Introduction: Live Edge Serving Board
I was asked to make a serving board (aka charcuterie board, aka cheese board) out of a dark wood with with a live edge. I jumped at the opportunity as the only wood I thought matched the description was walnut, which is one of my favourite woods.
In this article I will take you through the steps I took to make this serving board. I really love how it turned out and I think this is the type of project that even the beginner woodworker can tackle!
Below are links to the supplies, tools and materials I used in making this. The links are either to the exact tool/supply I used, or something very close.
Walnut Slab - I used a slab that was more than 4' long and 11" across, adjust to your design needs.
Cordless Circular Saw: https://amzn.to/2qfnOai
Straight edge (I used a level)
Chisel set: https://amzn.to/2qfnOai
Flexible Sanding Pad: https://amzn.to/2qfnOai
5 Minutes Epoxy: https://amzn.to/2qfnOai
Orbital Sander: https://amzn.to/2qfnOai
Sanding Disks: https://amzn.to/2qfnOai
Cordless Drill: https://amzn.to/2qfnOai
Center Punch: https://amzn.to/2RjcDsc
Handles - https://amzn.to/2rjoEmR
Rubber Feet: https://amzn.to/2qfnOai
Cutting Board Oil: https://amzn.to/2qfnOai
Cutting Board beeswax: https://amzn.to/2qfnOai
Note: The links above are affiliate links, meaning, at no additional cost to you, I may earn a commission if you click through and make a purchase.
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Step 1: Purchasing the Slab
Normally purchasing the wood wouldn't be a complete step on it's own, but when it comes to live edge material it is very important. Wood like this doesn't come in standardized dimensions like a 2x4, instead you need to sift through the slabs on display to find the one that will work for your project. So spend your time and make sure you look at all sides of the boards and look out for major cracks or knots.
In my case, I found one that was the right width (between 11" and 12") but it was about 1.5' too long. Better to long than too short as they always say! I loaded it up into my station wagon and I was on my way home.
Tip: I have found that most hardwood dealers and their staff are extremely helpful to newcomers, so don't be shy to ask questions and make sure you let them know if this is your first project like this.
Step 2: Cutting It to Length
Before you grab your saw and just start cutting, don't forget the mantra of measure twice and cut once!
You will want to look at both ends of your board to see if there is an edge that has already been cut straight and doesn't have any cracks in it. If there is you are in luck (as was I in this project). Then you just need to simply measure off that end to your final length. In my case the length was 48".
If you don't have a nice edge or if there are cracks in the end on both sides, simply cut one end as straight as you can. As this is a live edge project, straight lines are subjective.
To measure, make two marks on the board at 48" and then grab something solid and straight to use as a guide(in this case I used a level). Mark a line joining the two marks.
Move the guide over a few inches and line up the 0 degree mark on your circular saw with the line you drew. Then slide your straight edge guide up to the saw's edge and clamp it down.
Before you cut, make sure that the straight edge guide is securely clamped and in the right place.
Once you have done all that, then you are ready to saw away!
Step 3: Cleaning Up the Edge
Most live edge material comes with bark on the edges. While this can look really nice, it is prone to falling off after going through a few seasons in your house due to the changes in humidity. I suggest pulling out your trusty chisel and removing it before it comes off on it's own. Make sure you have the wood secured so that it will stay upright while you work on it. I used clamps at the bottom of the board to hold it in place.
Due to the natural shapes, some places won't be chisel friendly. In that case, I suggest sanding the bark off using 60 grit sandpaper and a flexible sanding pad.
This is also a good time to sand the edges in progressively finer grits from 60 to 220.
Step 4: Stabilizing Knots and Fillings Cracks
In almost every large piece of live edge material there will be knotty areas that need stabilization of there will be cracks that need to be filled. If you don't fill these areas they can accumulate food and bacteria, which isn't a good thing! I use 5 minute epoxy for this job.
Pour out equal amounts of resin and hardener and then mix them together.
Add epoxy to the knots and cracks. Add more than you think you need as it will seep into the voids.
Tip: You may want to add some color to the epoxy. You can purchase special pigments, or just add sawdust if you want it to look closer to the wood color.
Step 5: Sanding Off the Epoxy
After waiting 24 hours (or longer, check the direction on your epoxy) you will need to remove the excess. Using a 60 grit sanding disc on a random orbital sander is one of the easiest ways.
Be careful, it is very easy to sand a divot into the wood. Take your time and make sure to only remove the epoxy. As you get closer and closer to the wood (and there is less of a hump of epoxy), start sanding in a larger area. This will help to minimize any chance of a divot forming.
After you have sanded off all of the excess epoxy, check to see if there are any areas that need more epoxy filling. If so, head back to the previous step and add more epoxy.
Step 6: Finish Sanding
Using a random orbital sander sand the entire project using grits 80, 120 and 180.
After 180 take out a water sprayer and wet down the board. This will raise the grain and make it feel a bit fuzzy once it dries. This is also a good time to check to make sure you have properly removed any excess epoxy as it will not darken when the water is sprayed on it. If you see this, go back and re-sand that area.
Once it dries, sand it with 220 grit.
Step 7: Drill for Handles
As this is quite the large board, handles were a requirement. But figuring out where to put them left me quite puzzled. So I called in the top dog, my miniature schnauzer named Rivet. He recommended that I put the handles 2" from the edge and I agreed.
After marking a line 2" from the edge, I centered the handle the best I could and marked the spot for the handle screws 6" apart. (verify this dimensions against the handle you have)
I used a center punch on the interesting lines and then drilled away using a 3/16" bit. (verify the bit size required against the screws you have)
Step 8: Install Feet
Unlike the handles, installing the feet is much easier as no one will see them. I choose to install them about 1.5" from the edge and just inside the heartwood (the darker wood).
The feet I had use a #8 screw. That meant I needed an 11/64" bit in my drill. Using some masking tape to act as a depth guide the pilot hole was drilled and the feet were screwed in.
Step 9: Preparing for Finish
After blowing off the board to remove loose sawdust, I wiped down the board using a tack cloth to ensure the board was clean.
Step 10: Add Finish
When making a woodworking project that will be used with food, it is very important to use a food safe finish. I recommend mineral oil as it is both food safe and it will not go rancid like some other food safe oils (e.g. vegetable oil).
The first product I used was a straight mineral oil. You just squirt some on the board and rub it around using a rag or shop towel. It is important to not forget the edges as they need protection too. After letting it sit and soak for approximately 15 minutes wipe off any excess oil that hasn't soaked in.
I then added a top coat of a mixture of beeswax and mineral oil. I find the beeswax makes the finish last longer. It's as easy as what Mr. Miyagi said in the Karate Kid, just wax on and wax off.
Step 11: Install Handle
Pop the screws through the board and install the handle. Then check to make sure it isn't loose and you are done!
Step 12: Enjoy!
The best part of any project is getting to enjoy it. Sadly for me, I made this for a client, so they are the ones that will get to enjoy it. That being said, I was lucky enough to snap some pictures before they came to pick it up. I did hear about how much they loved how it turned out, which made me happy.
I hope you enjoyed this project. If you make one for yourself I would love to see pictures. Every live edge project has it's own unique characteristics so I can't wait to see what others will look like.
As always, I am always happy to answer any questions in the comments below.
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