Super-Simple End Grain Cutting Board
This is one of those last minute gift projects that look a lot more difficult than it really is. Including letting the glue dry overnight, you could easily create a small batch of these cutting boards in a 24 hour period. Adding a finish will only take a few minutes each day, for a couple of days.
Start at the End
The end grain of the piece of lumber will give you the biggest clue as to how the cutting board will look. A large contrast between sapwood and heartwood makes for a great look.
Keep it Orderly
By adding some lines to the side of the blank before cross cutting the pieces you will be able to put them back together in the same order they were cut from the board.
Tape the Cauls
So they don't stick to the cutting board during glue-up, apply tape to the faces of the cauls you're going to use.
In order to align the strips, there needs to be pressure in two directions before applying pressure to actually bring the strips closer together. Start by applying pressure side-to-side and top-to-bottom to align the strips, then apply pressure to the two ends of the assembly. An extra set of hands will come in handy at this stage.
I would stick with a reasonably dense hardwood like maple, cherry, birch or walnut. You could use an exotic wood, though in some rare cases people have allergies to these types of wood.
The width of your finished cutting board will be slightly narrower than the rough board you select to build the cutting board from, so keep this in mind.
Including sapwood and heartwood in the project gives the cutting board a lot of extra character. The difference in colour accentuates the repeating pattern.
The board you start with shouldn’t have any end grain checks that run far into the board, as that will create an inherent weakness in the finished project. I would also stay away from knots, as they shouldn’t be included in a cutting board. If you have a knot in your lumber you should be able to cut around it later, but just realize that portion of the wood won’t be included to increase the size of your cutting board. It is a good idea to keep the blank longer, rather than cut the knots out now, as it’s going to be safer to cut the blank into narrow strips.
In terms of the thickness of the piece of rough lumber you start with, the choice is up to you. The thinner the board, the more the pattern repeats, which is generally a nicer look. I used 4/4 lumber, and would only use 6/4 or thicker material for a larger cutting boards.
Get to work
When making one cutting board you will need to ensure the piece of lumber you start with is a bit on the long side, as when you’re cutting the strips from the blank you will need some extra length to safely cut the last few pieces from the blank. I started with a 16″ long board, and was able to create a cutting board about 12″ long, but starting with a longer piece does make the task a bit easier and safer. It’s also easy to start with a longer board, so you can obtain two or three cutting boards from the same blank.
Crosscut the blank to length, joint one face, then dress it to thickness. Stop planing the blank once both sides are completely smooth. Joint one side, then rip the blank to width.
Rip strips to length
I used a mitre gauge on my table saw to cut the blank into short sections, but it’s possible to use a mitre saw. Before cutting the parts, add a couple of lines on the edge of the blank so you will know how it was cut from the blank. The repeating pattern looks best when the strips are glued together in the same order they were cut from the blank.
Clamp a stop to the rip fence, well back of the blade. The distance from the face of the stop to the blade will be the thickness of your finished cutting board. For example, I cut the strips to about 7/8″ long, as that was the final thickness I was aiming for. The length you go with depends on the size of the cutting board you’re making.
With the stop in place, I trim one end of the blank even, then start cutting the strips from the blank. At this stage, the most important thing is safety. I made a cut, turned off the saw, removed the piece when the blade stopped, then turned on the saw and made the next cut. After each piece was cut I positioned it beside the last piece so they were all in order.
When it comes down to the last few strips you want to be extra safe. The shorter the blank is, the more likely it is to twist slightly and become airborne. Getting an extra strip or two isn’t so important it’s worth risking losing a finger. Starting with a blank longer than you think you need is a great way to protect against this.
Now all of the strips can be rotated on their side and you can get a good idea about how the finished cutting board will look.
By far the hardest part of this project is the glue-up. I was lucky enough to have another set of hands nearby to help, as positioning the cauls and strips is finicky.
Pressure has to be applied in three directions so future sanding is minimized and the strips come together nicely and evenly. I used two small parallel jaw clamps to apply pressure to either end of the assembly. I added a caul at either end too, to more evenly distribute clamping force. With the strips positioned on top of those clamps, and the two cauls in place, I added two longer cauls to either side of the assembly, and used a pair of F-clamps to provide some pressure to keep the strips even on their ends. Finally, two cauls were added on top of the assembly, running the long length of the cutting board. Two other mating cauls were added on the underside of the assembly, and clamps held them in place. This created a smooth, even surface on both the face and underside of the cutting board. Slowly tightening up the clamps at about the same rate allowed the strips to become properly aligned before adding the final few turns to the parallel jaw clamps to close up all the glue joints.
I started with a dry run, just to make sure I knew what I was up against. Now confident, I added glue to all the strips, brought the clamps and cauls into place, and started applying some pressure to bring everything evenly together.
Once the glue was dry I sanded the two faces with a belt sander. Since the strips were aligned carefully this step went pretty smoothly. I sanded the faces to 180 grit. I then evened out the sides and broke all the edges.
I applied two coats of OSMO Top Oil, which is food-safe and goes on very easy. I let the first coat, which I applied slightly heavier, dry for 24 hours, then used a lint-free cloth to apply the second coat.