Below are several cutting boards I have made at Techshop, San Francisco, a membership based workshop with all types of tools for making things. I don't have much experience with woodworking, so I used this project to teach myself some basic woodworking skills. I learned a lot about how to use the power-tools in the shop, how to think about wood grain, and how to glue up wood. It takes a while to make one of these, but the process is fairly simple.  My first board took many hours, but later boards took 3-4 hours actual working time per piece, spread over 3 days to allow the glue to dry. I estimate the cost at about $25 - $30 per board.

Before I get started on the actual project I should thank Mark Spagnolo, whose video podcast The Wood Whisperer inspired me to do this project. Mark has a great video (Episode 7: A Cut Above) which breaks down the process well. Still, I thought I would show my step-by-step process for anyone interested, including some of the different designs I made. I also include some of the mistakes I made along the way which might trip up fellow beginners.

I am still new to both making cutting boards and woodworking in general, so if anyone has constructive criticism or suggestions, please share them in the comments.

Update: Workshop

If you are a member of Techshop in the San Francisco area, I teach a monthly workshop on making these cutting boards at Techshop SOMA. Students work on steps 1-7 in the workshop, then I demonstrate later steps with my own materials. Link to workshop page

Step 1: Tools and Materials

I'm lucky to have access to top notch tools at Techshop, but I'm sure this project could be done using simpler tools. As long as you have saws that can accurately rip and crosscut, and some way to flatten / smooth after glue-up, you can make this cutting board.

Tools used

  • Table saw
  • Compound miter saw
  • Power jointer
  • Power planer
  • Table router
  • Pipe clamps
  • C-clamps OR F-clamps
  • Ink-roller / Brayer (for applying glue)
  • Duct tape OR packing tape
  • Small scrap lumber
  • Paper towels or clean rags
  • Power sander and/or sandpaper
  • Pencil
  • Tape measurer
  • Combination square
  • Calipers

Materials (cost ~$25 - $30 per cutting board)

I used rough cut lumber because I have access to jointer and planer machines, and it's a lot cheaper than pre-milled (aka S4S) lumber. If you don't have access to milling tools, most hardwood suppliers will have pre-milled lumber for you to use. My local shop - MacBeath Hardwood, even has cutting board kits with pre-milled and pre-cut strips ready to glue.
  • Hardwood - Rough cut maple, cherry and walnut* - 1.5" thick (aka 6/4 thick)
  • Wood glue - Titebond III (FDA approved for food contact)
  • Finish option 1: Varnish - Emmet's Good Stuff (FDA approved food safe)
  • Finish option 2: Mineral oil and natural wax (beeswax and carnuba wax are popular)
* A note about walnut: From everything I have read online walnut wood is safe to use for cutting boards, even for people with nut allergies. I've read several blogs from woodworkers with nut allergies who had no problems building with it. But I'm no expert, so please do your own research and come to your own conclusions.

Software (Free)

