Thinking about conquering your first Live Edge project? Setting a budget and sticking to it is key, but how much is enough? While it may not be as simple as going to the lumber store and grabbing a slab off the shelf with a set price, you can estimate your costs with some basic knowledge.
First things first, pick your species!
Live Edge slabs are available in a variety of species, all of which come with their own characteristics. Categorized into softwoods and hardwoods, some species are specific to certain locations while others are widely available (and more popular).
Focusing in on the Indiana region, Walnut, Oak, Maple, and Elm are the most common choices when it comes to hardwoods. Walnut seems to be a bit more popular among live edge enthusiasts currently with its' dark, brown tones, but it all depends on the project and the desired outcome.
Once you have the species chosen, it's time to estimate your budget.
Live Edge slabs are not sold by square footage, length, or any standard pricing per say, rather, they are sold by board footage. This is a measurement of volume for the lumber, specifically used in the US and CA. Abbreviated by BDFT, FBM, or BF, sawmills use this measurement when calculating what to charge you.
How do you calculate BDFT?
Thickness (inches) X Width (inches) X Length (inches) / 144 = BDFT
On average, slabs are 2" thick by the time they are cut and dried, but thicker slabs are also available (up to 3"). Widths can range anywhere from 8"+, and lengths will vary.
Prices vary among sawmills but on average, Walnut slabs range $10-$20 BDFT and Oak, Maple, and Elm range $6-$20 BDFT. As the width of the slab increases, you will see the price per board foot shift higher because the slabs are more rare.
Let's do an example.
If you have a slab that is 2" thick, has an average width of 20", and is 96" long, the BDFT would be 26.67. At a $10 BDFT price tag, that slab would be $266. Using that same thickness and length but in a width of 36" ($20 BDFT), that slab would cost $960.
Okay, so if your project calls for a 2"x20"x96" slab, you should set a budget of $266, correct? No!
When you walk into a lumber store, it's easy to say, okay, I want a 2"x4"x8' board and know what you will pay, but live edge slabs do not come in any standard size.
As such, you need to account for extra BDFT that you may have to buy in order to get the perfect slab. Sure, you may find a 20" wide slab, but that slab could be 10ft long, which increases the price. This is almost always the case when looking for slabs larger than 34" wide because more than likely this width will be in a 10ft+ length.
Pro Tip: Having extra wood to work with is extremely valuable, so if your end product needs to be 96" long, aim for at least 100" when sourcing your raw slab. You can always cut the extra length off, but you can't add more!
Adding a buffer to your overall budget at the start of your project will save you some headaches in the long run. A 10-20% buffer may be suitable, but find a range that feels comfortable for you. Using our example above, a budget of $266-$319 may be more realistic for the 2"x20"x96" slab.
Knowing the wood species you'd like to target for your project and having a budget range before stepping into the sawmill is a great way to kick-off your project. Just keep in mind that the likelihood of finding a slab to your exact measurements is low, so accounting for the "unknowns" is the best way to approach your new project.
Happy Slab Hunting!
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The information provided is the opinion of AgainstTheGrain Woodworking, LLC and is only intended to provide guidance and give recommendations based off of our experience. AgainstTheGrain Woodworking, LLC is not liable for any outcomes related to the information provided.