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Making Cutting Boards

In a recent Woodcraft class we had 3 students making cutting boards, Sue Ellen Miller, Liz Matheny and 15 year old Maddy Byers. Special thanks to Liz for the photos and taking great notes, and to Sue Ellen, a retired school teacher, for proof reading this article. Sue Ellen has been bitten by the woodworking bug and is now making more of these cutting boards with her friends. Our teacher was Karen Bennett, who is also a Woodcraft customer service rep.

We begin the class with learning what types of wood are best for this project.

Wood Preference:

Use hardwoods. For our class we chose lyptus for the red, walnut for the accents and maple for the lighter colors.

Determine the length and width of your finished product. The width may be contingent upon the size of the planer you’ll be using. Our boards will be 13 inches wide as we are using a 13” planer.

There are many safety tips to mention with each and every power tool used. Please refer to the manual for complete safety guidelines for your specific power tool. We will mention a few “Use and Safety Tips” that apply directly to our project. Always wear appropriate safety gear and adhere to all shop safety rules. 

Cut the pieces of lumber to size using a compound miter saw (a.k.a. Chop Saw). Ours were 14” long. Set up the chop saw with a stop at 14” from the blade using a board and a clamp.

Use and Safety Tips: When using a compound miter saw please refer to the manual for safety guidelines. For our project, we reviewed the following…unlock the arm, bring the blade up and out towards you to the outer edge of the board. Start the blade, then enter the outer edge of the board with the blade spinning, push and saw through. Allow the blade to completely stop spinning before you lift the blade and put it back into place in the resting position. Listen to the sound of the saw, if the wood begins to pinch, the sound of the saw will change.

First square up the end of the board using the chop saw. To begin cutting the boards, make sure the straightest side is toward the rail when the board is lying flat. If there is a gap between the rail and the board, it will cause the board to pinch when cut. If this happens, release the power switch, wait until the blade stops spinning and remove the blade from the wood. Flip the board over and resume cutting for the other side.

Cut all the boards to length (I.E. 14″) on the chop saw, then move on to the jointer.

Use and Safety Tips: Jointer knives are extremely sharp. Keep your fingers above the guard. Push the board through with the grain; not against the grain if possible. Push forward with one hand on the very back edge of the board, using the other hand to push the board in against the guide. Remove debris from the jointer bed after each pass. The debris could elevate the board, impact the cut and create an edge that is not square; defeating your purpose.

You will need one square, smooth side to place against the table saw fence when cutting the boards into your 1 -1/2” cutting board pieces. Choose the best edge of your board and begin creating the edge using the jointer. The jointer should be set up to take off approximately 1/16” of material on each pass. Take as many passes as you need until the board is square, smooth, and without defects. YOU ONLY NEED ONE EDGE TO BE PERFECTLY SMOOTH. Use the jointer on all the boards, then move on to the next station, the table saw.

Use and Safety Tips: There are many safety tips to mention with the table saw (please refer to the manual); we will mention a few that apply directly to our project. Always use your push stick for this project. Keep your thumb on the lower left corner of the board and always keep your hands behind the blade. We are using shorter 14” boards which allow for greater control than cutting the longer 6-8’ boards with which we started the project. Know where the kill switch lives.

This cutting board will be 1-1/2” thick. Set the fence at 1-1/2” from the blade. Place the smooth edge against the fence and use the push stick to run the boards through the table saw. On the last piece or as the boards get smaller, use only the push stick not your hands. Wait until the blade stops spinning before you remove any material away from the blade. Cut all the boards to the desired size before you move on to the workbench for design and glue up.

Take the cut pieces to the work bench to begin designing. Do not glue anything yet. Stand the cut pieces on their edge so they all stand 1-1/2” high. If you choose to make your design symmetrical, start from the center and work your way towards the edge. Keep in mind the width of the planer is 13”, so anything over that dimension will have to be trimmed off equally from each side. Try not to go past 13-1/2” inches (removing only ¼” for each edge). One you find a design you like, with a pencil make a #1 in the top left corner and draw a diagonal line all the way across the board to the lower right edge, label that edge #2. If you would drop pieces or get out of order transporting to the clamps, you’ll be able to reassemble the pieces in the proper order starting with #1 and following the diagonal until the last piece #2 is in place.

