Homemade Woodenware, Part 3: Cutting Boards

I make a lot of wooden spoons and wooden spatulas, which are a fun challenge each time I make one.  Cutting boards, on the other hand, are about the easiest thing for a woodworker to make, but making a good one requires some care.  A cutting board will take a lot of hard use in the kitchen, so it must be tough and stable. I chose to make this one out of pecan, which is very similar to hickory.  The wood is hard and resistant to splitting, which are desirable qualities in a cutting board.

Cutting boards can be simple or elaborate.  This cutting board is about as simple as it gets: two boards edge-glued to make one wide plank.  I used Titebond II, which is water-resistant.  As long as the board is not allowed to soak in water for a long time, the glue joint will never come apart.

This wood was rough-sawn from a log on my bandsaw. The shavings are from the jointer plane. It takes some effort to take thick, full-width shavings in this wood.

A cutting board will be regularly subjected to moisture, however, which can cause the board to warp.  There is no wood finish that will keep the water out for long, so the best you can do is select your stock carefully.  Quarter-sawn wood is ideal.  It is unlikely to cup, which is the most common type of distortion I see in wooden cutting boards. Large cutting boards are especially liable to warping, and this one is 19 1/2″ long and 11″ wide, so I was careful to use the straightest-grained stock I could find in my stash.

What glue line?

Each side must be planed perfectly flat so that the board does not wobble on a counter top.  Hand planes are wonderful tools.  Some cutting boards have feet installed on one side.  I dislike these, as they prevent the cutting board from being used on both sides.

After both sides are planed flat and smooth, no sanding is necessary.  You could finish it at this point.  However, I like to round each corner with a spokeshave and break the sharp edges with a plane.

Cutting Board Finish

Normally I would not sand the surface at all, since my hand planes leave a very smooth surface.  But pecan can be difficult to finish smoothly with oil.  An oil finish, such as Danish oil, is a nice finish that wears well in the kitchen.  Top-coats like lacquer or polyurethane will be destroyed in short order.  So I lightly sand each face with 220 sandpaper and then apply the oil with a rag directly over the sanding dust.  After two or three coats at 15-minute intervals, I wipe off any excess oil and buff the finish smooth with a clean cotton cloth.  The sanding dust mixes with the oil and partially fills any open pores, and the buffing process removes excess dust.   I use this process on my wooden spoons as well, and the result is a smooth, dull sheen that deepens with time and use.

Cutting Board Care

Wooden cutting boards should be washed by hand with hot, soapy water.  Never wash them in the dishwasher.  Prolonged exposure to moisture and heat will cause the wood to soften prematurely, and is likely to warp the wood permanently.

Cutting boards can be re-oiled periodically.  Many hardware stores sell butcher-block oil, though you can use other products such as walnut oil or safflower oil.  Flood the surface, allow the oil to penetrate for a half hour or so, and then wipe off the excess.  Allow the board to stand overnight, and then wash before use.

When washing, always wash both sides of the cutting board, even if you used only one side. Wood expands when wet and contracts when dry.  If one side of your cutting board is soaking wet but the other side is dry, the board will want to be two different sizes at once, which can cause the board to warp.  But if the entire board is moistened and allowed to dry at the same rate, the whole thing will expand and contract at the same rate, minimizing the risk of warping.

Cutting boards that become warped or gouged can be sanded or planed down, but cutting boards that develop deep cracks in the surface should not be used, as food can build up in the cracks and harbor harmful bacteria.  More about food safety with woodenware at the bottom of this page.

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One Response to Homemade Woodenware, Part 3: Cutting Boards

  1. Wow that was strange. I just wrote an really long comment
    but after I clicked submit my comment didn’t show up. Grrrr… well I’m not
    writing all that over again. Regardless, just wanted to say wonderful
    blog!

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