End-grain Cutting Boards in Sapele, Maple, and Walnut

You know, it’s funny; on many of the woodworking podcasts, questions are sent in and answered.  Every so often, someone writes in and says that they have reached the “cutting board stage” of being a new woodworker, and it always makes me chuckle.  I foolishly thought that I had skipped over that stage long ago, but evidently my wife disagreed.  Somewhere, she saw an end-grain cutting board and decided that it was high time that all of my woodworking tools were put to use for her benefit.  So in order to keep the lovely lady happy (and my tool budget from drying up), my next project became an end-grain cutting board.

I went to my lumber racks and had a good pick through to see what I could use for the project.  I found some Maple, Walnut, and Sapele that I thought would make for some interesting and attractive color combinations.

Picking through my lumber racks turned up some Sapele, Walnut, and Maple.

Picking through my lumber racks turned up some Sapele, Walnut, and Maple.

 

 

Once I had decided upon three colors, I needed to design a pattern.  But how to do this and see exactly how it is going to turn out?  I turned to excel.  Though it is supposed to be for spread sheets, you can fill cells with colors and re-size the cells as you want, so I used it as a drawing tool.  One important thing to remember is to design the pattern to have a centerline.  When strips are cut from the pattern later in the process, every other one will be flipped to create the final pattern.  The cell sizes should be symmetrical either side to the centerline.  The cell colors need not be symmetrical, and will not create and alternating pattern if they are.  Here was my first attempt:

This was the design that I wanted to make. It got vetoed.

This was the design that I wanted to make. It got vetoed.

I really liked this first design, but the wife said no, she didn’t like the solid lines that ran through the length of the board.  Shame, I really liked this one. I had a few more design attempts and she chose this one:

This is the design that the wife chose.

This is the design that the wife chose.

 

Time to start making sawdust.  I skipped the milling photos this time, as you’ve seen it all before.

I milled up these strips, about 24 inches long.

I milled up these strips, about 25 inches long.

I poured on the glue then spread it with a roller.

I poured on the glue then spread it with a roller.

Glued and clamped over night.

Glued and clamped over night.

I used some oak cauls to prevent denting the wood and left it over night to dry.

I scrapped off the worst of the dried squeeze out.

I scrapped off the worst of the dried squeeze out.

Once I had scrapped off the worst of the glue, I ran the board though the planer to perfectly flush up both sides.  I then clamped a stop block to my cross-cut sled to cut even strips from the board.

Using a stop block on my cross-cut sled, I cut the glued up board into strips about 1 ½ inches thick.

Using a stop block on my cross-cut sled, I cut the glued up board into strips about 1 ½ inches thick.

The board was about 25 inches long, and yielded 16 strips.

Rotate the cut strips 90° so that the end grain is now facing up.

Rotate the cut strips 90° so that the end grain is now facing up.

Flip every other strip to create the pattern. You can then move things around to try to put all the defects on one side of the board.

Flip every other strip to create the pattern. You can then move things around to try to put all the defects on one side of the board.

Before proceeding with the glue-up, I decided to do a dry run and set up the clamps.  I also milled some scraps of doug fir to the exact thickness and width of the cutting board.  These are not cauls simply for clamping, but will instead be glued to the ends of the cutting board.  This is done to allow the cutting board to be fed through the planer later in the process without splitting off the ends of the board.  Once the cutting board is surfaced, the fir strips can be cut off.

I cut some scrap doug fir to the same thickness as the board, and did a test (dry) clamping.

I cut some scrap doug fir to the same thickness as the board, and did a test (dry) clamping.

Backing up a little here; while milling the original strips of wood, I found I had a few extras.  I decided to turn these into a second cutting board with a slightly different pattern. I glued these up and when dry, cross-cut them to the same thickness.

I had made some extra strips in the early stages, so glued them up to make a second board. This one has a different pattern.

I had made some extra strips in the early stages, so glued them up to make a second board. This one has a different pattern.

Time for a couple of glue-ups.

Glued and clamped over night. The fir end blocks get glued to the board.

Glued and clamped over night. The fir end blocks get glued to the board.

I actually went away for the weekend, so these sat like this for a couple of days.

I actually went away for the weekend, so these sat like this for a couple of days.

After removing the clamps, I scraped away as much of the squeeze out as possible.

After removing the clamps, I scraped away as much of the squeeze out as possible.

Next, I fed the boards through my planner. I have a segmented cutterhead in mine, and I'm not sure how well the three knife version would work.

Next, I fed the boards through my planner. I have a segmented cutterhead in mine, and I’m not sure how well the three knife version would work.

I have often seen it written that you should not run end grain over the jointer or through the planer.  However, I have a segmented cutter head in my planer with carbide cutters, and thought that it could handle the job.  It performed the task well and left a fairly decent surface.  I’d be curious to see how a 3-knife cuter would perform.  The glued on douglas fir strips at either end should still prevent the ends from splitting out, but I imagine that the knives would get dull very quickly.

The planer left a fairly even surface.

The planer left a fairly even surface.

The alignment came out very well. (Misaligned strips can make a board look bad.)

The alignment came out very well. (Misaligned strips can make a board look bad.)