Glue & Clamps:

Use and Safety Tips: Set up the clamps side by side. Use Titebond II or Titebond III Glue, which are both non-toxic and water resistant. Have a wet cloth ready. The glue will not stick to the aluminum clamps: no worries.

Set up the parallel clamps. Place the cut pieces flat on the clamps with the first piece flipped on edge against the stationary end of the clamps. With the first piece of wood in place, put glue on the second piece which is lying flat. Squiggle a line of glue from end to end, flip the wood on its edge and press and wiggle against the first piece of wood already in place. Continue to quickly ‘squiggle and wiggle’ the glue onto each piece and flip into place until all the pieces are glued together. Try to keep the edges neat and aligned and the surface level as you are gluing. When finished, use a scrap board to press flush against the edge to realign the edges if needed. Clamp the pieces together until the glue squeezes out. Check for gaps and tighten the clamps to close the gaps. Fill any gaps you cannot press together with glue. Don’t over tighten the clamps and squeeze out all of the glue. Wipe off the excess glue with a wet cloth. Wipe the top, bottom and edges. It is okay to flip the board over while in the clamps. Setting time is 10-30 minutes, depending on temperature and moisture of wood for Titebond ll. Allow 24 hours for full strength bond before unclamping the board. We now actually have a piece we can call a cutting board.

Day 2 or 24 hours later…begin by unclamping the cutting board. Use a scraper to delicately remove the excess without gouging the wood. Just remover the big chunks of glue that pooled under the clamps. Once that is accomplished, move to the planer.

Use and Safety Tips: The board goes into the planer with the grain; not against the grain. It is helpful to have a person on the opposite side catch the outbound material unless you have an extended outfeed table or rollers.

The planer will make the top and bottom smooth by removing material that is raised. The board goes into the planer with the grain. Use the elevation crank (a.k.a handle or dial.) to adjust the thickness to meet the top of the board. Run the board through once. Lower the thickness by turning the elevation crank to the right. (If you think of the dial as a clock face, change the dial by 10 minute increments). Run the board through the planer again. Continue this process until the cutting board surface is smooth and even. NOTE: If you make several boards at once and one gets smooth before the others, flip the smooth one over and run it through once (to get excess glue off) before you put all of them through a rotation cycle. And for each one, once you have one smooth side, flip it. Repeat for each board that gets smooth. The last pass through the planer, you may want to reduce to a 5 minute increment. Flip the board over and repeat the process for side 2.

After a few trips through the planer our 1-1/2” thick cutting boards are now 1-3/8” thick. The next step is back to the table saw to trim up the edges/end grain.

Use and Safety Tips: There are many safety tips to mention with the table saw (please refer to the manual); we will mention a few that apply directly to our project. Keep your hands behind the blade. Do not engage the wood until the saw blade is fully spinning. Do not remove any material from around the blade or pull the miter gauge back toward you until the saw blade has completely stopped spinning. Know where the kill switch lives.

The intent is not to remove a lot of material; just trim to make it square. This process requires a miter gauge with a fence. The fence is a piece of wood attached to the miter gauge. The fence has a cut through it to show where the saw blade will make contact. Align the front edge of the cutting board with saw teeth, but not touching the blade. Align the back end of the cutting board (nearest you) with the edge just covering the saw cut in the fence. Hold onto the cutting board with your left hand on the outside left edge and push the cutting board forward through the saw blade using the handle on the miter gauge with your right hand. Going too slowly will cause burn marks; nice and steady.

Next make the corners. Do not cut yet. If adding finger grips to the edge of the board, you’ll need to know the arc/angle of the corners to determine the length of the finger grips. You can use commercial template or draw your own. Outline the corner cuts with a pencil on the face of the cutting board. Mark the starting and stopping points of the finger grips with a pencil on the face of the cutting board.

Set up the router table to cut out the finger grips. We used a WoodRiver 1/2″D Core Box Bit.

Use and Safety Tips: As with any drill bit, router bit, etc. do not let the bit bottom out. Push the bit all the way in until it touches, then pull back so the shank does not rest on the chuck. Always test a scrap piece of board for depth.

