Introduction: Elegant Wood Breadboard
It’s been a while since my last instructable so… Bam! Here we go again. This time we’re venturing into my permanently dusty workshop where I mostly fabricate Canada A1 Grade sawdust. But today we’re going to be making breadboards.
I’ve been making these breadboards for a while and they are always my most popular item at the craft shows in which I participate. It’s not too difficult to make but people always go a little gaga over them. People use them as breadboards, cheese boards, or simply to hang up on the wall as a decoration in a country-style kitchen or dining room. It’s a fairly basic project and a great primer in laminating wood, and for honing your woodworking chops. Bonus points: there’s just enough time before Christmas to make one.
I have a fully equipped workshop and use power tools to make these. They could be made with hand tools or smaller power tools although your chances of hitting the December 25 deadline would be rather slimmer. Nevertheless, I will try to include hand tool instructions along the way, but all the pics will depict the use of bench power tools.
The instuctable for the bow-style bread knife is located at this link.
Step 1: Materials and Tools
Material you’ll need:
- Wood of your choice (more on this in the “Wood” section)
- Wood glue (preferably water resistant glue)
- Mineral oil
- Paper towels
Tools and supplies:
- Protective eyewear
- Protective ear-wear
- Dust mask
- Table saw or a circular saw and guide
- Jointer (optional) or a planer or jack plane
- 7” clamps (five at least)
- Bench planer or jack plane
- Band saw or scroll saw / jig saw / coping saw
- Miter saw or circular saw and guide
- Drill press or hand power drill
- ¾” Forstner bit
- Bench sander or belt sander or just plain ole sandpaper
- Random orbit sander or palm sander or sandpaper and block)
- Sandpaper (80, 120, 220 grit)
- Tape measure
Step 2: Wood Selection
I make these bread boards of contrasting laminated hardwoods.
I don't consider soft woods to be appropriate for cutting board as the grain is too porous and the wood too soft. You’ll just cut right through it. Nothing ruins a good meal like the taste of spruce from a cheap cutting board. Oak is also too open-grained for making a good cutting board. A close grained hardwood is what you’re looking for.
Working with local hardwoods will make your life a lot easier, and you can get good results by mixing maple, cherry and walnut, which are plentiful up here in the Great White North. I’ve also used hickory, birch, elm and ash.
In these photos, you will see all three of these woods. I also managed to get my hands on some roasted maple which looks awesome. It is exactly what it sounds like: maple is roasted in an oven at high temperatures, darkening it anywhere from light caramel to dark brown. It is then rehydrated to the proper moisture content. It is beautiful and comes with the added bonus of smelling like a campfire when you cut, machine and sand it. I am also lucky enough that, where I live, there is a source of exotic hardwoods from managed sources. In these photos, you will also see makore, padauk, tigerwood, and nogal.
You can start with ¾ inch thick stock from a local or online wood supplier, but you’ll have to be extra careful in lining up the pieces in the glue-up. I usually start with raw 4/4 lumber. Note that 4/4 lumber is roughly one inch thick. The thickness is expressed in quarter-inches. So 4/4 is one inch, 5/4 is 1 ¼ inch, 8/4 is two inches, etc.
Finally, one of the bread boards will be made entirely from a single species of wood (in this case walnut), just to show that this style of board looks good whether multi-species or single species.
Step 3: Cutting the Wood
The finished boards are 24 inches long including the handle.
While I will cut most of my pieces around 25” long, I always cut one of the species of wood longer (around 29”) to absorb the snipe from the planer. Snipe is a slightly deeper bite taken by the planer at both ends of the board. Not taking snipe into account can ruin your entire project. The snipe on my planer is about 2 inches long, so I make some leeway for this. Since I want my rough finished board to be 25” long, I add the 2-inch snipe at each end, for a total length of 29 inches. Note that not all species that you laminate together need to be 29 inches, just one. Those longer pieces will absorb the snipe for the whole board.
I also try to choose species of wood that have colours that will go well with each other. For example, a nice fiddleback maple (which is usually light grey with nice figuring) would go well with some dark walnut and the pinkish colour of cherry.
In the photos attached, you will see that I have married the following combinations together:
- Ambrose maple with walnut and tigerwood
- Makore with walnut and light fiddleback maple
- Roasted maple with sugar maple and padauk
- Cherry with padauk and walnut
To make the pattern I make, you will need:
- 3 pieces @ 1 inch wide (A)
- 2 pieces @ ½ inch wide (B)
- 4 pieces at ¼ inch wide (C)
Using the table saw, cut the three pieces (A) from one species of wood, two pieces (B) from another species, and four pieces (C) from yet another species. If you’re making one of these out of a single species of wood, cut four pieces at 1 ¼ inches wide. Note that you should cut the pieces a little wider than the finished size to allow for the amount of wood that will be removed by the jointing in the next stage. Also, I’m not absolutely strict on the dimensions; we’re not building a piano here, so the tolerances are pretty loose.
