A Gift: Cutting Boards

For a long while I have wanted to explore wood crafting as a hobby and have toyed with it in the past but never seriously pursued it. About two months ago the desire sparked again and I started doing some reading about it, checking out other peoples’ work and gathering some ideas for what I could start with (of course, my lady has plenty of ideas for me, they’re just much larger projects!). I settled on a cutting board based on this guide from Fix This Build That. Fortunately, I didn’t have to spend anything on the wood as my mom’s husband had a handful of hardwood scraps from other construction projects I was able to scavenge. He was also incredibly generous in letting me use his father’s table saw, planer, and joint planer.

I had a good mix of oak and a little bit of cherry and what I’m guessing is a couple of different types birch. I began by cutting each piece I had into 15 inch segments and then paring down the wider pieces to 1″ and 2.5″ wide.

Pre-glued boards

You can see from the picture they’re still of varying heights – they were much more varied but I used the table saw to trim them down to right around 1.5″ – I’m still trying to get used to the variances of this old table saw – but it’s a beast and I love it.

After that, I glued the pieces and clamped them, letting them sit overnight [typically a day, as I was doing most of the work after I got home from my day job].  The end product of that comes out uneven top to bottom, but nice and solid overall:

Pre-planed boards

The Ryobi in the background is the planer which takes the boards down nice and flat – I’d never used one before, but they’re quite handy and it makes the work a lot quicker and easier. I did purchase a hand planer, but it’s for more of a finishing job. This Ryobi takes 10″ wide pieces, so all of my cutting boards hover just under that mark. After the planer, they come out nice and flat, though a couple of my boards, depending on where they’re laying have been a slightly off kilter, I’m guessing because I didn’t use a jointer on each side of each individual piece [though, I wisened up after my first two cutting boards]. I also ended up having to trim one side of the board down a bit because of varying lengths of wood – initially when I was calculating board sizes, 15″ was my shortest piece – again, I’m still growing accustomed to the table saw, which is where some of my variance in lengths come in. Additionally, the gluing process can be difficult to keep the alignment exactly where you want it because the pieces slip around, especially as I clamped them. It definitely takes some patience.

Once the board is flat on both sides, the most rhythmic and peaceful part of the work comes: sanding. I bought a small hand sander and start each board out with a 50 grade sand paper, followed by 80, 120, and then finally several finishes of 220 to get it nice and soft. When I get to the 220 grade after my first go over of the board I get a rag and wipe it down – the Fix This Build That description says to use a spray bottle to get it wet – the purpose of this is to “raise” the grain for your next sanding. The three boards I have finished so far seem quite smooth with out spraying it down that way, so I am assuming it’s fine.

Finished and unfinished boards


In the above you can see the difference between the final stages of finishing the boards – you can also see the imperfections of some of my wood. There’s a part of me that wants to “fix” those things, but a part of me that appreciates the added depth it brings, giving a separate identity to each board I have created. In some instances I’ve tried to polish the mistakes up and in others, as you can see above, I’ve left. They’ve turned out quite beautiful when finished.

In order to finish, I’ve used a mineral oil (two coats) – it’s really spectacular watching the oil spill across the dry wood, instantly giving it depth. After the mineral oil coats, I then coated it with two coats of Butcher Block Conditioner, which is basically beeswax and mineral oil mix – I think my hands have gotten smoother just finishing these boards over the last few days. The finished product looks really good – I just hope they hold up as well as they look.

Finished board

I’m a terrible photographer and the light doesn’t really do this justice, but this is the end product. I’m really fascinated by how the oak darkened with the oil – there’s one board I did that has a couple of the rich cherry pieces in it, one thick and the other thin, that I think is my favorite. There’s definitely a lot of things I’ve learned through this process in terms of learning your tools and how they work, making good clean cuts [especially on some of the thicker hardwood] without burning it by going too slow [although, some of those burn marks have turned out really pretty], paying attention to the details of the wood before cutting – so many things, it’s hard to list them all. I’m really glad I did five of them (potentially one more in the works) because of all the things I learned from each piece.