Place a mark on the router table where the left side of the core box bit will make first contact with the wood. Place a mark on the router table where the right side of the core box bit will end contact with the wood. Test making a finger grip in a scrap piece of wood.

To cut the finger grip, steady the board on the right corner, slightly tilted up so that the two beginning left pencil mark on the cutting board edge down onto the bit. Slide the board to the left with our right hand and holding it against the fence with your left hand. Slide the board until the ending marks on the cutting board and the router table line up. Wait until the bit stops spinning. Remove the cutting board by tilting it to the left with the right corner coming up. Lift it off the bit. Turn the router table off. Repeat the process on the other end.

It’s time to cut corners using the bandsaw. The corners need to be cut before going back to the router table to finish the edges. Using the bandsaw, remove the corners just outside the pencil line. This will leave enough material for sanding out any burn marks and the pencil lines.

Once the corners are cut, use the appropriate sander to smooth out the cuts and remove the excess material. Cutting boards with corners rounded outward (convex) use a belt or disc sander. Cutting boards with corners rounded inward (concave) use a spindle sander.

Set up the router table to finish the edges. We used a WoodRiver 1/2″ Chamfer Bit for cutting 45 degree bevels and a Roundover Bit for rounded edges.

Use and Safety Tips: Keep all material against the bearing. Keep the material to the right side of the bit by rotating the material. This is going to be a process you can feel more so than see since the activity happens on the underside of the material. If you need to stop, pull away from the bit; to resume back up to about an inch from where you stopped and re-engage the spinning bit.

Again, use a test board to view the cut and dial in adjustments as needed. With the bit spinning, start cutting in the center of one end of the cutting board by moving the cutting board into the bit. Keep the material to the right side of the bit by rotating the cutting board counter clockwise against the bearing. Go completely around one side, flip the cutting board over and repeat.

When the edges are complete, use a hand sander to finish the flat sides and fill in any cracks. Start sanding with 180 grit and finish with 220 grit. Put a dab of glue on your finger and smear the glue in any small cracks on the surface of the cutting board. The dust from the sander will stick in the glue and help fill the cracks, therefore the glue must be wet while sanding.

Sand the roundover or chamfer edges by hand.

Finish the cutting board using either General Finishes’ Salad Bowl Finish or Butcher Block Oil. To apply Butcher Block Oil simply flood the surface, allow the oil to penetrate, then wipe off the excess. Re-apply when surface shows wear. The Butcher Block Oil will darken and bring out the contrast in the wood. It has a very rich, but dull finish compared to the Salad Bowl Finish.

General Finishes’ Salad Bowl Finish is non-toxic and food safe when dry. It is also highly resistant to water and food stains.

Liz’s board was finished in Butcher Block Oil, which is also non-toxic and food safe when dry.

Salad Bowl Finish is applied with a clean soft cloth. This finish dries glossier and the wood shows through lighter than using Butcher Block Oil. Salad Bowl Finish will need reapplied less frequently.

Maddy’s board was finished in Salad Bowl Finish and will become a fine Christmas gift.

You can choose your own woods or purchase this Cutting Board Kit below which includes enough exotic and domestic hardwood to complete a custom cutting board approximately 11-3/4″ x 12″ x 1-1/2″.

Each piece of stock is hand selected and surfaced on all 4 sides. This kit is practically ready for glue up. This fantastic assortment will ensure no two cutting boards are the same.

  • Exotic and domestic hardwoods
  • Kiln-dried and surfaced 4 sides
  • Finished cutting board dimensions: 11-3/4″ x 12″ x 1-1/2″
This kit, Woodcraft Item #152835, is currently on sale
Now Through December 24, 2011, for $19.99 on-line or at participating Woodcraft stores!

Check out all the education classes that Woodcraft has to offer at your local Woodcraft store…
Woodcraft…Helping YOU make wood WORK!