  • CBDesigner - A great (free!) program for designing cutting boards, discussed more later
<p><a href="https://www.instructables.com/member/workislove" rel="nofollow">workislove</a> I see this 'ible is about 4 years old now (8/9/2016). I've been making end-grain boards for just about that same 4 year time frame. This is, by far, one of the best instruction sheets I've ever seen. You took great pains to include everything you could think of to help a fellow woodworker do this job. Kudos to you, sir. Keep up the good work. And I must say your boards look GREAT. Thanks again.</p>
<p>I recommend against using any varnish on any cutting board. Instead, use a non hardening oil like mineral oil. This allows you to add more oils, as needed without sanding the old surface, or removing it. <br><br>Non-hardening oils penetrate and work well at stopping the wood from drying, which results in splitting and cracking. <br><br>Don't use olive oil. It goes rancid and you will smell it and can taste it in the quantities you'd use for treating the wood.</p><p>My practice is to slather the oil on and let it soak in. Then, where it soaks in, slather on more. The oil will penetrate and could, eventually, saturate the wood. As suggested, saturated wood is not going to dry and split or separate.</p><p>You don't need fancy oils. Just stop in at a Walmart or some place selling bottles for around a buck and a half a bottle.<br><br>If varnish fails, the wood can still dry. To add a new coat, you have to </p>
<p>I personally recommend oil in most cases as well, but when I made this 'ible I decided to try both on two different board and perform a long term test. My poly board stayed clean and intact for 3+ years so far, so far poly worked fine for me in the medium term. However, it was easy to over-finish with poly and one side of the board showed a lot more scratches than the oiled one.</p><p>That said, a lot of people also end up making fancy cutting boards as seldom-used or purely decorative items, in which case varnish is entirely appropriate. How many times I've heard &quot;but it's too nice to actually use!&quot; from people buying or recieving these boards.</p>
<p>After a while, your untreated butcher block can dry, which will cause cracks, splits and separations. Saturating the wood with non-hardening oil will swell it and make most of those defects dissappear.</p>
<p>I included a section on fiinishing the board and recommended mineral oil, sorry if you didn't see it.</p>
<p>This is not only an amazing instructable, but Seth is also a wonderful, thorough, and inspiring teacher in person. I highly recommend taking his class at Techshop San Francisco where you get to make this exact cutting board! I loved his class. Thanks for raising the bar on what an instructable can convey!</p>
<p>I REALLY enjoyed this instructable and am now trying my hand with making an end-grain cutting board!! I especially appreciated your comparison between varnish and mineral oil with wax. I wonder if you have any updates on how well your two boards have held up over time - which finish you would use now. Thanks!</p>
<p>I'm glad it helped you! Both boards have held up just fine. I slacked off on the mineral oil board a couple times and that one started to hold some strong odors like garlic - but a good scrub and generous oil / waxing brought it back.</p><p>Both boards are clearly quite used, but I'd say the oiled board looks a bit better - the scratches on the varnished board just stand out more. I now make these boards to sell, and I use oil/wax by default, but offer varnish as an option on custom boards.</p>
very nice i have been wanting a new telecaster but cant afford a body blank but using a cutting board like this one i could build<a href="http://www.zacharyguitars.com/070209pics.htm" rel="nofollow"> this</a>
I am so excited. I just signed up for this workshop!!
Awesome! I'll see you there :^D
You have not considered the time-tested method for flattening these - a HAND PLANE. Power tools are wonderful, but not always the best method. Sanders (especially belt sanders) can leave grooves and uneven surfaces; a router for leveling the surface seems like over-kill. Also, end grain is notoriously tough (that's why you made a cutting board using end grain!) - sanding it takes forever, and risks making it uneven. Try a sharp hand plane, but you need one with the blade set at a low-angle for end grain, not the standard 45 degree plane blade angle used on face grain and side grain. The low-angle planes are called &quot;block planes&quot; - guess why? - they've been used for centuries for surfacing end grain butcher blocks and cutting boards, or any other end-grain cuts that a woodworker has to plane flat. Don't be afraid of hand tools!!! The only thing that can go wrong with a hand plane is tear-out on the edges when the plane blade leaves the wood and goes into space. You can prevent this by either planing inward from the edges to the center of the board, or by clamping sacrificial pieces of scrap wood to the sides of the board before planing - the scrap wood's outside edges will be torn-out at the end of the cut, but your board will be protected. Since you are new to woodworking, I would HIGHLY recommend that you look into owning a hand plane or two (one for face/edge grain and one for end grain - they use different blade angles. For this project you only need the low angle end-grain plane). Hand planes will take you to a whole 'nother level of accuracy and surface finish. Check out a few suppliers like Lee Valley or Lie-Nielsen (he's expensive, but it's an investment for life). Surfacing one of your cutting boards should take 5 - 10 minutes with a hand plane, not an hour per side! Of course, if you LIKE sanding for hours, and spending money on sandpaper, dust collection, band-aids, eye protection and hearing protection, have at it! I'd rather make a few passes with a block plane, with soft music playing in the background :&lt;)
When you're right, you're right. Today I tried using a newly sharpened hand plane, and even without knowing what I was doing I was able to get one pretty flat side in just a few minutes. Then another member came by and showed me how to adjust and use the plane, and the rest of the work flew by. <br> <br>As you said, it took me about 10 minutes to accomplish what took an hour or more with the sander. I won't waste my time with the other methods anymore - unless a drum sander happens to fall in my lap. The plane I used was a standard angle, though I could see how a low angle plane could make the work even easier. <br> <br>This will definitely change my woodworking. I think the first time I tried using a hand plane it must have been dull and / or poorly adjusted - so I just figured it wasn't the right tool for the job. I'm glad I was wrong.
