I on the right track? Thanks

    • Lancaster Live Edge on September 6, 2022 at 5:53 pm

      Hi Steve,

      The bark, especially for walnut can fall off over time. It varies though from piece to piece. Sometimes it can last for years, other times it just falls off before a table is even built while the slabs are in our shop.

      If you’re already knee deep in the project, I’d keep the bark at this point. You can always remove then refinish the wood at a later date if you run into issues. If you just got started, personally we’d play it safe and remove the bark.

  7. Charlie Logue on August 6, 2022 at 8:56 am

    Nolan,
    I’m wanting to have 1 live edge with bark for the top slab for a headboard. I’ using wite oak.
    So Epoxy is the best approach?

    • Lancaster Live Edge on September 6, 2022 at 6:01 pm

      Make sure the bark is attached well when you start the project! Then yes – we’d recommend epoxy for that application. Bark can stay on with other finishes as well – but epoxy would be the best bet. It does give a glossy look though.

  8. Rich Perkin on August 5, 2022 at 9:46 am

    Hi,
    I’m building some fitted shelves in an alcove from Spalted Beech 2-2.5″ thick. Since the black lines in the grain are actually bacteria, how do I stabilize the slabs so they don’t simply split into very large shards over time and disintegrate?
    Is waxing sufficient, do I need to somehow kill the bacteria first before treating — if so how?
    I’m not an epoxy fan, what are my other options?
    The Spalted Beech wood looks stunning, just wondering if I’ve taken on a monster
    thanks much

    • Lancaster Live Edge on September 6, 2022 at 6:06 pm

      Spalted wood just typically requires sanding and a finish. It shouldn’t impact the stability of the wood. We wrote a blog on spalted wood here that has more info!

  9. joe hickey on July 24, 2022 at 6:21 pm

    I want to seal my wood and bring out the grain. My final step is to port an epoxy over it. What is best for the sealer and grain enhancer?

    • Lancaster Live Edge on September 6, 2022 at 6:08 pm

      Epoxy can work as a finish and will bring out the grain of the wood if that’s what you’re planning on using!

  10. Erin on June 21, 2022 at 12:46 am

    Hi Nolan, I am planning to put epoxy resin over pieces of driftwood bark some of which are three or four inches thick, that I have air dried. Do I need to do anything in particular to the pieces of wood before using epoxy on them? They are straight up pieces of bark, not solid wood with bark attached. Thank you!

    • Lancaster Live Edge on June 21, 2022 at 8:18 pm

      I would definitely recommend cleaning them well with an air compressor to get all dirt out. Otherwise it can show in the finished product.

      • MikeB on August 2, 2022 at 10:38 pm

        I have some Madrone cookies for some end tables. The bark on Madrone doesn’t seem to fit the “insert chisel and peel back” process. It’s flaky. I’ve moved the easy bark, but it could go on and on for a long time and I’m considering prepping the bark sections by brushing with epoxy before doing the voids/cracks and the top pour(s).
        Are you familiar with this type of wood, and does my plan sound good to you?

        • Lancaster Live Edge on September 6, 2022 at 6:06 pm

          Thanks for reaching out Mike! Unfortunately, this isn’t a wood we’ve worked with to provide guidance on.

  11. Randal Hadeed on June 19, 2022 at 12:17 pm

    Hi,
    In preparing a live edge slab for an epoxy pour, i addition to removing the bark do you also remove the sap wood?

    Thanks

    RM

    • Lancaster Live Edge on June 21, 2022 at 8:16 pm

      Nope we keep the sapwood!

  12. Lulu on June 9, 2022 at 3:33 pm

    Hi! Thanks for this. I’m currently alcohol drying some 4″ balsam poplar cookies, about 3″ thick, cut this spring. Hoping they won’t crack and they will be the bases for pin cushions. The bark seems pretty firmly attached. Once dry, think I could just spray them with poly and it should stay there? Thoughts? Thank you!

