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!


66 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 πŸ™‚

      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!

    • Josh, I am not the expert like this blogger I wish I would have met before my event, but my event was in late January. I cut mine a week or 2 before event and they were perfect. About a month later they started splitting which I don’t mind but the bark is falling off now about 6 weeks after event. I am going to now try to save the ones where the bark has not completely fallen as I want to reuse for other family events, showers etc. Do not store on top of one another, until they are completely dry.

  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 πŸ™‚

    • 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.

      • So I was not aware of the no stacking, until now and I have stacked. I wondered what the green/black was and it sounds like mold. I saw your borax, water solution, solution. Do I just spray scrub and let dry to save them?

        • Hi there – I sprayed the solution, scrubbed it in and then let it dry. Seemed to work fine and didn’t effect the finish that I used. Good luck!

  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 πŸ™‚

      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 πŸ™‚ 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! πŸ™‚

    • 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.

  9. I received a large slab of cedar that a customer wants to use as a cake stand in a few months……. I noticed that there are a few ants (I have seen 5 or 6 so far) on the wood – have killed them as I see them……. Of course I thought ants didn’t like cedar……. but anyway…… should I treat the wood first and then seal or seal and that will kill any bug infestation?

    • each slab is about 1″-2″. The bases are probably 3″-4″ depending on the overall size (cake stand was a lot bigger than the general center pieces). I wouldn’t go much thinner than that to keep them somewhat strong.

  10. Can you make these for me????? I could pay you!!!
    I’m having a rustic wedding and started with some birch table numbers and they are getting moldy, will this acetone work on the cut wood slab part of the birch?
    I would love these stands!!!!

  11. Can I soak wood slab in the borax+water instead scrubbing?
    And on Etsy, I saw many wood slab which sellers don’t make hole in center of wood slab.
    Is there any other method or link to the other article?
    I can’t find the information.
    I saw that it will be good if I use kiln. However it is not a option for me.

  12. So I initially tried doing this with some gingko rounds but I unfortunately stacked them and they got way too moldy, then I read your blog post (thanks btw, this is very helpful). I’ve tried scrubbing off the mold but got frustrated and figured I’d try starting over. I’m an arborist so I have access to a lot of wood, often. So I now have some doug fir logs that I’m going to work with. The problem I’m having is the rough finish the chainsaw leaves on the wood, did you sand them down with the belt sander til they were smooth on both sides?? Or does the shellac help cover up those blemishes? I’ve never worked with shellac so I’m clueless. I have some Wood Finish stainer and sealer, would that work? Thanks for the help!

  13. What brand of shellac did you use or could you recommend a good brand? Did you apply with a bristle brush or foam brush? Also did you sand the faces at all ? I’m trying to avoid huge saw marks in the faces of the slabs.

    • Sorry for the delay getting back. I used the same shellac as in this post (Genersl Finishes) https://theverybasic.wordpress.com/ I did use a belt sander briefly to knock down any big saw marks, but I think the marks can add to the rusticness (depending on the look you’re going for!). Also, I have used a foam brush every time I put on this brand shellac and it seems to come out great. Only trick is to put it on with a few strokes and then leave it be. The more you play with it, the more streaks you’ll see. It will level itself out if you put it I with just a few strokes. Good luck!

  14. Awesome post! I am making these for a baby shower and hoping to save them to use at my wedding as well! I plan to use trees that were cut down from my backyard a few weeks ago and will follow your methods as well; just wondering if you had any issues with bugs in the wood? I had read somewhere to bake them in the oven to kill any creepy crawlies…but now wondering if that would promote cracking?

    • Glad you enjoyed it! I personally didn’t have any issues with bugs as the tree was freshly cut down so the wood wasn’t rotting. I would definitely be concerned about cracking if you put them in the oven. I would suggest cutting the slices and inspecting them individually. At that point you should be able to see if you have any infestations or stray bugs. If none, I’d go ahead and finish them off. Good luck!

  15. Just curious, the logs you picked up.. Had they already been down or did you cut down the tree? Was just wondering if the age of the tree (how long it’s been down) matters or if I need to cut down a tree..

    • I’m not sure how long the logs had been down as they had been cut by the parks maintenance crew. So unfortunately no way to know! If the wood looks sturdy you should be fine. If the bark is starting to fall off, it has probably been down for too long.

  16. When you say Borax – what do you mean by that? I have some birch logs I am making into candle holders but the ends have become moldy.

  17. Excellent job! I sell wood slices just like these on Etsy and I can tell you did a great job. The finished product looks wonderful! It’s definitely very time consuming but the end result makes it all worth it. Especially when they’re used for once in a lifetime events like a wedding! Here’s a link to some of my work, it’s very similar to what you have done here. Great work, very impressive!!


  18. Hello,

    My event is in June but we are thinking about cutting the tree(s) right now as it is winter so the sap wont be so bad and the wood will be dryer. At night it drops to about 20 degrees, do you think the slabs will be okay sitting in the garage or do we need to put them in the house?


    • Great question. I wish I had a good answer but honestly I’m not sure. My gut says keeping the temperature and humidity more constant inside would be better. Just be careful of attracting bugs either way. I’d drill the pith (center) out soon too to hopefully minimize the cracking. Google might have some answers but I’m guessing there are as many opinions as people out there!

    • how has your job been coming along? what have you tried…. i am trying myself and have wasted a lot of wood from splitting. I am just starting to drill the pith out now. Just looking for advice from others.

      • Hi Mike,
        I just checked the date on my original post and it looks like it’s been about 5 years since I made them.

        The large cake stand cracked when it was dropped during a move. Not sure how it would look today if it hadn’t been dropped.

        I still have a few stands around our house that are doing perfectly fine (amazingly).

        A few things that seemed to help…cut the wood at as much of an angle as you are comfortable with aesthetically. Not perpendicular to the tree. The bark will have an angle to it, but I think that actually looks cool.

        Also, drill the pith asap. The longer you wait, the more things dry. As soon as you “slice” the wood, the drying process takes off.

        Sorry I missed your first question before. I drilled the pith out with the size bit that matched the pitch. So if you have a massive pith, you may need to use a spade bit or hole saw. Mine were probably 1/2″ or 9/16″. The pith will be that dark spot right in the middle.

        Hope your next batch goes better!

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