You can use a circular saw and saw guide to cut these pieces, but I would recommend against trying to cut ¼ inch thick pieces this way. If using a circular saw and guide, I would recommend that you pick a single species and cut the pieces 1 ¼ inches wide as explained above. It’s just safer.
Step 4: Jointing
Carefully joint the pieces in preparation for gluing. The faces that will be glued together need to be absolutely flat and parallel to each other. Note that it can be very dangerous to use a full-size jointer for such thin pieces. Always use a push block. You may prefer to use the bench planer (or jack plane) to do your jointing. If using a bench planer, take very shallow cuts to mitigate snipe as much as possible. Note that a correctly set table saw virtually removes the need for jointing.
Step 5: Gluing
You’re now ready to glue the pieces together. I use a glue board for this. It’s basically a piece of particle board covered on both sides with packing tape. Glue will inevitably squeeze out of the joints when you apply pressure to the clamps. Since the glue can’t stick to plastic, the packing tape on the glue board will prevent my glue-up from sticking to my bench top.
Arrange the pieces as follows:
A – C – B – C – A – C – B – C – A (see photo)
With the pieces in this order, check the end grain of the wood. The grain should be going in opposite directions for each piece. This pattern will help prevent your board from cupping when it is finished. Arrange the pieces get the right end grain pattern, then lie all the pieces except one onto their sides. Apply wood glue to all the pieces lying on their sides. Using a finger, spread the glue evenly across the pieces, starting with the piece closest to the only piece that you didn’t lie on its side. Once the glue is spread, flip the piece back up against its neighbour. Repeat until all the pieces are glued to their neighbour.
Step 6: Clamping
Start clamping from one end of the glue-up, applying only the required pressure to keep the pieces together. Reach underneath the joined pieces and even them out on the bottom relative to each other. This will ensure that you have a relatively flat face for the planing stage. Once the pieces are aligned properly, apply good tension on the clamp. Note that you should clamp hard enough to have some glue squeeze out of the joint, but not much tighter. Clamping too hard results in a weak joint as too much of the glue is squeezed out of the joint.
Repeat the same clamping and aligning at the other end of the board. With both ends clamped, add another clamp exactly halfway between both ends. Then insert two more clamps in the spaces in between. Five clamps is sufficient to provide a strong bond for this length of board.
Wait 15-30 minutes until the squeeze out in no longer liquid but is rubbery. Remove the squeeze out with a scraper or old putty knife. Leave the board clamped overnight.
Step 7: Planing
The board is now be ready to plane. Start the planing with the face that you leveled in the gluing phase facing down. In this way, you have a relatively flat surface riding on the planer bed. This is especially important if you used raw 4/4 lumber which is notoriously mismatched in thickness. Plane the top side flat, then flip over and plane the other side flat as well. Figured woods (such as bird’s eye maple, quilted maple or flame birch) should be planed with shallow cuts to avoid tearing.
Once both sides are flat, plane the board down to 5/8 inch thick, alternating the face that you pass in the planer. Planing down to 5/8 inch will be necessary if you started with ¾ inch thick stock, as making a perfectly flat glue up is nearly impossible. It also makes the finished board look lighter and more elegant. A ¾ inch thick board of this style somehow looks too chunky. I take 1/64” off each pass on my bench planer. The last 8 passes are finishing passes that I cut at 1/128”. This leaves very little snipe, even though I’ve compensated for any that may occur.
This step can be done with a jack plane but it will take a long time. If you are planning using a hand plane, I recommend that you start this project with pre-dimensioned ¾” think lumber as you’ll be a lot closer to the target thickness.
You should now have a raw board that is 5 inches wide by 5/8 inch thick, and anywhere from 25 to 29 inches long.
Step 8: Marking the Handle
I make a lot of these bread boards (a lot!). So I made myself a crude template for the handle. The handle design is one I’ve found to be comfortable to carry, no matter the weight on the board (think breads, cheeses and pâtés here). You will find a PDF attached to download and size the handle correctly. The circle of the handle should be 2 ¼ inches across. If you print the PDF to 8 ½ x 11”, all sizes should be accurate.
My shop template has a nail permanently attached to it. I line up the template to the right position, so that the reveal of the wood in part (C) is exactly the same on both sides of the handle. Once in place, I give the nail a sharp rap with a hammer. This has the dual benefit of holding the template in place and marking the location for the hole that we’ll drill later. Once the template is in place, I mark the contour of the handle. Note that for dark woods, it is easier to mark with a white colouring pencil.