    • Lancaster Live Edge on June 21, 2022 at 8:11 pm

      Hi there,

      I’m not for certain on this. We rarely use spray-on finishes and it’s very tough to say what will happen as each piece of wood is a bit different.

      • Keith Walsh on August 31, 2022 at 5:43 am

        Hello Nolan, some advice please.
        I have a slab of oak, I’ve been drying it for two years now and I’m about to start preparing it for an epoxy pour, my first ever project. I’m making a clock, it’s 5ft in length and about 2ft in width. I love the look with the bark on, However I have read mixed opinions on bark on and bark off.
        What is your view on oak barn on please.
        Please could you recommend an epoxy.
        Thank you
        Keith

        • Lancaster Live Edge on September 6, 2022 at 5:40 pm

          Hi Keith,

          Oak bark does often fall off after the kiln drying process. So I wouldn’t recommend keeping it just to be safe, though you never truly know with wood. Nobody can predict whether it’ll stay or fall off – that’s why we just remove it to be safe.

          We typically use woodwright epoxy. They have a location in Lancaster Country right in our backyard – so we source that from them. They also have a location in Ohio I believe.

  13. Neil B on May 27, 2022 at 2:08 pm

    I have 3 black walnut cookies 19.5”. I want to make a king table using all three. What is the best way to connect them? Also, not sure to keep or remove bark. Any suggestion

    • Lancaster Live Edge on June 21, 2022 at 8:08 pm

      Hey Neil!

      For this I’d typically go the epoxy resin route where you create a mold and cover the dead space with epoxy.

  14. Leanne Larkin on May 2, 2022 at 7:41 pm

    I have as elm wart that I’m going to make a table out of. How do I put on oils or waxes on the bark area. I have treated the other area with Odie’s oil. But I can’t get the bark area. Do I use a paint bursh?
    Leanne Larkin

    • Lancaster Live Edge on June 21, 2022 at 8:03 pm

      Hi Leanne,

      If the bark is staying on I’d recommend a pour over epoxy finish. Or polyurethane would be my next pick and that can be applied with a paint brush.

  15. Phil on April 23, 2022 at 4:38 pm

    Hi, great read by the way. I have a douglas fir slab around 50mm thick. I plan to make a reverse river style piece. I’d love to keep the bark on and was wondering….. if I used a layer of resin all over the piece once the actual river is completed, rather than using an oil to finish. For example 2mm of resin to completely cover the whole piece. Also bearing in mind my piece will not be used to hold any weight, as I plan to stand it up. Would that be enough to be able to keep the bark on???

    • Lancaster Live Edge on June 21, 2022 at 7:59 pm

      Hi Phil,

      Unfortanately we don’t do much work with soft woods like Douglass Fir to say for sure. Our standard practice is to remove the bark from everything, but covered in epoxy I do think it would stay intact.

  16. DEBORAH A BIGGS IVEY on March 3, 2022 at 9:27 am

    Awesome read thanks so much.

    • Lancaster Live Edge on March 22, 2022 at 7:28 pm

      Glad it was helpful!

  17. Patti Norris on February 6, 2022 at 2:49 pm

    We have a Canadian white pine slab with the bark intact. I am making it into a coffee table. Would you recommend epoxy or urethane as a finish? Will this wood hold the bark or should it be removed.

    Thx

  18. Rick Hill on January 23, 2022 at 10:24 am

    Is it ok to leave the bark on a maple slab while it is air drying and then decide if it stays or not? The bark looks like it might come off easier when dried.

    • Lancaster Live Edge on March 22, 2022 at 7:24 pm

      Yes it is! We don’t debark the wood until it’s dried and ready to finish.

  19. Mark Schuster on January 9, 2022 at 6:47 am

    Nolan,
    I’m building a live edge walnut entry table, live edge on front and back (15×48). I’ve removed most of the bark and the edge is smooth. The edge though is mottled from the color of the bark. Is it best to sand down to the lighter color of the growth wood behind the bark?

