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Thread: Making an end grain cutting board

  1. #1

    Making an end grain cutting board

    I've been doing a lot of cooking lately and want to make a couple of end grain cutting boards. Seems like a simple project but I have some questions for those who've already been down that road.

    1. What's the best wood to make a cutting board out of? Maple?

    2. After you glue up all the pieces, how do you flatten the cutting board? Since it's end grain, running it through the planer might not work well. Do you sand or use a hand plane? Or what?

    Last edited by Mike Henderson; 07-18-2011 at 11:55 PM.
    Go into the world and do well. But more importantly, go into the world and do good.

  2. #2
    I made one out of Cherry, Walnut and Maple. If you have your saw set up correct a ROS is all you would need.
    "Remember back in the day, when things were made by hand, and people took pride in their work?"
    - Rick Dale

  3. #3
    I've made a bunch of them. Largely maple with strips of cherry, walnut or sometimes wenge thrown in for color. Whatver is around. A good way to use up those long skinny scraps that I can never throw out.
    Some ideas:

    As Dave said, ROS may be enough or a belt sander if it is REALLY uneven. Shouldn't be too bad though. The planer could be dicey.

    You'll get a lot of heated opinion on finishing. Mineral oil [laxative] from the drug store is best. Just no cooking oil that will go rancid.

    Edit to add: look at the 'how to' in #7 on the link above.
    Last edited by Paul Symchych; 07-19-2011 at 12:39 AM.

  4. #4
    The one thing I will add. I got the clamp pressure too tight. It caused the wood strips to bow and made the pattern off a bit. This was on the glue up after the strips were cut from the one in the photo.

    "Remember back in the day, when things were made by hand, and people took pride in their work?"
    - Rick Dale

  5. #5
    Join Date
    Jun 2008
    so cal
    I made three last christmas.From hard maple i ran them thru my planer with a Byrd head lite passes.

  6. #6
    Join Date
    Jun 2007
    Calvert County, MD
    I flatten with a Lie Nielsen jack plane. The real key is to keep things as flat as absolutely possible during the glue-up. I've gotten in the habit of only gluing up a max of 4 pieces at once so that I can focus on getting the alignment perfect. I'm just not good at wrangling a dozen pieces of wood (slipping and sliding from the glue), and a few clamps at the same time.

  7. #7
    Join Date
    Nov 2009
    Sinking Spring, PA
    Can't go wrong with maple & walnut to start! With accurate stock to start with, you should be fine. My first attempt had to be cleaned up with a belt sander. Had I been more careful in preparing stock, it would have been much easier.

    There is also a free download for a program that helps you design them. Search/google "cb designer"

  8. #8
    Join Date
    Feb 2003
    Stafford, VA
    I've done one in cherry and walnut. Most people do use maple. A belt sander and ROS should be all you really need to flatten it.
    Mark's Wood Shop
    * * * * * * * *
    Mark Patoka
    Stafford, VA
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  9. #9
    Join Date
    Oct 2009
    Hayesville N.C.
    My first one required a belt sander to get flat. I learn quickly to pay more attention in the glueing up of the board.

  10. #10
    Join Date
    Sep 2009
    Atlanta, GA
    Only made a dozen or so - 8" x 12" through 24" x 36". All HM. Lessons learned:

    1] I read this somewhere - maybe thru a link here to an article somewhere - from a guy that makes beautiful end-grain coffee tables etc. - Be sure to alternate grain direction on adjacent blocks, or - over time - the blocks will delaminate. I read this in the exact week that a couple 12 - 18 month old boards started to delam....right where the block's grain were aligned impropery [improperly per the article]. Rip, replace, problems ever since that.
    2] Judicious use of belt sander to flatten. First time, I used surface planer >>> Holy Crud!!! Scraps of that misadventure still sitting in that pile right over there where I'm pointing - used for whatever blocks, offsets, any-old-thing where HM seems appropriate. Sheeeesh.
    3] Also - used Stanley #80 and LN large scraper plane to just put a nice "finished" look on them after belt sander [and, IIRC, a bit of touch-up with ROS]. Didn't really scrape to flatten - just to take the slightest shavings off the surface.

    I am not a cutting board expert - don't claim to be - just relating my lessons learned. more thing.....If I was trying to make one out of HM that is "elegant" I would spend a lot of time selecting rough lumber for color, and then selecting the cut blocks for color once again. However, over a few years, as they get "seasoned" the golden/amber color tends to even out the color differences.
    Once more unto the breach, dear friends, once more;
    Or close the wall up with our English dead!