As you can see, my template isn’t as wide as the board. I really should make another template, but I’m a lazy you-know-what…someday. I extend the end of the line by eye to one side to create one of the board’s shoulders, then use a combination square to find the corresponding shoulder point on the other side. I then extend the other line to that shoulder point. You won’t have to go through this rigmarole as I have made my PDF drawing so that the shoulders are in place.
Step 9: Cutting the Handle
I prefer to use a scroll saw for this work. I do have a band saw, but find that the blade leaves a lot of marks in the tight curves, which require a lot of sanding. A scroll saw can easily handle the 5/8 inch thick material as long as you use the right blade. I use a 7 teeth-per-inch hook point blade which cuts with ease, and usually set my speed to 750 strokes per minute. Note that I don’t extend the ends of the lines straight out at the shoulders, but round the shoulders a little. The cutting of the handle can be completed by hand with the careful use of a coping saw. A jig saw can also be used but be prepared for some serious sanding.
Step 10: Drilling the Hole in the Handle
I prefer to use a ¾ inch Forstner bit in a drill press for the holes as this combination cuts very cleanly. Note that I always have a sacrificial board underneath my bread board to prevent chip-out on the bottom of the hole. Even with a sacrificial board (particle board in this case), ensure that you have an unused part of the board underneath. If you continuously use the same spot, your will still get chip out, sometimes some major chip out. I was so pre-occupied with taking the photos for this Instructable that I forgot to move the sacrificial board. This will have to be compensated for in the sanding. Once again, you can carefully use a hand drill to complete this step, but you will still need a sacrificial board underneath. A Forstner bit may be too much for a hand drill, but who knows: you may have really strong wrists to prevent the drill from twisting. I have never used a regular drill bit for this step.
Now is the time to cut you board down to finished size. I cut mine down to 24 inches exactly, but you can fudge with that number. You may be looking for a longer or shorter board. You can use a miter saw for this work. Even a wide mitre box and a backsaw will do the trick. I like using a cross-cut sled on my table saw as the cut line of the sled makes a handy-dandy reference point for lining up the cut. For me, it’s just faster, especially when I’m doing 5-10 boards at a time.
Step 12: Sanding
You’ve done a lot of work so far, now’s not the time to ruin this job with some shoddy sanding. Like you, I think that sanding is long and boring, and I’d really rather watch a lawn bowling tournament. But sanding really makes the difference between a finished piece and a half-finished piece.
I always start with 80-grit sandpaper on my bench top sander and give a quick pass to all the side edges of the board, including the shoulders and handle to remove most of the cutting marks left by the scroll saw. I lightly round over the bottom edges of the board. Then I gently relieve the sharp edges of the board by running the edges quickly against the head of the sander (see video). If you have a drill press, you could also mount a specially designed attachment that hold a piece of sandpaper. This would be especially useful for sanding the curves of the shoulders and handle.
I then hand sand all the edges again with 80-grit sandpaper, checking with my work against a shop light to see that all the machining marks are gone. I also use the 80-grit sandpaper to relieve the edge around the hole. I then repeat the hand sanding with 120-grit sandpaper.
Next, I vacuum my workbench to remove any dust or wood chips that could scratch the board, and then use my random orbit sander to sand the faces of the board with 120-grit, then 220-grit sandpaper. I do a final pass with a really old 220-grit disc. This old disc has such old and rounded grit on it that it’s like polishing with a really fine sandpaper. It leaves absolutely no scratches. Finally, I repeat the hand-sanding of the edges with a 220-grit sandpaper, and with an old 220-grit sandpaper. Don’t forget to relieve the edge of the hole with each grit of sandpaper. If you don’t have a random orbit sander, a palm sander can do instead, or a good sanding block.
Step 13: Finishing
The only finish I use on anything that will be in contact with food is mineral oil. Beeswax would also be acceptable (as would a mix of mineral oil and beeswax), but I find just the straight oil easier. Mineral oil can be found at any drug store in the laxative section (go figure).
Apply about a 1 ½” puddle of oil on one face and use a paper towel folded to a pad to spread the oil around. Once you’ve done the face, flip the board over and repeat for the other side. Use the already wet paper towel to oil the side edges and the bottom edge of the board. Don’t forget to oil inside the hole as well. Let sit for five minutes then apply another very light coat. Let this coat sit for 15 minutes. Wipe dry with a clean rag (an old tea towel or t-shirt will do) and stand it vertically for 24-hours to dry before using.
Your board should now provide years or reliable service. Yes it will get scratched, but the regular re-application of oil (every few months) will mitigate the look of the scratches somewhat. If you really scratch the board hard, sand it again and refinish. The board is not dishwasher safe (yes, some have tried). You can clean it with dish soap and water, rinse and dry immediately. Stand it up vertically to dry.
I often make matching knives for these boards. The concept is basically the same for the construction. Leave a note if you want instructions on making the knife.
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