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!