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Build an Edge-Grain Cutting Board
Tools and Materials
Cutting boards are a great first project for the budding woodworker. Not only are they easy to build, they're a great tool for teaching folks the basics about a variety of different machines. To produce this project, I used a rather large jointer I have access to here at the Fine Woodworking shop but don't worry, there are alternatives—including the use of pre-surfaced lumber purchased from your local home center. For the more daring newbies out there, you might even consider surfacing your lumber with hand tools—gasp!
And if you're in search of even more cutting board projects and patterns, be sure to have a look at our Getting Started in Woodworking series.
How to Make
Mill Your Lumber: The milling process starts with flattening. Begin by passing your boards over the jointer first, making a series of light cuts. You'll want to continue jointing your stock until any cup in the board has been eliminated, and the wood is able to lie perfectly flat—across its width and length—on the jointer bed.
Planing the Wood: With one face flattened, you can take your stock to the planer, again, making a series of cuts, sneaking up to your final thickness. For my cutting board, I chose to surface my stock to 1 in.
*When surfacing wood, feed direction is critical. Planing or jointing wood in the opposite direction of the grain can lead to ugly tearout that's tough to get rid of.
More about milling lumber.
Joint an Edge: Step back to the jointer and surface the concave side until it's perfectly flat. This edge will register against your tablesaw's rip fence in the next step, so it needs to be straight and true. Since both faces are flat and straight, you can flip the board either way to avoid tearout.
Rip Your Strips: This cutting board is nothing more than a series of 1-in.-thick strips of wood. Once you've milled your lumber and achieved one flat edge, head to the tablesaw.
Using a push stick, rip a series of 1-1/2-in. strips.
*Blade guard removed for visual clarity.
More about tablesaw safety.
Arrange Your Design: With the ripping done, it's time to arrange your strips into a pleasing pattern. I combined 12 strips of mahogany, hard maple, and cherry for my board. This is the time to get creative. Try and stay away from a simple alternating pattern and mix it up!
Glue-Up: Regarding glue, choose a waterproof PVA glue like Titebond III. Rest your strips atop your first two (outer) clamps and begin to spread glue—starting on the inside surface of the first (outer) strip—on every other surface. I spread glue on three strips at a time, then press them together and move on to the next set of three. When mating a pair of strips, it's a good idea to wiggle the two pieces back and forth a few times. This helps to spread the glue evenly between the two surfaces.
Time for Some Clamps: Once your entire cutting board has been glued up, begin the clamping process. I begin by tightening the two outer clamps, then filling in the center with as many more clamps as I can fit. Just be sure your wood strips don't begin to pop out of alignment as the pressure builds.
Scrape Away Squeeze-Out: Allow your glue to dry for at least four hours, and unclamp your blank. If you did a thorough job of spreading glue, you've probably got a good amount of squeeze-out. Before you can proceed to the final surfacing of your cutting board, you'll need to remove as much of that extra glue as possible. For this job, you can use a specialty glue scraping tool called a chisel plane, but a card scraper and a good amount of elbow grease will also get the job done.
Surface Your Blank: Once you've removed as much of the glue squeeze-out as possible, surface the entire blank to a uniform thickness.Use the same techniques you'd employ for general milling; begin by jointing one face until it's perfectly flat, then head to the planer and flatten the opposite face.
Trim to Size: Now it's time to turn your attention to trimming the ends square. Don't turn to a miter gauge on the tablesaw for this procedure. For a safe, straight cut, use either a crosscut sled on the tablesaw (as seen here) or a circular saw with a fence clamped to your workpiece.
Rout the Hand Holds: Using a cove router bit and two stop blocks clamped to the fence of my router table, I cut a hand hold (see detail photos at top of post) on each end of the cutting board. To cut a 4-1/2-in. hand hold, find the center of your board's ends and measure out 2-1/4-in. in either direction. Remember, You don't need a router table to make this cut. You could also use a handheld router with an accessory fence.
Address any Tear-Out: Take a close look at your cutting board. If you see any spots where your jointer or planer caused tearout, address them now. Using a simple card scraper, work the tearout and the surrounding area (you don't want to produce a gully) until it disappears.
Ease Your Edges: Using a block plane and a bit of 220-grit sandpaper, ease all the edges and corners of your cutting board. There's nothing worse than grabbing a sharp edge! Be careful when using the block plane on the end grain corners. Simply passing the plane from one end of the board to the other could cause a sliver to blow out at the end of your cut. Try passing the plane from the outside, to the center on one end. Now make the same cut from the opposite end.This will ensure a perfect, clean edge.
Sand for a Super-Smooth Finish: Using a sanding block, sand the cutting board using 220-grit sandpaper. You'll want to raise the grain with water after the initial sanding, and then sand once again using 220-grit and 320-grit sandpaper. If you omit the wet sanding, your board's grain will raise the very first time you use it in the kitchen. This technique will ensure a much smoother finish for the life of the board.
Apply Finish: When it comes to finishing, two great choices are walnut oil and mineral oil. Each of these natural, food-safe finishes has its own positive and negative attributes. Mineral oil dries clear but takes a very long time to cure. Walnut oil dries pretty quickly but tends to impart a slightly yellow color to the wood. Either way, be sure to apply several coats and let the cutting board dry thoroughly before you begin to use it. And don't be shy when it comes to adding additional coats throughout the life of the board.