  11. #11
    Join Date
    Feb 2004
    Marietta GA

    Black Walnut Chopping Board

    I recently made a end grain chopping board out of some left over black walnut cut offs. It was a challenge to get flat. Walnut end grain ( most end grains for that matter ) are really tough. I used a LN Low Angle Jack, a Stanley 80, several card scrapers, a LN adjustable mouth block plane, and a Japanese standing iron plane. After several hours of not quite getting what I wanted, ie. a flat surface with no tear outs, I made a simple jig similar to the ones shown in other threads here on SMC with a Milwaukee router and a surfacing bit. I took the top 1/16th off the whole worse side in a matter of minutes. Then I went back to a freshly sharpened LN LA Jack and had her done with another 1/2 hour worth of elbow grease.

    The original blocks were cut with a band saw. Even with being very careful with the cuts and truing the ends of the stock piece between each cut, there was enough irregularity to the work surface that mandated truing with planes. The router jig was noisy, dusty, and not fun. I guess I'm getting too spoiled with my normal happy hand plane use. Still if I made several of these, the non-permanent jig I put together to true the rough surface would get changed to a permanent jig with happy results more quickly arrived at.

    Finish was two heavy coats of walnut oil. Once dried, then a quick rinse with hot soapy water. Add walnut oil once a month for 3 months and after that as need arises.
    Attached Images Attached Images

  12. #12
    Join Date
    Feb 2009
    San Francisco, CA
    I used belt sander + RO to level the boards I made last Christmas. I wouldn't run the boards through the planer - while some folks have success taking very light passes, it's a mishap waiting to happen.

    A drum sander is the most brilliant tool in the world if you're making a lot of these...

  13. #13
    Join Date
    Mar 2003
    Southport, NC
    Here is some info that may be helpful.

    There is a little engineering that needs to be considered when building an end grain butcher block or cutting board. First, choose wood where the growth rings (viewed from the end) run as close to 90 degrees or parallel to one edge. Remember, the expansion/contraction is about double along the annular rings verses perpendicular to the rings. You've got to keep the grain running in the same direction as you glue up your strips. In other words, don't glue a flatsawn edge to a quartersawn edge.

    Next, the way butcher blocks are made is to glue up strips of wood like you were making a laminated type cutting board. These laminated panels are then run through a planer to flatten them and bring them to equal thickness. Then the panel is crosscut into strips of blocks equal to the thickness that you want the butcher block to be. These block strips are then glued together again keeping the grain running in the same directions.

    Not paying attention to the grain orientation will lead to the block cracking and/or joints being pulled apart.

    A type II adhesive will work just fine however, you need to be sure you do everything right to get good adhesion. Your glue faces should be flat and freshly cut. It they were cut more than a few days earlier, freshen them up with about three swipes with 320 sandpaper and block to keep the faces flat.

    Generally, threaded rod is not used as maple has quite a bit of movement when it's moisture content changes. Threaded rod would restrict this movement and either deform the block or pull the nut/washers into the wood when it expanded leaving the rod performing no function when the wood later shrinks. Proper gluing will keep the block together.

    Finally, it always much cheaper, and a lot less aggrevating to purchase a butcher block than to make one. The firms that specialize in end grain butcher blocks have speciaiized equipment to apply the necessary clamping force, plane the initial boards exactly correctly, plane the first glue up and then clamps to make the final block.

    An excellent treatment for wooden food preparation surfaces like cutting boards and butcher blocks is a mixture of mineral oil and either paraffin or beeswax. This is what is used on many commercial wood surfaces. It will last longer and be more protective than just mineral oil. Mineral oil can be found in most supermarkets in the pharmacy section or in a true pharmacy. Paraffin is found in the canning section of the store or in a hardware store.

    Heat the oil in a double boiler and shave in some wax. The exact proportions are not critical--a 5-6 parts of oil to one part of wax will work fine. Stir the mixture until all the wax is liquefied. Apply the mixture heavily and let it set 10-12 hours or overnight. Next day do it again and continue until the wood will no longer absorb the finish. Let it set for 10-12 hours and then lightly scrape off any excess. Then buff it with a rag.

    Reapply whenever the wood begins to look dry.

    Never put a wood board in the dishwasher and don't soak it in dishwater for long periods.

    I do flattening with a hand belt sander. I have also used a low angle very sharp plane. If using a plane, be sure to cut from the outside in toward the middle. Planing fully across will generally result is chip out at the edges.

  14. #14
    My thanks to everyone who responded. Your advice is consistent on how to do it, which is good. I'm not going to make the boards immediately but will in the next few months.

    I appreciate you sharing your knowledge and experience.

    Go into the world and do well. But more importantly, go into the world and do good.

  15. #15
    Join Date
    Dec 2010
    Walnut is beautiful, but is not a great choice for an end grain cutting board because it is an open pore wood. Closed pore woods are better choices, especially if you are going to cut meat on it. Maple is one of the closed pore woods, and the choice of many for cutting boards of any type. I have a drum sander, and is a thing of beauty for flattening end grain cutting boards after glue-up.

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