Tips for Making a Great Cutting Board

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About: Hi! I'm Matt and you can follow along as I [Build] new projects [Learn] new skills and [Repeat] the process. See all my projects and more at mwawoodworks.com

If you have followed me on Instagram over the last few years you've seen a LOT of cutting board pictures and videos. I've made and filmed literally hundreds of them. I've also received literally hundreds of questions about how I make them and so I've decided to document the whole process from start to finish to use as a reference for new woodworkers who have questions. Please check out the tutorial and if you still have questions be sure to leave them in the comments below. I want to make this as thorough as possible. I hope you find this useful!

Where to Follow along with my work:
Downloadable Project Plans: https://gumroad.com/mwawoodworks

My Website (full tutorials, plans, videos): https://www.mwawoodworks.com

My YouTube (all my build videos): https://www.mwawoodworks.com

My Instagram (behind the scenes stuff): https://www.mwawoodworks.com

My Pinterest (things I find inspirational) : https://www.mwawoodworks.com

Supplies:

Hardwood Lumber (various)

Table Saw Ripping Blade

Water Resistant Wood Glue

Table Saw General Purpose Blade

Foam Brush Applicator

Parallel Clamps

Butcher Block Conditioner

Glue Scraper

Digital Angle Gauge

Bench Cookies

Spray Bottle (for water)

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Step 1: Material Selection

Every project starts with material selection and this is no different, but perhaps you need to be a bit more picky than usual for a couple reasons. First your cutting board isn't going to be very big and so every square inch counts for beauty. Pick woods that will look appealing and have no defects. You absolutely want to use hardwoods over softwoods and the harder/denser the better for durability. I probably don't have to say it, but I will anyway: Stay away from pressure treated lumber, plywood, MDF, oak, poplar, cedar, pine or really anything that comes from a big box home improvement store. Those materials are meant for, well, home improvement. There, I said it. Lets move on.

My Favorite Cutting Board Hardwoods

American (domestic) hardwoods:

The "big three": walnut, hard maple, and cherry

Others that work well: ash, hickory, pecan, sycamore

Tropical hardwoods (usually used for accent coloring):

Purple heart, yellow heart, canary wood, paduak, bloodwood, zebrawood, bubinga

Now here are a few hardwoods you may be familiar with that I would personally avoid using (with my biases opinions sprinkled throughout)

Red Oak, grain is too porous for cutting boards (also ugly as sin and smelly when wet and basically good for firewood or cabinetry in a 1990's built home)

White Oak, while it is used to make my favorite whiskey (bourbon) and I tip my hat to it for that reason alone, it is also too porous to use in cutting boards

Poplar, not hard enough nor pretty enough. Basically a paint-grade hardwood one step up from pine unless you get real knotty or colorful purple poplar.

Butternut, basically soft like pine. Pass.

In no way is this an exhaustive list of woods you can use or avoid, but it covers the one's I know best. I welcome your input, of course.

Step 2: Preparing the Cutting Board Parts

If you're using long pieces of rough lumber, be sure to cut carefully at the chop saw because any bow in the wood can create a gap between the wood and the fence which when you complete the cut can cause pinching of the blade and KICKBACK! Be sure to complete the cut on the INSIDE portion (closest to the fence) first ans then the OUTSIDE portion. If your board is narrow enough to cut in one downward cut, then you should be fine.

Take a quick moment to make sure you have rough cuts of all the woods going into your board now. This is just good planning before we move on to the next step!

The first thing we need to do is flatten one face of our stock at the jointer.

Then place the flattened face against the fence and run one edge across the jointer. This will square up that edge to the flattened face.

Next, take your parts to the planer and put the flattened face DOWN on the planer bed and flatten the opposite face. Now you have three flat and squared sides.

The fourth side can be take care of by ripping it at the table saw (well, most of the time it can)

Step 3: Cutting Thin Strips Without a Jig

Now that all our parts have been flattened and squared to one another we need to make room for our accent strips.

To start, I am ripping 1 inch off the end of this board.

Then I need to make a series of 1/4" strips for the cutting board.

After I cut the first strip, I can line it up against the outside of the blade and move the fence and my work piece until the edge is flush with the outside of the strip. Now when I rip the work piece on the saw it will create a duplicate strip.

I want a total of three of these 1/4" strips for my cutting board.

I also want two 1/4" hard maple strips, so I repeat this process for those.

Step 4: Getting Nice Glue Joints

You can see here that this edge I ripped at the saw is kind of gappy on one end. That will cause a glue joint that can fail in the future, so we want to take care of that.