    • Lancaster Live Edge on March 22, 2022 at 7:21 pm

      Hey Mark,

      We typically just sand all bark off until it’s smooth to the touch and past the inner layers of bark!

      • Deborah on May 1, 2022 at 5:02 pm

        I have a large slab of Hickory that I want to make a bench out of.. it still has the bark , which I would love to keep if possible. It has been drying for a couple of months so it pretty dry.. how would I (or could i) go about preserving and keeping the bark from coming off?

        • Lancaster Live Edge on June 21, 2022 at 8:01 pm

          Hey Deborah,

          An epoxy finish over the bark is likely your best bet here. Hickory usually loses its bark relatively easy so we would typically recommend removing it.

  20. Vicki MacLeod on December 31, 2021 at 1:43 pm

    Help! I just bought a live edge table with bark from a booth in a non woodworking shop. At home I discovered in one spot there is green moss (?) growing. What should I do? I don’t know the drying process or tyoe of wood.

    • Lancaster Live Edge on January 2, 2022 at 5:03 pm

      Not sure I have a recommendation for that one. Any moss or anything like that would typically be removed by the woodworker or fall off during the drying process. I’d recommend calling the company or sanding it down and refinishing it.

  21. Jordan on December 25, 2021 at 8:43 am

    If I am making a “resin river” table with the live edges on the inside and the gap filled with epoxy, will leaving the bark on compromise the integrity of the table top? Or should the epoxy resin be strong enough to hold it all together? I had planned on leaving the bark, but am having second thoughts now.

    • Lancaster Live Edge on December 28, 2021 at 4:17 pm

      Great question. As the epoxy heats – it could pull the bark from the live edge if it’s already loose. Over time, the bark tends to fall off for most hardwoods we use, so it may compromise the integrity as the table ages. I can’t confirm this as we pull the bark off of all of our tables, but just my thoughts.

      I would also add that if you don’t pull the bark off, and you use a clear or transparent epoxy, you’ll likely get little flecks of dirt and bark in the river. Hopefully this helps and good luck on your project!

  22. Butch Towle on September 19, 2021 at 9:40 am

    On a small piece of live edge birds eye maple being made into a little bench 2ft long should I brush on a lacquer finish or use a spray can lacquer to finish it?

    Thanks
    Butch Towle
    butch.towle@gmail.com

    • Lancaster Live Edge on December 28, 2021 at 4:30 pm

      Hi Butch,

      We typically use oil finishes that rub on, though a spray-on finish will do the trick as well if that’s what you prefer!

  23. Roy Palmer on September 7, 2021 at 8:51 pm

    Hey Nolan I built a live edge cherry table using 3 pieces of wood after about 6 months it started getting white lines when it was joined together can it be sanded and expoyed again? I’m guessing it wasn’t dry enough

    • Lancaster Live Edge on December 28, 2021 at 4:32 pm

      Yep correct – it likely wasn’t dry enough. In this scenario, we would typically recommend cutting the table back up at the glue joints, flattening the pieces again, then gluing them back up.

      You could even leave it in the room for a few days without a finish to see if it dries out anymore.

  24. Stef on April 11, 2021 at 5:08 pm

    Thank you! Exactly the info I was looking for. Taking the bark off seemed so tedious… now I am convinced it is necessary.

    • Nolan Barger on April 12, 2021 at 7:41 am

      A chisel for the big pieces and some 40 grit sandpaper should do the trick!

      • Aidan on August 24, 2022 at 1:27 pm

        Hi, I have a Cypress tree slice 7cm thick. How long should I dry it for before using resin (if that’s best) and will the sap leak out or will it stay inside the bark, please? Also, is it okay to use a plane to even it or take it to a wood merchant? Thank you.

        • Lancaster Live Edge on September 6, 2022 at 5:45 pm

          Wood drying should be left to an expert otherwise the larger pieces can and will warp. We recommend finding a local lumber mill or lumber store to help. We don’t have much experience with cypress, unfortunately.

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