Yay! A Convert!!! Please do yourself a favor and look into hand tools - they are incredibly veratile and accurate, with none of the safety concerns from power tools. Also, the final finish of the wood will be different! Sanding makes millions of little scratches and &quot;mushes over&quot; the grain; sharp cutting tools cleanly cut the grains of the wood, producing a luster and clarity that sanding can't do. <br> <br>It's sad that the power tool manufacturers have convinced us that we need power to do woodworking (I would, too, if I was selling power tools). The opposite is true - hanad tools are faster, more accurate, and produce a finer finish than ppowwer tools can. Think of the power tools as yoour &quot;coarse&quot; tools, doing the bulk rough work to get near your final dimensions, then use your hand tools as &quot;fine&quot; tools - tweaking the dimensions within thousandths of an inch (if you need that accuracy) and leaving an unparalleled fine finish. <br> <br>I know your handle is WorkIsLove, but with hand tools, you can change it to LessWorkIsMoreLoveAndAPerfectFinish. Please look at the vendors I mentioned, buy a low-angle plane, throw away your sander and the endless costly pads, belts, etc., and have fun working wood.
I decided to write from the perspective of a beginner because I figured, even if I miss a few things, it's possible for me to bring up common mistakes made by all beginners with the (sometimes painful) lessons fresh in my mind. Hence my warning about the exploding strips the first time I cut with the miter saw. <br> <br>Truly, thank you for your constructive criticism. Comments like this help both me and the instructable improve. I will update it as I learn more.
I ignored them for this instructable because I have ZERO experience with them and don't yet know where to begin. I just started woodworking for the first time in my life a few months ago, and San Francisco Techshop's power tool selection is A LOT better than their hand tool selection. They have a $10,000 CNC machine, but until last month didn't have a good set of hand planes. The problem is that every time they get good hand tools people tend to abuse, break, lose and maybe even steal them. If they can take care of their newest set I will try to learn how to use them.<br><br>Or perhaps I'll invest in my own. But right now I don't have the money to go buying tools without knowing what to look for. Early on I walked into a Woodcraft store, but the selection was so large and confusing, I had no idea what to get. Shopping online is even worse - everyone has opinions and advice, and they are all different. I plan to get a few projects under my belt before I go buying my own tools. After I know what type of woodworking I generally want to do, then I'll know what to ask for when I go shopping.
This is one of the best "I made it at techshop!" instructables I've seen yet. Thanks for really taking the time to explain your project. I just took the tech shop wood shop class and have been exploring with some basic projects to build my skills up - this is a great one for me to stretch myself on. Thanks!
Glad to help! That's exactly what this project did for me. I wish you good luck on your boards!
Just a quick safety comment: In the 3rd paragraph you say that if you don't have a crosscut sled, use the miter gauge with the saw fence as a measuring stop. DO NOT USE THE MITER GAUGE AND THE FENCE AT THE SAME TIME! This is asking for kickback, or if you're lucky, just having the cut piece shoot back at you. Using both together allows the cut off wood to get trapped between the blade and the fence - very bad news. Simple solution - clamp or tape a piece of wood to your table saw fence in front of the blade, and use that as your measuring stop. The key is that the stop block does not extend back to the blade - it only has to be a few inches long, clamped to the fence in front of the blade, not near the blade. This way, you put your piece in the miter gauge, slide it against the stop block on the fence, then when you push the piece forward towards the blade, it no longer is in contact with the stop block, and therefore can't cause the problem.
That's a good point, I had hesitation when writing that, but I've seen other accomplished woodworkers do it, so I wasn't sure. I've updated my 'ible pointing to your comment - I'll try to add a picture at some point when I have the time. Thanks!
Forgot to mention - this problem does not happen when you use a cutoff sled because the cut off piece is firmly held in place by the sled and the (moving) stop block. Without the sled, using the miter gauge, the cutoff piece has no support - you are pushing the uncut part through the blade, and near the end of the cut, the cut off part has no support. If it's against the (stationary) fence, friction will make it twist into the blade. And at the end of the cut it's hitting the back of the blade which is rotating at you, not downward as in the beginning of the cut. Guess what happens? <br> <br>Nice Instructable - stay safe!
Work- Your boards are beautiful and your attention to detail is great! If I can add one thing that might speed up your finishing process....When you apply the mineral oil, rub it into the wood with gloved hands (I use nitrile disposable gloves myself.) It takes a bit, but eventually the wood soaks it up. After two or three coats, check the bottom of the board to see if it's &quot;bled&quot; through. If it hasn't, keep on truckin'! If it has, flip it over and start the process from that side. Once the board won't accept anymore oil, you're finished, and you can just let it dry. At this point, I normally set the board on it's side, so if the board &quot;weeps&quot; any oil, I can wipe it off the next day. Hopefully, this saves you some time, and great work! Please post others!
Fair enough, I have one more board unfinished, I'll try it your way.
Work, please understand that is was not a criticism at all, just an attempt at saving you some time. (I'm a teacher, and that comes at a premium!) I myself am using your methods to teach my students some new tricks!
I didn't see it as criticism at all. I'm always still learning, so I like to hear others ideas
Phenomenal work and explanations! Hopefully, going to try this soon!
Glad to help, go make some awesome boards!
My father-in-law has been making these since woodshop in High School in the '70s (pre-computer era).
Oh yeah, these things are classic. There's no need for computers, they just make things quick and easy.
Your boards are gorgeous! This is a great walkthrough, too. I really need to take some of the woodworking classes at Techshop, that's for sure!
Thank you!
Great instructable! I loved the suggestions, research, alternative methods, and supporting information! <br> <br>
Thank you! I tried to include everything that helped me along the way.

About This Instructable




Bio: I'm a long time tinkerer and lover of Instructables, but recently I joined Techshop in San Francisco, and decided to really get creative. Right ... More »
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