The best way I know to ensure a tight and seamless glue joint in your cutting board is to do the jointer trick.

To get tight seamless glue joints, fold your work pieces in half like a book at the glue joint. Then run these pieces across the jointer at the same time.

Doing this will cause you to cut supplementary angles on the edges of your work pieces. What this means is that even if your jointer fence is slightly off square, the resulting angles will add up to 180 degrees (flat) and this will match up to one another perfectly.

You can see the resulting glue joint here. A tight and seamless joint! Lets move on!

Step 5: Assembling the Cutting Board

My two cherry accent strips already happened to be flat and square (sometimes I get lucky). So the next thing to do is arrange all the strips of your cutting board to get a visual of what the final board will look like. This gives you a chance to change things up or add other accent strips if you like before you go to the glue-up stage.

This glue up is simple enough. There are only a few parts and I've definitely tackled way more complicated board glue-ups than this one. It shouldn't take long at all. I like to lay out my parts on the clamps so I don't accidentally glue the wrong parts together. I then apply a water resistant wood glue using a foam brush. Over the years this has become my go-to way to spread the glue evenly without a fancy applicator.

Next I apply pressure with the clamps. Two on top and two on bottom to help prevent warping the cutting board blank. You don't need a ton of pressure here, just enough to get good even squeeze out along each joint.

You can see here what the squeeze out looks like. There's not a ton of excess glue either. Now just let the board sit just like this so the glue doesn't run down the board.

After waiting 30 to 45 minutes, the glue will be skinned up and rubbery which is the perfect time to scrape it off. It should come off neatly and with a single pass. Just get as much as you can (the clamps will cover some of it and that's OK). I generally wait overnight to let the cutting board fully cure in the clamps before I move on. If I'm in a hurry, a minimum of 3 hours wait time is best.

Step 6: Cleaning Up the Cutting Board

Now with the glue cured and the board out of the clamps, I use a scraper to get any of the left over hardened glue off the surface. This is a good ideas to do now because the next step really works in your favor if the bottom of the board (which you referenced off the clamps to keep flat) is free of glue bumps which can throw off the planer in the next step.

Next we will do a technique called "skip planing" in which we put the flattest side of the work piece down on the bed of the planer and take a very light pass. Then we flip and rotate the board and send it through again taking a shallow skim cut.

Repeat this process of flipping the board over and rotating it 180 degrees until both sides of the board are planed flat. This process helps preserve as much of the thickness of the board as possible and helps make the cutting board as flat as possible.

Step 7: Square Up the Cutting Board

Now that we have a flattened board, we need to square up those rough glued ends. The best way to do this is with your cross cut sled. Pick one long side of your board and place it against the cross cut sled fence. Trim off one end of the board and then flip the board over, keeping the same long side against the fence. Then trim the other end of the board. Doing this ensures that the two ends are square to the one long side which is generally all you need to do. However it may bee necessary to then rip the fourth side parallel to ensure all four sides are square.

Its also a good idea now to check to see if the board is still flat and hasn't moved on you. Sometimes doing all this cutting can relieve stresses in the wood causing warping. I use the flat cast iron top of my table saw to check this. You can also use a granite counter top in your kitchen if you don't have a trusted flat surface in your shop.

Normally I don't check all four sides for square because for regular cutting boards there's no real point. But I want to do something different with this board and it really only works well if the board is square. If you just want a standard cutting board, you can skip down to sanding the board. Otherwise keep reading on!

Step 8: Adding Bevels As a Feature

I like to add an under bevel on my thicker cutting boards. I do this for two reasons, one practical and one aesthetic. The practical reason is that it gives the user a place to grab the board on all sides making it convenient to pick up and move.

Aesthetically, it gives a thicker board a very light, almost floating look. You can see from the picture that this board looks pretty thing although it is almost 2 inches thick!

To get started cutting the bevels on our cutting board we need to set the blade of the table saw to 45 degrees. This handy digital angle gauge takes all the work out of setting the angle. These things are relatively cheap and very handy!

I like to use a straight edge against the blade to visualize where the bevel will be cut on the cutting board. Just adjust the fence until the bevel is where you want it to be. This is really a personal preference but I generally want the top edge of the board to be 3/4" to 1" thick once the bevel is cut.

Now carefully make the first cut.

Once the first cut is complete, turn the board around and place the cut side against the fence to make the cut on the opposite side.

Now to match up the bevels on the two ends to the bevels on the sides takes some trial and error. I like to take small probing cuts until the fence is at the right distance so that the bevels meet at an exact point.

Once you reach that distance, make the cut. If your board was squared, the bevel on the end will perfectly intersect the bevels on each side and you'll have a nice point!