To further refine the surface, I decided to feed the boards through my drum sander.  I sort of wish that I hadn’t done this.  The drum sander left a light scratch pattern of long lines, running the length of the board.  As it was in end-grain, these were very time consuming to remove later.

After the planer, I fed the boards through the drum sander.

After the planer, I fed the boards through the drum sander.

The drum sander left some long straight scratches in the boards. Not sure I should have used this.

The drum sander left some long straight scratches in the boards. Not sure I should have used this.

Sanding with the random orbit. 80, 120, 150, and finally 240.

Sanding with the random orbit. 80, 120, 150, and finally 240.

It took me a very long time to remove all the lines left by the drum sander.  My guess is I spent at least two hours per board, maybe more.

After sanding to 240.

After sanding to 240.

The 240 grit sanding, left the boards feeling glass smooth.

Flush sanding the sides.

Flush sanding the sides.

Sanded the sides to 240.

Sanded the sides to 240.

Now it is time to remove the protective edge strips of doug fir.

Now it is time to remove the protective edge strips of doug fir.

With the sacrificial ends removed, I rounded the corners of the board at the disk sander.

I rounded the corners at the disk sander.

I rounded the corners at the disk sander.

I used a 3/16" round over bit in my trim router to soften all the edges.

I used a 3/16″ round over bit in my trim router to soften all the edges.

Even with the speed turned down, the router did a little light burning.

Even with the speed turned way down, the router did a little light burning.

I removed the burn marks by hand with 220 grit paper.

I removed the burn marks by hand with 220 grit paper.

Everything that I have read on the topic seems to indicate that mineral oil is the best finish for a cutting board.  It’s food safe and won’t go rancid.  I went to Walmart a bought two pints of oil for about $2 each.  I wanted to soak the boards at least overnight and let the oil penetrate as far into the end grain as it could.  My other dilemma was what to use as a container to soak them in.  The boards are pretty large, and my first thought was to use a disposable baking tray.  I bought one of these as well.  Once home, I realized that the pan was too small.  I tried to bend the pan and deform it to fit the cutting board.  I needed to make it shallower but wider.  This didn’t work and the metal tore.

To soak the boards in mineral oil, I bought the largest foil pan I could get.

To soak the boards in mineral oil, I bought the largest foil pan I could get.

The pan was too small and when I tried to flatten and re-shape it, it tore. Damn, $3 down the drain!

The pan was too small and when I tried to flatten and re-shape it, it tore. Damn, $3 down the drain!

I was a little annoyed with this and went inside, racking my brain about what I could use for a pan.  I knew that we didn’t have a baking pan big enough, because I had already searched the kitchen for one.  I pulled out the bottom (warming) drawer of the oven to check one more time to see if there were any large pans in it, and it occurred to me to just take the whole drawer out and use that instead.

To the sounds of my wife saying, “You’d better not mess that up”, I headed back out to the shop.

I took the warming drawer out of the oven.

I took the warming drawer out of the oven.

I poured a bottle of mineral oil over the board and let is soak overnight.

I poured a bottle of mineral oil over the first board and let is soak overnight.

The next day, I put the second board in the bottom of the oil pan and stood the first one on edge to drain.

The next day, I put the second board in the bottom of the oil pan and stood the first one on edge to drain.

The boards were pulled from the oil and thoroughly dried.

The boards were pulled from the oil and thoroughly dried.

Every 20 minutes or so, the oil would seep out of the board and need wiping off the surface once more.

Every 20 minutes or so, the oil would seep out of the board and need wiping off the surface once more.

I kept wiping off any oil that seeped out of the board for the next couple of days.  The oil had penetrated the board nicely, but for a top coat I wanted to use a mix of mineral oil and bees wax.  To blend these two ingredients, they have to be heated and stirred until all the wax dissolves.

A mix of bee's wax pellets and mineral oil.

A mix of bee’s wax pellets and mineral oil.

Heated in the microwave and stirred until completely dissolved.

Heated in the microwave and stirred until completely dissolved.

Rubbing a coat of bee's wax / oil mixture into the boards.

Rubbing a coat of bee’s wax / oil mixture into the boards.

I let the wax/oil mix sit for and hour or so and then buffed it off.  The last step was to install some feet.  Since I will be putting screws into end grain, there would be a high possibility of splitting the board if I didn’t first drill pilot holes.

Marking the location of the pilot holes for the feet.

Marking the location of the pilot holes for the feet.

Drilling a small pilot hole.

Drilling a small pilot hole.

Attaching the four rubber feet.

Attaching the four rubber feet.

Here's a better view of one of the feet.

Here’s a better view of one of the feet.

So, here are the finished boards:

Here's the slightly smaller board. This one is going to be a gift.

Here’s the slightly smaller board. This one is going to be a gift.

And this one is taking up permanent residence in our kitchen.

And this one is taking up permanent residence in our kitchen.

This was a surprisingly fun and easy project and I was very happy with the end results.  Most importantly, the wife loves her new cutting board and has been using it to make me all kinds of yummy food.

I hope you enjoyed this post and I’d love to hear your thoughts or comments.

 

– Jonathan White

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