Cutting boards are quite honestly my least favorite projects. When I was first starting out, a cutting board was my dream project and a major milestone in my woodworking journey. Edge grain, end grain, face grain, charcuterie, serving, etc. It didn’t really matter to me. I’m quite the home cook so I wanted to have an arsenal of my own boards that were perfect for entertaining as well as food prep in my place. Fast forward a few years and here I am, absolutely bored to tears of gluing strips together to make a block and sanding from 60 to 320 grit. Honestly, oiling a cutting board for the first time is cool and all, but I’m trying to live my life here and not just make a bunch of rectangles for the masses. With all that being said, they are great gifts, sale items stocking stuffers, white elephant offerings, etc.
So with an upcoming home show here in South Florida as well as a makers market in the thick of pumpkin spice latte season, I decided to try to throw some twists on the traditional and inlay some turquoise into some standard cutting, serving, and charcuterie boards. Gemstone inlays like this aren’t just useful for cutting boards, can be added to highlight furniture, fill voids of any kind, and honestly are just downright cool. They don’t need to be limited to turquoise, but can be done in this manner with almost any stone or solid item you can think of.
Lots and lots of scraps and off cuts from other projects
CA glue activator
Gemstones, metal shavings, or whatever inlay material you’d like
Pure Tung Oil
Sandpaper (ALL THE SANDPAPER)
Clamps on Clamps on Clamps
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Step 1: Material Prep
For the edge grain boards I started by getting one straight edge on everything just so I have a reference to run off the fence. I used a simple taper jig as a straight line rip jig and pinned down my thinner boards with plywood cauls. Then to rip strips, I used a feather board to operate as a stop block.
I gave all the strips a quick trip through the thickness planer just to get everything cleaned up so that I had surfaced pieces to glue together. If you don’t have a thickness planer, sanding everything or using a hand plane works just as well, but is going to require a lot of elbow grease.
Step 2: End Grain Board Glue Up and Trim Ups
I laid everything out in some configurations that I liked, no rhyme or reason to it really and then got to gluing and clamping. After the glue dried, I used a piece of half inch plywood and hot glued the board to the surface so I had a flat reference face for the planer. This is a pretty traditional quick and dirty planer sled. There’s a few variations of these but this is the quickest, dirtiest, and laziest that I can think of. This is also a good excuse to keep some sheet goods around the shop. I then ran it through the planer until flat.
After I got one flat side, I went ahead and took it off the plywood and ran it flat side down through the planer until I had two parallel faces.
I wanted to utilize some tall bevels as hand holds for the boards, so I set the blade by eyeball and then ripped the long edges down. Then using a miter gauge and a backstop, I cross cut the ends, and I didn’t do all these at square cross cuts just to keep things a bit spicy. Again, you can take your liberties here and do them square, do them oblong, whatever.
Step 3: The Turquoise Inlays
To do the inlays, I had these Bisbee turquoise stones my friend Meg, an incredibly talented jewelry designer, gifted me. I heard these were really rare and kinda expensive so I put them in a mortar and pestle and smashed them up into tiny pieces with my joiners mallet.
I didn’t really know what to do with these initially. At first I went ahead and just crammed them in a crack and then went over that with CA glue and a spritz of activator. Later I discovered it was actually helpful to have some glue in the void first to initially set the stones. Also, smaller flecks obviously were better for filling small cracks.
I wanted to try again on the surface so I just drilled a small hole, laid some glue, laid some rock, tamped it, glued over and boom. If there were any voids after the CA glue cured I went back and filled them with more CA glue. Looking at this after the fact, there was a little zone where the fractured stones had the perfect look for turquoise. Too small and it lost it’s texture but too big and there was too much CA glue in the void that it looked like an epoxy pour. I’d guess that pieces that were about 1/8 to 1/16 of an inch square were perfect for creating a good amount of visual texture. With that being said, you do you.
Step 4: Sanding Forever
Now here’s where a butt ton of sandpaper comes in. I worked from 60 grit all the way to 320. The CA glue is super annoying to sand so just be mindful to not dig in around the inlays so that you keep your nice flat surface.
I used a bit of water on a rag to pop the grain which is a pretty standard technique. The water will raise the wood fibers which you’ll sand away. This is a step that differentiates entry level woodworkers from experienced. If you skip this step, the first time this board gets washed it’ll be harrier than that fella with the Hendersons. I also used a block plane to break the hard edges with a baby chamfer for better hand feel.
Then I used a punch, a 5/8 forstner bit, and set some rubber feet in, which I removed once again because the boards needed a dunking in oil. When doing a batch of boards, I just put it in a shallow tray and pour a gallon of mineral oil on it. I’ll swish them around in there for about 24 hours to allow for quality penetration.
Step 5: The Handled Boards
For the handled charcuterie boards, I rough cut the blank of a couple charcuterie boards with a jigsaw and a router, and then just went to town with rasps and a spokeshave to get everything shaped out. Spokeshaves are a fun tool for those just getting into hand tool woodworking. You can also get a similar effect using a block plane if you’re slick. I prefer spokeshaves because you can get closer to a finish quality surface in a hurry with little sanding.
Step 6: Finishing
As I mentioned before, I use some mineral oil in a shallow container as a first step in a penetrating finish.
As a final finishing step on all my boards, I use a blend of beeswax, mineral oil, and pure tung oil. I just wipe it on thick and wait 24 hours and wipe off although it realistically takes a few days for a true full cure.
If you thought I was being wasteful with the mineral oil, I use a funnel and a paint filter to pour it back into the bottle. This little hack usually get a few good batches out of a gallon and it certainly catches the crud. I also use paint filter with all my finishes so I tend to have these around anyway.
Step 7: Done! Gloat! Love!
As I said, cutting boards are laborious but are very approachable for beginners. It’s also a cool place to test some different woodworking skills. Push yourself and let me know what you make.