Now, again, flip the board around and cut the bevel on the opposite end. There should be no reason to move the fence here since you already found the correct distance on the previous cut.

Step 9: Admire That You Just Did That!

If everything goes as planned the result will look like this! I love it when a plan works out!

Now stand back and admire that you just did that! Bravo!

OK, enough back-patting. Lets move on!

Step 10: Using a Block Plane

For the top edge of the cutting board, I prefer to break the edge with a block plane. Here's why... Its fast and easy and safe. I used to use a chamfer bit on the router table for this operation but way too often the bit tore a small chunk out of the top edge right where you don't want a chunk to be missing!! It's right in view of the user of the cutting board every time they use it. You don't want that eyesore visible like that! So, instead the block plane can do this work in like 5 minutes and if you do the long edges of the board before you do the ends you wont get any blowout. And also you get to make cool little curly shavings. It's the small things that create joy ;-)

Oh and don't forget those corners! Those can be sharp and you don't want to poke yourself like that using the cutting board.

Now, sometimes on the end grain, the block plane can leave a fuzzy surface on the edges. The best way to deal with that is to use 220 grit sandpaper wrapped in a block of wood. The block of wood ensures you don't round over these edges when you sand them down.

Just three to four passes with the sandpaper will remove the rough edge. Don't go wild here, you don't want to mess up those clean edges!

Step 11: Sanding the Cutting Board

The next step is sanding your work piece. I like to go through 120, 180 and 220 grit sandpaper with a random orbit sander on my cutting boards.

How do you know when to stop sanding with each grit? EASY, just use the pencil trick! Before you sand with each grit, mark lines on the work piece with a pencil like this. Don't press too hard or you'll leave an impression in the wood. Mark just firmly enough to leave a nice dark line. Now, just sand until the pencil lines are completely gone. This is an indicator that the whole surface has been abraded and you can move on to the next grit!

Be careful sanding all the facets of the edges of the cutting board. You want good positive registration on all the angles to make sure you don't round over any of those sweet edges. If you have to, switch to the smallest sander you have or even think about using a sanding block!

Step 12: Raising the Grain

Here's a secret everyone should know. Once you're done sanding through all your grits, spritz the surface of the board with water, just enough to cover the surface. It will make the board feel very rough again, like you never sanded it. But don't worry, this is called "raising the grain". What does this mean? When you sand, you tear and abrade the fibers of the wood making tons of tiny broken fibers all over the surface of the cutting board. You know already that wood likes to move, especially when wet. so what ends up happening is that when the wood gets wet all those tiny broken wood fibers curl up and stand proud of the surface just like the hairs on your arm when you get cold.

Once the board dries completely, sand over it again with the 200 grit paper and the board will very quickly be smooth again. What has happened is that your sander clipped off all those fibers that were standing up and the good news is that they wont come back. So when you clean the cutting board after using it, it wont get rough again!

Step 13: Applying Finish to the Cutting Board

Now comes the very very very best part of making a cutting board. You get to apply the finish and watch that grain come to life! I like to use a mixture of food grade mineral oil and beeswax. It's 100% safe for consumption and is dead simple to apply. You can get butcher block conditioner from the big box store. It's basically the same thing.

Just liberally coat all side of the board with this pasty mixture. Man, look at that grain!

The next step is the easiest. Just walk away! Seriously, just walk away.... for several hours if you can. This will allow the board time to soak in all that mineral oil and leave the wax behind to solidify on the surface.

The final step is to grab a clean cotton cloth and buff the surface of the cutting board until it has a nice buttery smooth sheen to it. It should no longer feel oily or look wet and will have a soft glow from the wax. There is no need to repeat this step because the wax will have created a hard shell on the surface so any further applications will result in a huge mess because the mineral oil will be prevented from soaking into the wood like it should.

And there you have it! You have an awesome new cutting board and also a few new tips and tricks to throw in your tool belt!

Step 14: THANK YOU!!

I hope you found these instructions helpful! If you'd like to see more detail, check out this video where I walk step by step through the build!

If you enjoyed this tutorial and found it helpful, you can see more of my work in the following places:

My Website (full tutorials, plans, videos): https://www.mwawoodworks.com

My YouTube (all my build videos): https://www.mwawoodworks.com

My Instagram (behind the scenes stuff): https://www.mwawoodworks.com

My Pinterest (things I find inspirational): https://www.mwawoodworks.com

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    24 Discussions

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    jimbles

    1 day ago

    I just read a few of the scientific papers on using various hardwoods in cutting boards and it was super interesting (one even talked about using pine!). It also goes against a lot of the conventional wisdom in the woodworking world, so I don't anticipate it being widely adapted in the community. Agree with you 100% on the red oak, but white oak should get a better shake! It's used for keeping boats afloat and protecting our precious whisky precisely for how water resistant it is. I don't think it looks all that attractive in a face grain cutting board, but for end grain it's a nice addition. Great write up and lovely boards!

