Canadian Woodworking

Cutting Boards

Author: Mark Salusbury
Photos: Mark Salusbury
Published: December January 2012

The Gift That Keeps On Giving

Both decorative and functional, a bread board, serving board or cutting board is a wonderful way to show your skills and make someone very happy. Each time it is used it will bring a smile and a warm feeling to the user. Boards can be as simple or as decorative as you wish and sized to suit the intended function or the needs of the lucky user.

When determining the overall size of the board you are going to make, there are no hard rules. As long as the board works well, looks unique, is solidly made and is nice to use and handle, you really can’t go wrong.

When choosing woods, hardwoods both look good and last longest. They are also available in the broadest range of colours to create stunning designs. Maple is a great place to start. Maple strips can be alternated with black walnut or cherry strips and/or veneers to create boards with a domestic flare. For some “exotic” pizzazz, maple can be mixed with exotic hardwoods such as padauk, pau amarello, bubinga, imbuya, sapele, bloodwood, purpleheart and others in either solid stock or veneers.

I start the creative process with a quick line sketch, showing the sizes and types of boards I want to make. Designing before I cut any wood. I might next “model” an assembly using paper strips representing the species and widths of the strips I’d like to use; a great way to decide on the final number and sizes of strips needed to create the full width required. If the wood has been already cut and ripped, modelling a layout can be done accurately using the material milled at hand.

Grain Orientation
 Salusbury takes special care when laying out the individual strips of wood for each board. Each strip must be quarter-cut, with the annual growth rings running perpendicular to the face of the board.

The Big Glue-Up
 With clamps, adhesive and straight and square stock, you’re ready to apply the glue. Keep the wood strips organized so you don’t get confused during glue-up. Craft paper on the work surface is a nice touch.

Lots of Options
 Cutting boards come in all shapes and sizes. Consider what a board’s end use will be before cutting your strips. Holes or a routed edge in a board make it easier to handle and hang.

As we know, wood moves.

To prevent cutting boards from warping, all wood strips should be assembled with their annual rings oriented vertically in a “quarter cut” presentation.

Then, all the wood can move in unison, perpendicular to the cutting boards faces as the cutting board is moistened and dried in use and cleaning. Conveniently, most lumber comes “flat cut”, the annual rings lying parallel to the face of the plank; by ripping such a plank into strips just wider than the cutting board’s final thickness and flipping the strips 90 degrees, the annual rings become vertically oriented.

“Wonky” wood makes for wonky projects. Straight grained, figure-free stock is the best to work from; wood which joints and planes easily and rips into straight strips with minimal tension released in the process.

Cut all rough stock to the same length; I use a stop block for simplicity.

Next, inspect the endgrain of each length to decide how to get the quarter-cut orientation preferred for board-making. Then joint, thickness and rip the chosen stock into straight, square strips. Referring to the design, it’s easiest to make all the parts of one species, size and dimension then move on to make the other parts, one size and species at a time.

With the stock prepared and stacked in an orderly fashion for easy selection, arrange the strips to produce a pleasing pattern. Next, using yellow cabinetmakers glue, bond each strip to its neighbour in sequence and clamp up the assembly to make a board “blank”.

I make my blanks long enough to yield one large or two or three smaller finished boards, adding 2″ of extra length and an extra ¼” of both width and thickness, allowing for jointing, planing, cutting and trimming into individual boards. By keeping the blank about 24″ in length, a variety of boards can be produced from stock that is kept a fine length for safe machining plus a convenient size for handling, glue-up and clamping to achieve a flat glue-up.

Quality clamps that will promote a flat and true glue-up are a huge asset. With straight, squarely milled stock, only four clamps are needed for a 24″ blank; the investment is well worth the resulting quality glue-ups and reduced aggravation. Gluing and clamping should be done on a known flat surface covered by thin MDF, heavy craft paper or flooring underlayment; anything clean that lays flat and protects the work surface from glue squeeze-out.

After clamping overnight, a sharp paint scraper will remove dried glue from both faces of the blank for accurate jointing and planing. Taking light passes, the blank is next jointed and planed to finished thickness, leaving a little for final sanding. Now the one, two or three cutting boards required are cut from the blank. A thin MDF template will provide repeatable shapes which can be clean and simple or decoratively different. Curved shapes can be cut with a bandsaw, coping saw or scroll saw.

With the boards cut, shaped and sanded quite smooth (120 grit) overall, a ¼” round-over router bit with a ball-bearing pilot eases all edges, adding a pleasant detail, and letting the board come comfortably to hand. Alternately, a ball-bearing piloted ⅜” cove cutting bit produces an uplifting appearance and a small finger grip around the underside of your board for when it’s to be lifted in use. A trim router with the cutting board sitting stably on a clean router mat works well, as does using a bit mounted in a table-mounted router. Either way, take several light passes and the proper care and safety measures when working with small pieces.

Try a Turned Board

For those of you with lathes, a round board or “trivet” can be easily made by cutting a circular disc from the blank. With the bottom perfectly flat and sanded smooth, center it on a faceplate with double-sided carpet tape or use a four-jaw or vacuum chuck; all should be suitably sized to offer adequate support and attachment. Taking light, controlled cuts, shape, refine and detail the disc to make a beautiful complement to a matching cutting board or stand-alone accessory to be proud of.

A generous coat of thin varnish or thinned urethane, brushed on, kept wet for several minutes then wiped off and allowed to cure thoroughly before use, is an excellent finish. Alternately, and for maintenance on all woodenware, thin mineral oil (available at your pharmacy) rubbed in with salt and rinsed clean then repeated whenever the wood appears dry is a fine natural coating.

Enjoy this project … those you give your boards to certainly will!

MARK SALUSBURY - [email protected]

Whether it is joinery or turnery, Mark has enjoyed designing and making furniture, decorative and functional items and home remodeling ... anything to do with woodworking, for over 35 years.

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