How to Restore a Wooden Cutting Board

Wooden cutting boards are wonderful.  I wouldn’t be without them in my kitchen.  But over time, their surfaces get chewed up–especially if you keep your kitchen knives sharp.  A wooden cutting board can go years and years before its surface needs to be restored, but eventually it will be time to resurface it.

We were thinning out our camping gear a while ago, and we pulled out this sorry looking wooden cutting board.  The surface was just too nasty to put it to use in our kitchen.
“Well,” I thought, “I know what to do with this.”

Cutting Boards 2017

I set to work planing down each surface with my smoothing plane.  About two minutes later, the surface looked very different.

Cutting Boards 2017

The handplane leaves a glassy smooth surface, so no scraping or sanding was required.  The wood appears to be hard maple, which is very common in older wooden cutting boards.  It’s a tough wood–the same stuff they use for bowling alleys and basketball courts.  A handplane needs to be razor sharp to cut this wood effectively.  A closely-set chipbreaker also helps a lot.

Now, I realize that not everyone who has old wooden cutting boards also has a good handplane.  But if you’re the sort of person who does a lot of handyman projects around the house, I think it’s really helpful to have a handplane.  An old #4 or #5 Stanley is not hard to find used, and with a simple sharpening routine, you can keep the blade razor sharp.  (There are many good tutorials on YouTube and elsewhere.)  Just avoid the new-in-the-box handplanes at the big-box home improvement store.  They’re pretty much all junk.

So after I posted the above pictures to social media, I got a message from my mom.  Would I please bring my handplane next time I visit so I can resurface her cutting boards too?

Sure, Mom.  I’d love to.

Cutting Boards 2017

These are her cutting boards before I started work on them.  They had belonged to my grandmother, and I remember them being in our kitchen growing up.  In addition to the marks left from normal kitchen use, there were scoring marks from craft projects, as well some paint splatters and pinprick holes.  I had to remove quite a bit of material from each side, but when I was done, they looked pretty good.

Cutting Boards 2017

I not only resurfaced the working faces of each board, but I also scraped the grime off each end and edge with a card scraper.  When I brought the cutting boards back into the house, my Mom hardly recognized them.  But she was pretty happy with them.

I hadn’t brought any finishing materials with me, but I don’t think it’s really necessary to put any finish on cutting boards anyway.  They will slowly but naturally absorb oils in the kitchen.  I’m not lazy, just efficient.

Oh, and while we’re on the subject of cutting boards, I was in a high-end home-furnishings boutique in a big city last month, and I ran across this fancy cutting board:

Cutting Boards 2017

It’s probably more of a serving platter than a cutting board, but you get the idea.  Zoom in on the price tag if you can, and you’ll see it’s priced at $140.00

It certainly is a nice piece of spalted maple, but I think the price is a little steep.  But I’ll tell you what: if you want a similar cutting board, I will happily make you one out of spalted pecan for half the price of the above cutting board.

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This entry was posted in Tutorials, Wood and Woodwork and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

One Response to How to Restore a Wooden Cutting Board

  1. tom rathbun says:

    Isn’t the spalting a result of fungus? I do know if it gets in your lungs, it’s trouble.

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