 
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Comments (28)

  1. avatar
    thepatriotwoodworker, December 16, 2011
    This is a great project guys. This simple cutting board, actually has some very important executions going on that have a whole lot to do with other many aspects of woodworking. Not only do you end up with a great useful product or gift, but you get to learn some really solid basics on wood selection, joining, and glue up assembly. Great blog guys! And thanks for all the cool picture! Reply
  2. avatar
    Wood Burned Signs, December 16, 2011
    This is a very good idea and project plan. Love how detailed you were with this and the photos were great as well. We're going to attempt this tomorrow! Reply
  3. avatar
    Michael, December 19, 2011
    Very cool. I have made to0 many cutting boards in my woodworking life, but I would make another after looking at those amazing cutting boards... Hey frank, when will the woodcraft/Scott Phillips drawing be??? Thanks for posting. Thanks, Michael Frey Portland, OR FREY WOODWORKING INC. Reply
  4. avatar
    frank, December 20, 2011
    Hey Michael, Merry Christmas to you! One of those cutting boards was made by my 15 year old daughter! On another note, I like your YouTube channel, great shots of your woodworking, and the site really gets your attention. The drawing is actually supposed to be today or tomorrow as far as picking the winning name, but will not be released to the public until we get affidavits signed and returned from the winner for acceptance. Reply
  5. avatar
    Michael, December 20, 2011
    WOW 15 year old. She's got her fathers touch. Thanks for the kind words on my youtube channel. I started a couple days ago. Still going through videos. I get a fell of your job....I wonder if I will win LOL... Thanks, Michael Frey Portland, OR FREY WOODWORKING INC. Reply
  6. avatar
    frank, December 20, 2011
    Good luck, many entries. They are put into a random generated software program, and picked by the computer. Reply
  7. avatar
    Kopanicarstvo Vinko, December 23, 2011
    Great looking final wood works. Thanks for the photo review of the whole process. Will try it on my own. Reply
  8. avatar
    Todd, December 29, 2011
    Beautiful work! I have a question about using Butcher Block Oil. I also made cutting boards for Christmas gifts this year for the first time. After applying the Butcher Block Oil, the boards seemed "shinier" than I feel they should. In the picture above, it looks like what I have so maybe mine are ok. Can you elaborate on what I need to know about finishing with this oil? Thanks! Reply
    • avatar
      frank, May 3, 2012
      The main concern is using an oil that is food safe. Additional coats are up to the individual user for the final effect and complete coverage you feel you are happy with. Keep in mind that when the board is in use, cutting into the wood might require additional coats. Reply
  9. avatar
    crookstonwoodguy, December 29, 2011
    I made cutting boards 30 years ago and never left the long grain exposed. By exposing the end grain, you'll never cut across the grain and ruin your board. I always thought a cutting board was like a mini-butcher block table. Yes, it takes more finish, but will last a lifetime. Reply
  10. avatar
    Milford Brown, December 30, 2011
    Instruction says to put the wood into the planer "with the grain," but there was no instruction to orient the grain the same way in each piece when the stack was being glued. And while the clock hand relationship may hold for the planer used, it would be better to state an actual thickness of cut, which would be applicable to all brands and designs. Without the ends being aligned during glue-up, it is probable that for trimming the ends with the table saw, both front and back edges will not align with the intended kerf, i.e. blade at front and slot at back. What's really needed is cutting off the least amount that trims each piece by a saw kerf or just a bit more. Somebody has not paid attention to Bob Flexner's writings - ALL modern finishes are safe when cured, not just the ones specifically labeled for contact with food. Reply
  11. avatar
    Stephen Woodward, December 30, 2011
    Why are there so many unsafe action in the pictures? Was the guard and feather board removed for the pictures? Great basic project to learn about woodworking. Reply
    • avatar
      frank, May 3, 2012
      Stills were taken for clarification shots, no actual unsafe practices were used in actual board creation. Reply
  12. avatar
    Milton Benton, January 1, 2013
    I did that many years ago only I turned some small feet and cut a U shape in the cutting board the feet were turned from maple and were about 2-1/2" tall and about 1-1/2 dia.at the top tapered to around 1" also had a 11/16" post on top of the feet to insert in the cutting board I bored a 3/4" hole for each leg about 5/8" deep and glued them in. I gave them as Christmas gifts to my mom and sisters. That was 30 years ago and I still have one of the boards mine were made from cherry birch walnut and maple Reply
  13. avatar
    Pete Osco, February 14, 2013
