One of the more popular things I’ve made are cutting boards. Specifically, checkered end grain cutting boards. Cutting boards with the end grain as the cutting surface are supposed to be superior to face grain cutting boards because the end grain will hide knife cuts better and not chip out. They’re also said to be nicer on your knives than plastic or heaven forbid glass boards. They are said to be more sanitary than face grain or plastic boards because the end grain will wick moisture away from bacteria and kill it. Still, I don’t cut any meats on mine. I made four of the boards for Christmas several years ago and guess they’re still going strong since I haven’t heard any complaints.
You want to use closed grain woods for sanitary reasons. So, no Oak, Ash, etc. Woods like Maple, Walnut, and Cherry will work great though. You can Google to find out what kind of grain each wood has if you’re thinking of using other woods. For my cutting boards I chose Cherry and Walnut. Here’s a picture of the wood I started out with.
The first step with rough lumber is to clean it up so that you can proceed with cutting it down to size. You can do this by hand with hand planes or with a pair of power tools known as a jointer and planer. Today I have a jointer and a planner but back then I didn’t so I had to use hand planes. Hand planes aren’t as fast as the power tools but they get the job done. It’s a good skill to have because you can always end up with a board that won’t fit in your machine. My power Jointer can only handle a board 6-1/8″ wide, so if I had a piece bigger than that I’d still go back to my hand planes. In some cases hand planes are better than power tools, but I’ll save that for a future post.
In the picture below you can see the mound of Walnut shavings I created with my Montgomery Ward copy of a Stanley #7 (larger plane on the left). (Stanley still made it, but it has a different name on it.) This was with my old workbench that the previous owners of the house left me. It worked, but rocked back an forth so much I thought it was going to fall apart. Yeah, sometimes my workbench is clean.
At this point I’m going to skip explaining how I assembled the cutting boards because I can send you to the same place I learned how to make them. There is a guy out there named Marc Spagnuolo who is known as the Wood Whisperer. (Yes, he and his brother thought the name would be funny.) One of his early instructional videos was on cutting boards and I don’t think I could explain it anywhere near as well as he does. So, follow this link over to watch his video: Cutting Board I highly recommend checking out his other videos. He is very talented at woodworking and making entertaining instructional videos.
I made several shapes and sizes as you’ll see, but the one below is a simple square. Here it is “dry” without any finish. For a finish, you want something that is non-toxic, doesn’t go rancid, and soaks into the wood. There are several options to choose (as Marc discusses in his video) but I chose Mineral Oil. You can buy bottles of Butcher Block Oil but they’re just Mineral Oil that is more expensive. The best place to buy Mineral Oil is your local pharmacy. It is cheap there and in large quantities.
Pour some of the oil onto the surface and wipe it around with a cloth. You’ll notice that it soaks into the surface very easily. Do this to both sides until it stops soaking in well. The oil results in the cutting board looking much better as well as protecting it.
Here’s another sized cutting board.
A couple months ago I used the left over scrap from making the four cutting boards and made this one for use at our house. It’s not to bad for being scrap, eh? It measures 12″x17″x1-3/8″. The others pictures were taken right after I made the boards but this one has been in use for a while which is why it looks different than the other ones.
The boards are cleaned using soap, water, and scrubbing. Don’t put them in the dishwasher though. I’ve heard that can kill a board. You should wipe the board down with Mineral Oil every so often to keep it from drying out. If you’d like a cutting board like this but don’t have the means or desire to make one all hope is not lost. You can order them online made out of multiple materials and in all kinds of shapes and sizes. I’ve heard good reviews about this seller: BoardSmith He appears to do very nice work.
So, go make or get a wooden cutting board and get to chopping. They provide a different feedback than plastic. Use good technique and watch those fingers!