Once you have your finished Designing your End Grain Cutting Board and have acquired your lumber its time to bring your awesome design to life!
Prepare the Lumber– It is very important to make sure that your boards are straight and square. Depending on your design there will be 100+ surfaces glued together. If the surfaces are not square you can end up with gaps or a distorted final product. You can either purchase milled lumber or use rough sawn lumber and mill it yourself.
I use rough sawn lumber because it is less expensive and there is a much greater selection of sizes and wood types. I do not have a jointer however, so I’m very careful in selecting lumber that is as straight and square as possible. I use my planer to ensure that the boards have parallel surfaces and my table saw to square up the edges.
Make sure all of your boards are the same thickness, this will be the width of the rows in your finished cutting board. Then cut the boards to the correct width, this will be the in the length of the segments in your finished cutting board. The combined width of the boards will be width of your finished cutting board. Next cut the boards to length using the formula below. Typical blade thickness is 1/8″. The extra half inch is to clean up the edges after gluing.
Length= # of Sections * (Finished Cutting Board Thickness + Blade Thickness)+0.5
Glue Up #1– Arrange the boards according to your design on a covered (craft paper, wax paper, or silicone mat) flat surface or on the rails of your clamps. Keeping one of the end boards in place rotate all the other boards 90° so that the edge you will be gluing is facing up. Apply a liberal amount of glue to the top face of all the boards that were rotated ensuring that glue covers the entire surface. Now rotate each board 90° back to the original layout. Adjust the boards as needed to ensure that the ends and top surfaces are flush. Partially tighten your clamps then flip the board over and apply clamps to the other side.
It is important to make sure that clamping force is applied evenly to both side along the length of the boards. Uneven clamping force can result in bowing. You should see glue dripping out between the boards (this is called squeeze out). If you do not, then you either did not use enough glue or have not applied enough clamping force. Allow the glue to firm up for 30-45 minutes and then scrap the visible glue off of the board. Let the glue fully dry for 24 hours.
Prep for Glue Up# 2– Once the glue has dried remove the clamps and clean up the top and bottom surface with a planer or drum sander. If you don’t have a planer or drum sander you can use a random orbital sander, but be very careful to keep the surfaces flat. Using a miter gauge or table saw sled clean up one of the ends of your glue up to ensure that it is perpendicular to the sides. Set your table saw fence to the finished cutting board thickness. Starting with the edge that was just cut square, cut the glue up down into sections.
Glue Up #2– This is one of the most rewarding parts of the process because you can see the cutting board coming to life. With the end grain (cut edge) facing up, lay out the cut sections to form your design. For many designs this involves rotating every other section to alternate the section patterns. You may want to move sections around to get the desired appearance depending on the grain and coloration of the wood. Once you are happy with the layout it’s time for the final glue up. Repeat the steps from glue up #1.
Smooth It Out and Square It Up– Once the glue has dried remove the clamps and clean up the top and bottom
surface with a drum sander. If you don’t have a drum sander you can use a random orbital sander, but again be very careful to keep the surfaces flat. Using a miter gauge or table saw sled clean up both edges of your cutting board to ensure they are flat and perpendicular to the other sides.
It is not recommended to use a planer to mill the end grain of wood. The wood can kickback or break apart causing damage to your planer and ruining your cutting board, not to mention any injuries it may cause. At a minimum you will likely get chip out on the back edge of your cutting board. Chip out can be prevented by putting a radius on the edge of the board or feeding a sacrificial piece of wood behind the cutting board to support the back edge. However, there is still a risk of kickback or your planer sending wooden projectiles around your work space so I do not recommend taking the chance.
Breaking the Edge– Now that your cutting board is flat and square it’s time to put on the finishing touches. One of the downsides of end grain is that the edges are more susceptible to chipping than long grain edges. To prevent chipping you’ll want to break the edges with a chamfer or radius. I typically use a 1/8” radius roundover bit with my router. You could also use larger radius bits, a chamfer bit, or just sand the edge.
Handles– Handles are optional, but if your design includes handles that are cut into the board now is the time to add them. It is also worth noting that depending on your handle design it might make sense to form the handles before breaking the edge. If you are using hardware for the handles then wait until after you have applied the protective finish to install them. I typically use a 1” cove bit with my router to create half-round handles in the ends of the board. I set up the fence on my router table with stops to center the handle and ensure that it is even on both sides of the board. I have used a similar setup to make quarter round handles on the bottom edge of the board.
Final Sanding– Once all of you features have been added give your board a final touch up with the random orbital sander, using 300 grit or higher pads. Make sure that any scratches are removed. Then hand sand with 1500 grit sand paper.
Protective Finish– One of the most important steps in making a cutting board is applying a protective finish. Without a protective finish (and proper Cutting Board Care) the cutting board can crack and split as the wood expands and contracts from moisture content changes. By applying a protective finish you reduce the amount of moisture that is absorbed and lost by the cutting board.
There are a number of different ways to finish wooden kitchen products. The simplest is to apply a food grade mineral oil. The downside of this however is that it requires regular reapplication to protect the board. A similar method that has better longevity is to melt wax with mineral oil and apply it to the board. The wax helps to seal the board and the board doesn’t require mineral oil application as often. My preferred method is to seal the board with a 50/50 mix of mineral spirits and salad bowl finish (food safe varnish). The diluted salad bowl finish penetrates into the cutting board to provide a lasting protection and requires significantly less frequent application of mineral oil (I learned this method from the Wood Wisperer).
To apply the 50/50 finish, mix 1 part salad bowl finish with 1 part mineral oil. Using a clean cotton rag (I typically use cut up old t-shirts) liberally apply the mixture to all surfaces of the board and allow it to soak into the wood. Rub additional finish on areas that soak the mixture up quickly. Once the board is thoroughly soaked, wipe off any remaining finish with a clean rag. The finish may seep out of the wood, if so, wipe it off again after about an hour. The point is to penetrate the wood but not to build up a finish on the surface. A surface finish would crack and flake off over time as the cutting board was used. Allow the board to dry for at least 24 hours and then hand sand with 1500 grit or higher sand paper. Repeat the process two more times without sanding after the final application. Now more waiting… after 72 hours the finish is food safe and your cutting board is finally ready for its first use. You’ve created a beautiful show piece for your kitchen, but don’t be afraid to use it! With proper Cutting Board Care it will last for many enjoyable years of food preparation!
Tool and Material List:
- Planer (Recommended)
- Table saw
- Miter gauge or table saw sled
- Dust mask- breathing sawdust can be hazardous to your health
- Non-toxic wood glue
- Silicone Glue Brush (optional)
- Clamps (parallel bar clamp of pipe clamp)
- Drum sander (Optional)
- Random orbital sander
- 120 grit sanding pads
- 300 grit sanding pads
- 1500 grit sand paper
- Router (optional depending on your design)
- 1” cove bite (optional for handle)
- 1/8” roundover bit (optional for finishing edges)
- Salad bowl finish
- Mineral spirits
- Cotton rag
- Nitrile gloves