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    mwawoodworksjimbles

    Reply 1 day ago

    the grain in oaks of any kind is too open. traps microbes and food particles.

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    jimblesmwawoodworks

    Reply 13 hours ago

    That's true but also a bit misleading. All wood has pores that are large enough for microbes and food particles to get sucked into, including walnut and maple. The whole reason that wooden cutting boards are safer than plastic is they pull the bacteria inside the wood where it dies. I'm not trying to be argumentative. As a prominent name in the woodworking community, you'd be a good advocate for what the science says vs old wives tales.

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    zkeršič

    19 hours ago

    Well done. Professional, functional and aesthetic.
    Congratulations.

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    jreidy1

    1 day ago

    Good presentation and writeup. Using a face grain cutting board, will ruin knives and get horrible knife scratches in it. End grain forever :-)

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    Sardinops

    1 day ago

    A lovely cutting board! Well done!

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    FloridaJo

    Tip 3 days ago

    Another tip is to add feet the them. Here in Florida there is lot's of mold spores in the air and when you leave a wet board on the counter for just a few days, it gets moldy.
    I put on wooden feet then drill into the feet and epoxy in rubber or silicone bumpers.

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    pzadzzzz

    3 days ago

    I haven't read through all of your instructions (and you may have mentioned it) but you might want to mention that walnut maybe problematic with those who have nut allergies. I think I read that somewhere. Maybe another poster out there could verify that. BTW, very nicely done and thorough. Good job.

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    mwawoodworkspzadzzzz

    Reply 3 days ago

    Walnut wood poses no threat to people with tree nut allergies. The protein that causes the problem is only found in the nuts and isn't present in the wood fibers of the tree itself 👍

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    nereo1

    3 days ago

    A lovely piece of work -- But I think white oak is non porous; consider its wide use in boat building and wine barrels

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    mwawoodworksnereo1

    Reply 3 days ago

    It's actually very open grained and has open pores. You can see closeups of the end grain and see the pores easily. When you age spirits in oak barrels, a fair amount evaporates through the barrel. This is called the "angels share".

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    nereo1mwawoodworks

    Reply 3 days ago

    Quoting from the Wood Database website --
    A closed grain hardwood, white oak is almost impervious to water. The pores of the heartwood of white oaks are typically plugged with tyloses, which is a membranous growth. Tyloses makes the white oak impenetrable to liquids and particularly suited for use in the boat industry. Because of its resistance to moisture, white oak is also widely used to construct outdoor furniture.
    One related test regarding porosity is to take a short section of oak and try to blow air through the pores. If you are able to blow anything through it at all, it’s probably red oak. Take a look at this video, where a red oak dowel was used to blow bubbles in a glass of water:
    httpvh://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eIXZ9iYM4PA

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    kjlpdx

    Tip 3 days ago

    Initially leave extra length, don’t cut to final size. The planer always gouges at the beginning of a pass.

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    pzadzzzzkjlpdx

    Reply 3 days ago

    Actually the water tightness of white oak is due to the fact that those pores are blocked with tyloses, a natural occurrence in white oak. That's why they use it for boats. And also why it is less prone to rot and used outdoors a lot, it won't wick up water into the end grain.

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    roley1

    Question 3 days ago on Step 14

    Awesome cutting board l have neverthought of the simple idea of bevelled under edge to make it easier to move them l cut grooves in the end of mine to make inbuklt handles. Just wondering if you could let me know the mix ratio for your mineral oil and beeswax conditioner that you mentiloned l have just been using vegetable oil but your sounds like it would last longer between recoats. . Thanks Roley

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    puzzugg

    3 days ago

    yes me to i wish and and i want to lear how to make the r recipe for the beeswax and mineral oil paste. I really love to learn how to make it and keep it up it is marvles work and your teaching misfits

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    Tucker B

    3 days ago

    Amazing project! I was just curious if you could share your recipe for the beeswax and mineral oil paste. I really love the finish it left on the wood.

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    mwawoodworksTucker B

    Reply 3 days ago

    Sure I use a 4 to 1 ratio of mineral oil to beeswax. To make it real simple that's 4 16 Oz bottles of mineral oil and 1 lb of beeswax.