It has felt really satisfying creating something with my hands and making use of my time in a way that has produced something that will [hopefully] bring my family joy. It’s a strange gift to bring to someone, especially because no one really asks for a cutting board. But it’s a gift I’m giving – I’m assuming me giving the gift is going to be much more satisfying that anyone else receiving the gift.

Update: Everyone I gave a board too seemed appreciative – again, it’s a weird gift to give because no one goes around asking for a cutting board for Christmas. I think the meaningfulness of it comes from the work and effort put in to create something for the people in your life you love. At the very least they’ll get used!


Breaking Barriers

All around me I see world changers mixed in with the observers. The creators and the consumers. The givers and the partakers. The selfless and the selfish. I have always had a problem with standing by and watching. I mean, I enjoy watching sometimes, but mostly I want to be performing. That was one of the reasons I was so inspired by being the music leader for a church for nine years after leaving college – I got to be onstage, performing, leading people in the ritual of singing. I got to push the boundaries of what was acceptable in church music, sampling secular music to show the deep emotion evident in art that wasn’t written “in the name of the lord.” And it was exhilarating, until it was exhausting. Performing 6 days a week, sometimes two and three times a day, all the practices, preparation, lack of varietal input all pushed me to a place where I was so spent I didn’t care about it any longer with the same passion.

Conveniently, I still didn’t quit, waiting out the hand of another to push me to resignation. I got to use that as a sort of martyrdom [there’s plenty else to this story that I am certain will come along soon enough] even though I was so tired from all of the performance I didn’t even have the energy to pick my guitar up out of its case. It was around that time I quit writing and started reading more and more. It was around that time I discovered that I didn’t have any real answers, that I hadn’t attained any true knowledge I could rely on, and that I needed to stop creating and performing because it was not healthy for me any longer. That move, while needed, ended up taking over too much. Instead of consuming for a little while, all I did was either consume or not participate at all. I entered a semi-blissful state where I had no fucks to give and so I gave none and I received nothing in return except for drunkenness and stale cigarette smoke.

So, I decided to change that, but it is difficult to change something you have allowed to become so ingrained in your existence. Creating is hard work, especially when you haven’t done it in a long while. Your fingers blister like they did when you first learned to play the guitar 20 years ago. The poetry of emotion that used to rise so easily sounds tripe. You sit down to write something out and realise you are going to just go outside and smoke that cigarette even though you’re trying to quit. And then you look in the mirror and search for motivation – what has pushed me all this time before I was washed up and alone?

It is then, after a few hours or days or weeks that I notice some of the little notes I have left myself, scattered around my office, loose in my bag, crumpled in my pocket.

Do the work.

“Nothing will work unless you do.”
– Maya Angelou

Get up and move. DO. Do not sit.

What are you doing?

“Know the true value of time; snatch, seize, and enjoy every moment of it. No idleness, no laziness, no procrastination; never put off till tomorrow what you can do today.”
– Lord Chesterfield

What am I doing? What do I have to do? Do it.

“Everyone thinks of changing the world, but no one thinks of changing himself.”
– Leo Tolstoy

And then, there are three statements I wrote down straight on my desk to remind myself:
I want to see what I can do.
What am I building?

A few weeks ago I went to a Foo Fighters concert – something I was really excited for and had bought tickets six months prior. The anticipation to see Dave Grohl and the Foo perform was overwhelming and then, there, in the midst of the fog and the lights and the bass pounding into my chest and the screams of the consumers I found myself not wanting to be there, at least not in the crowd. I wanted to be the creator, not the consumer. I wanted to be the giver, not the partaker. I wanted to be the selfless and not the selfish. I wanted to be the world changer, not the observer. I’m not writing about being Dave Grohl on stage in front of 10,000 people. I just want to be the one bringing the content, in whatever form that is – music, words, problem solving, applications. I want to be a bringer of life. I do not want to just be a consumer of life.