Wood Tree Slab Wedding Centerpieces

This weekend, a great, down-to-earth couple, Jessica and David, were married.  As part of their rustic wedding, Jessica asked me to make 30 wood “tree slab” centerpiece stands and one “tree slab” cake stand.  It sounded like a fun challenge, so I said yes.

The project started with a trip to a local park where (with permission of course) I loaded up a truck full of wood.

Next, using a chainsaw, I cut the tops (out of the larger diameter logs) and the bases (out of the smaller diameter logs).  Initially, I stacked the slabs one on top of the other with very little room for air circulation while I continued to work on the bases.  However, after two days, I found that green wood + poor air circulation = mold.  Back to the drawing board.  A solution of one cup Borax to one gallon of water in a spray bottle and a scrub brush cleaned up/killed the mold nicely.  I then spread the slabs out on the floor with plenty of room on either side, and a fan at one end to keep the air circulating.  No mold!  I still had to seal the slabs quickly to prevent checking.  Speaking of checking (cracking):  If wood dries too quickly, it tends to crack.  The best prevention I found was to drill out the center of the wood slice, known as the pith.  There’s a reason why this prevents checking, but I’m not an expert in this so Google it!

Next, I made a simple jig to drill the holes for the dowels that would attach the tops to the bases.  I also painted the bases to slow down the drying rate so they would not crack (because I did not remove the pith on the thick bases).

Using a simple jig to line up the dowel holes

Glue up was pretty simple.  A little glue on the dowels and in the holes and pop them into place.

Lined up, ready for a little wood filler (to fill the hole where the pith was removed) and 3 coats of amber shellac!

And the final product the day of the wedding….


SUPPLEMENT: PREVENTING CRACKING:  I have had a lot of questions about sealing the wood and preventing cracking.  This process worked for me, but there are about 1000 theories (exaggerated) on what works best.  Here is the process in the order I did it that seems to have prevented cracking almost 1 year later.  I combined a few different theories to come up with my method.

1.  Cut the wood at a slight angle (notice especially on the large cake stand)

2.  Drill the pith (center) out of the slabs

3.  Fill the pith hole with wood filler (For looks only…This shouldn’t make a difference with cracking)

4.  Let the wood air dry with plenty of circulation for a day or two

5.  Coat all sides of the wood with 2 or 3 coats of shellac (I used amber shellac)

This worked for me.  I have HEARD of mold developing UNDER the finish, but I made 30 with no mold.  Was I just lucky?  Or, did air drying them for a day or two eliminate enough of the moisture?  Or, did the borax solution kill any chance of mold coming back?  I’m not sure what the answer is.  But, it worked.  I’d be interested to see how everyone else’s slabs have turned out and any methods you used, so feel free to share on this site!  Thanks!

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33 thoughts on “Wood Tree Slab Wedding Centerpieces

  1. This is great information! I was looking to do a very similar thing for my wedding next June. I was hoping you might be able to answer a couple questions for me. How long after you made the slabs was the wedding? I thought about cutting the wood this fall, but the wedding isn’t until next spring so I was worried about splitting. Also, did you have any trouble with the bark coming off?

    • Hi Josh,

      To answer your questions:
      1. I cut the wood and started making the stands about 1-2 months before the wedding. This was my first attempt so I had the same fear of the wood splitting. I actually kept 2 for our house after my friend’s wedding and it is almost exactly 1 year later – They still haven’t split. I think the key is getting them sealed quickly to slow the drying down (seal within a day or two of cutting). If you cut the wood and just let it sit for a few months (or even weeks), they will probably split. If you fully make them (sealed and everything) way ahead of time you should be fine. Just to be safe until the wedding, I would keep them out of the sun. I’m guessing that would split them really quick no matter what you try.

      2. The bark: I had a few pieces of bark fall off, but not as many as I thought I would. Luckily, the pieces that did fall off fell off as I was cutting them, before I sealed them. Some of the pieces I used wood glue to glue back on (if they were big) and others I just left off. It added some rustic-ness to them. Again, almost exactly 1 year later the two I kept still are in perfect shape. I’m kind of surprised actually :)

      3. Something I did learn through one broken stand during the bride’s move is that slabbing the wood like this is an extremely weak way to cut the wood. The wood is a lot more delicate and will snap if dropped. If you think of how you split firewood (top to bottom basically) and how easy that splits, imagine how easy this wood splits vertically being that it is slabbed really thin. All that to say, be gentle with the slabs!

