it was bound to happen
Inevitably, most woodworkers will end up making cutting boards. It’s a fun project; you get to use some skills, and you get to use up some of the wood scrap in the shop that has been collecting dust for months, if not years.
In this case, since I have been working with red oak, maple and poplar mostly I didn’t have many hardwood scraps to use (red oak is not necessarily a good wood for food contact – more on that later) so I had previously took advantage of a couple internet wood sales and got a few samples (see previous post: wood samples).
You can’t just use any wood for cutting boards, it must be hard, dense and tight grained – and just because it is a hardwood (like red oak) doesn’t mean it is tight grained. Open grained wood will allow bacteria to grow in its pours – and we don’t want that to happen, do we? You must also consider the woods toxicity – some woods have been know to cause allergic reactions in people who come into contact with it or its dust. Read more about wood toxicity here.
All this considered, and after much research, I had a nice selection of wood to start with.
letting one rip, or maybe a few
With my healthy variety of wood samples I began crosscutting and ripping the boards to rough lengths. I had planned on the final cutting boards being 10″ x 16″ x 1″ (or something close after final planning and sizing). I like cutting boards to be a little thicker than most people make them. And if I’m going to give them away as gifts, I’d want them to be as nice as if I were making them for myself – which I just might do.
danger, danger !
I guess if you were just weaving twigs together you could consider woodworking a safe hobby (or business) – but then again, you might get a splinter. By no means is working with any type of sharp tool, either hand or mechanical/electric, safe. Want proof? Google woodworking accident. Ripping thin stock for the cutting boards was no exception. Ripping thin stock on a table saw can cause on situation called kickback. This is when a piece of wood (usually the offcut piece) is “grabbed” by the saw blade and flung back towards the operator. (The other situation is when the wood pulls you hand into the blade – no doubt that will turn out badly.) There are several situations that can cause this – and several things that you can do to try to prevent it. Guaranteed one thing – once it happens to you, you are much more aware of it’s potential than before.
The price of wood, especially exotic woods (domestic or otherwise), has really skyrocketed over the years. Considering that (and the talent and time poured into a craftsman’s projects) in my opinion, in most cases certainly justifies the price of handmade pieces. But sometimes I find myself in awe of the prices I see some craftsman wanting for their products. I was at a festival some time back and noted that a craftsman had a nice selection of cutting boards for sale. He wanted $50 to $75 for cutting boards that were roughly 10″ x 12″ x 1/2″ – but hey, if he can get that, good for him. [Note to Self: I need to be in the cutting board business!]
I decided that the cutting boards were going to be a family project. (I believe the original idea for me to make them was my wife’s anyway – good one babe.) So with all the strips cut, I enlisted the help of my wife and daughters to arrange them into patterns. (that is probably a good thing, I’m sure I would have just thrown them together – my wife took her time with each arrangements, meticulously arranging the boards – way more time than I would have spent).
So after crosscutting the boards I had a nice little stack of exotic hardwoods approx. 4″ x 6″ x 3/4″ sitting there, destined to collect dust in a corner somewhere, when my wife came up with yet another brilliant idea. These would make very nice smaller cheese boards – after all, who doesn’t like cheese – even my dog likes cheese (but he will eat almost anything, so not such a good example). I’d clean them up, round over the corners, maybe slice them up a little and re-clamp them so as to add some variety, and wahla! cheese boards… Pair them up with a nice little cheese knife – and yet another nice little gift. She is so creative…
With all the strips cut and the design arrangements made, I began the glue up. This is when I discovered really how important good clamps (and lots of them) can be. I started off using Titebond II, which worked well but ended up using Titebond III, which is more waterproof and give you a little more working time – and since each cutting board consist of 13 to 16 strips, there was a lot of boards to glue – and lots of glue to be spread.
no cutting board before its time
After all the glue-up I had to move over to a few other projects. These were to be Christmas gifts and since I did the initial ripping and glue-up in June, there wasn’t an immediate need for them.
After the glue up I took some time off to finish a few little things but I also had to address an issue that would cause issues in the next step of the cutting board build. In a previous post I mentioned the snipe issue I had when running boards through my lunchbox planner. To address this I built a planer bed insert from premade shelving purchased from the big blue box store. This stuff is very flat but also very nasty to use as it is course particle board. The new bed is 4 feet long and replaces the shorter bed that comes on the planer. Turns out this didn’t help with the snipe at all – but it did give a nice long surface for feeding in the stock. So I’m still stuck with the snipe issue. After running the boards through I ended up doing a lot (a very lot) of sanding to work out the snipe.
final dimensions & juice groove
After I was satisfied with the surface I cut the boards to their final dimensions. Each board is 16 inches long but vary slightly in width (about 10″) – due to how the wood stacked up is – but only vary slightly.
I built a jig to route the juice groove in the boards (see below). All the cutting boards got a 3/8″ wide x 3/16″ deep juice groove about 3/4″ from the edge. The jig consisted of a strip of wood that made up the distance between the edge of the router and the bit, minus the distance the juice groove is to be from the edge of the board. It also had a strip of wood (scrap) that the router ran against to index the groove. Each board was captured within the jig that was screwed to a piece of plywood. This worked out very well – a lot better than my original idea of routing this groove on the router table.
rounding the corner
There is a woodworking tool company (which will remain unnamed, unless they want to send me free stuff) which makes really good precision tools. The have recently come out with a router guide to aid in rounding corners. Unfortunately their tools are very expensive – and this particular tool was not yet in production when I was ready for it. I do own a couple of their tools and most work very well (there is one issue with a certain coping sled that was a disappointment 😦 and my email to their customer service dept. went unanswered – maybe it got lost in the mail….). So I opted for a cheaper version from another source. The good thing about the this alternative was that each tools had the setup of four different radius on each jig. The bad thing was that the alignment pins didn’t really align very well. As you can tell from the photo below I had to add some blue painters tape to bring the jig out to the edge.
sand, sand, sand, ugh…
With all the boards cut to final size, the juice groove cut, and the corners rounded, all that was left was the best part of woodworking – sanding, more sanding, and then….yep, more sanding.
Most stuff I build I will sign in some form or fashion. Usually this is done with a permanent marker in an inconspicuous place. But this project called for something a little different – and something a little more visual. So my wife and daughters ordered me an early birthday gift – a custom branding iron – sweet, thanks sweetheart and girls.
After much research I decided to use the General Finishes Salad Bowl Finish for the cutting board finish (the alternative would have been mineral oil, which is a natural laxative, and the thought of that just didn’t sit well with me for some reason). I was impressed with the color and grain transformation when I raised the grain with mineral spirits but was just blown away by the transformation when the Salad Bowl Finish was applied (probably because the Salad Bowl Finish is an oil-based finish and most of what I’ve used previously has been water-based). I sanded with 400 grit sandpaper between each of the four coats and used a brown paper bag for the final sanding/buffing (a tip I picked up from somewhere and works great). [You can also use the brown paper that rockler.com uses to ship with – it works just a good.]
if I had to
I took a look around the webernet to see how much I’d sell these cutting boards for – if I were inclined to. From what I gathered on Etsy, a 3/4″ cutting board goes for about 25¢/in². So these boards, being 10″ x 16″ would run for about $40 each. Using the pricing from that guys work mentioned above would make my cutting boards worth over $60 (of course there are always variables – complexity, customization, wood species, etc.). I’ll likely build more cutting boards in the future – I hope I remember all my tricks then – but between now and then, I have a few other projects.
Follow along with my woodworking adventures by [HERE].