    I made a 10" round end grain cutting board. What is the best way to cut curved finger holds on the bottom edges of the board like some of the commercial ones I see around? Reply
    • avatar
      frank, February 14, 2013
      Set up your router using the round nose bit of your choice. Measure to the centerline of the finger placement, and distance you wish to cut the finger holds across the board. Make/adjust your router fixture to those dimensions/stop & start points and test cut with a piece of scrap wood. Once satisfied with what the scrap wood looks like, replace with actual board and cut it to depth raising the height of the bit a quarter turn each time until you attain your aesthetics of depth you want. Do not hold the board in any one position when cutting the finger holds or the router bit may burn the wood if stopped at any time. Make your passes consistent in travel but not too slow or too fast in movement. Reply
  14. avatar
    mark rogers, March 8, 2013
    Beautiful work!!! Thank you for sharing. I was looking for a product to finish cutting boards, and the products you recommended are perfect. Thank you very much for the help, and congrats on being the top result in my google search. :) Hope mine turns out as nice as yours!!!!!!!!!!!!! Reply
  15. avatar
    desvovaclousa, June 7, 2013
    Remarkably! Thanks! Reply
  16. avatar
    Jim, December 14, 2013
    I'm making a solid walnut cutting board there are some cracks in the wood on the cutting sides that should be sealed before use. What type of glue should I use to fill them? I wad thinking epoxy with sawdust and then finally seasoning it with mineral oil? Reply
    • avatar
      frank, December 16, 2013
      When I made some boards for Christmas last year from Bubinga, Cherry and Maple, some of the Maple had worm holes. I filled it with Timbermate, worked well and you can do a lot with this stuff, plus it is water based. It can be tinted and there are plenty of color choices for matching woods. Reply
  17. avatar
    Josie McHale, March 18, 2014
    Excellent blog tutorial! You definitely mention all the necessary steps and tools you need in order for anyone to make their own cutting board. Will definitely share your post. Reply
  18. avatar
    liz, August 13, 2014
    I was wondering, if these are the best choices of wood for making a cutting board? Or were these types of wood picked based on esthetics. They do look beautiful in the end, but I was wondering if these are the best kind to use while making a board. Thanks! Reply
    • avatar
      frank, August 19, 2014
      Wood choices in this class were based on both, best use of wood for a cutting board, and aesthetics too. After all you don't want a boring cutting board! Hardwoods are typically the best choice for a cutting board. Those with open grain or toxic woods are not a good choice. Oily or some tropical woods are not a good choice either. End grain cutting boards are a great choice in strength, and not showing the cut marks from a knife as well. Reply
  19. avatar
    get better at woodworking, September 12, 2014
    Great expert articles and style of posting. I do think I'll come back on this site later on to see what else you could have available :-) !!! I'm planning to check out if I can track down any thing in relation to woodworking plans free!! my web site ... get better at woodworking Reply
  20. avatar
    Brian, October 27, 2014
    Hi, I was wondering if it was possible to make a cutting board without a planer? Could it just be sanded really good with a palm sander after the glue dries? Reply
    • avatar
      Frank, October 28, 2014
      Yes it could be sanded. It all depends on how much you like to sand and how much material needs sanded to make it even. you could also plane it and/or scrape it. Reply
  21. avatar
    frank, December 29, 2011
    Use your hands to smear on the butcher block oil, so you can tell better where it neeeds to cover and soak in, about six coats, perhaps more, you be the judge. If you use a rag or paper towel, the oil just soaks into those items and wastes the oil. The end grain will soak in more too, so that area will require more coats. With each coat the finish will apppear less "shiny". Additionally if you scratch into the surface as you use it, you can re-apply whenever you need to with this oil. Reply
  22. avatar
    frank, December 30, 2011
    Yes the guard and feather board were removed for photos. You will notice this statement in the blog, "There are many safety tips to mention with each and every power tool used. Please refer to the manual for complete safety guidelines for your specific power tool. We will mention a few “Use and Safety Tips” that apply directly to our project. Always wear appropriate safety gear and adhere to all shop safety rules." These blogs are written, designed and photographed with machinery off for photo representation with the person at a stand still/frozen for the photo. We then add the safety equipment back in when actually using the device. When we have photographed with safety additives in, we received comments of, "cannot see what you are doing" can you remove the guard so we can see a better close up. Guess we cannot always please everyone all the time, but we try! Reply
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