      Let me know if you have any more questions and good luck!

  2. What did you do to seal the wood? I have tree slices that are still moist in the middle, should I wait until this moisture is gone before I seal?

    Please let me know :)

    • The wood I used was still pretty green/wet too. After cutting it, the main thing to remember is to treat it like you would wet laundry. Don’t stack it (like I did) because it will mold. Make sure there is plenty of air circulation. I used amber shellac to “seal” it. I don’t think it is a 100% sealer, but it works. Almost a year later and no cracking. I did the whole thing (cutting the logs to “sealing” it within about 3 or 4 days. So, I don’t think it’s necessary to dry them for a year or two like you would with lumber. I think drilling the center out eliminates the need for the long drying process.

  3. Thank you so much for your blog!! If I wanted to make more natural looking tree slabs (without the stump bases at the bottom like you did), would I just use a clear shellac then rub it down with 0000 steel wool? I don’t want them to look shiny. Also, do you recommend drilling the centers too to avoid cracking then adding putty or something to fill it later? have never done anything with wood before…. Do you apply the shellac on both top, bottom and sides of the slabs? Any tips you can post will be appreciated!

    • zrybrq,

      I wouldn’t use steel wool because it can leave little flecks of steel that will rust and cause discoloration if you are using a water based finish. Here is a discussion on steel wool vs sandpaper http://www.doityourself.com/forum/carpentry-cabinetry-interior-woodworking/155930-steel-wool-vs-sanding-paper.html#b

      I would experiment with a different type of finish that is not as glossy like a flat or satin instead of trying to rough it up with steel wool or even sandpaper.

      As far as drilling the centers: It worked for me and almost a year later they still haven’t cracked. Like I said in the post, I can’t explain exactly how it keeps it from cracking, but it seems to work :)

      I put the shellac on all sides for two reasons: 1. I want it to look the same all around. 2. I wanted to try to seal it up as much as possible to slow down the drying. That’s my theory at least!

  4. How did you get your wood so even? I have 20 slices in my garage and they are uneven. I am using them under my centerpieces at wedding. And they will no stand right!

    • Ashlee,

      What you didn’t see in my pictures were the 10-15 slabs that I messed up and would tip over anything I tried to sit on them :) So, I guess the best answer would be try your best, but leave some room for error by making some extra. Also, if you are making the two piece stands like I did (top and base) you can try mixing and matching tops and stands. Sometimes I cut a little angle that matched perfectly with another angle on the base.

  5. What kind of wood did you use? Is there a particular wood that is better than another? I am thinking of using Cedar for mine but they tend to bleed sap worse than say a hardwood like oak. Any thoughts?

  6. Hi. .I am interestdd in getting some of the wood for centerpieces…81/2 size. I need around 18..what would that cost.
    The wedding is June 6, 2014
    Thanks..wait to hear from you.

    • Thanks so much for the interest…unfortunately I’m not in the business of making/selling these (although sometimes I wish had more time to because I have had quite a few requests). I would suggest looking on http://www.etsy.com. There are quite a few people on there that sell this type of thing. Good luck!

  7. Hi there I’m a florist based in Stockport and have had many requests for these for weddings. Would you be able to supply me with a cost please?
    Many thanks

    • Thanks so much for the interest…unfortunately I’m not in the business of making/selling these (although sometimes I wish had more time to because I have had quite a few requests). I would suggest looking on http://www.etsy.com. There are quite a few people on there that sell this type of thing. Good luck!

  8. This may be a silly question- but where does one go to get these stumps to cut the slabs? I’m in the Philadelphia area and want to do the tree slab as my centerpiece but I have no idea where to get the wood to cut it down. Do I contact a tree cutting service type place?

    Thanks in advance!

    • I actually found this wood at a local park – I asked the park maintenance department and they were happy to get rid of it. You could also look on craigslist (especially in the “free” section) or you could call a tree cutting service. I would make sure the tree cutting company knows exactly what you’re looking for and why, so you don’t end up with a dump truck load of unusable wood in your front yard! :)

    • I would be concerned about the smell. Even if you can’t see the mold, wood doesn’t normally smell bad. There may be something starting to grow and you definitely don’t want to cover that up if it is mold.

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