This is the process I use for building an end grain cutting board like the one below. I made this using maple and cherry. I started with 2 pieces of maple and 2 pieces of cherry. Each piece was 3″ x 30″ and approximately 3/4″ thick. You can use thicker boards if that is what you have and the boards do not have to be equal thickness. The thicker the board you use, the wider the lamination’s in the cutting board will be. This will also affect the final length of the cutting board.
You can click on any of the images to see a larger version.
From one of the cherry boards rip two boards, one at 2 1/8″ and another at 5/8″. Do the same with one of the maple boards.
From the second cherry board rip two boards, one at 1 5/8″ and another at 1 1/8″. Do the same with the second maple board.
Lay them out as shown in the next picture : 2 1/8″ cherry, 5/8″ maple, 1 5/8″ cherry, 1 1/8″ maple, 1 1/8″ cherry, 1 5/8″ maple, 5/8″ cherry, 2 1/8″ maple. Glue them together using Titebond III. I use Titebond III because of it’s water resistance properties.
Once the glue has dried, flatten the board by running it through a planer.
Crosscut one end of the panel square. Then set up a stop block so that you can crosscut the panel into 1 1/8″ pieces. If you want the final cutting board to be thicker, then you can crosscut the panel into 1 1/4″ pieces, however you will have less pieces and so the final cutting board will not be as long.
As you are crosscutting the panel you will reach a point when the panel is deeper than it is wide, and is no longer safe to crosscut. At this point, remove your cross cut sled, set the fence and rip the panel.
As you crosscut the panel, take the pieces and stack them in the same order, flipping them 90 degrees so the end grain is exposed. I ended up with 24 pieces.
Now take each second piece and flip it end over end to get the pattern.
Carefully transfer the pieces to your clamps taking care to keep them in the right order.
Take each piece, except for the piece closest to you, and flip it 90 degree. All the pieces should now be laying face grain up, ready for you to spread glue on. Again I use Titebond III.
Once the glue is spread, flip the pieces back up one at a time, taking care to make sure the pattern lines up nicely. Clamp the glue up. I used some cauls on the sides to help with lining the pattern up. Take care that the pieces are all sitting at the same height, the more care you take with this the less sanding you will have to do once the glue dries! I glued all 24 pieces at once, but was rushed to do it in the glue open time. It would be better to glue 8 pieces at a time and then to do a final glue up of the resulting three sections. Whichever way you do, take the time to do a dry run so that you are familiar with what you need to do during the glue up and have all the necessary clamps, rollers, hammer etc on hand.
I’ve shown a lot of pictures of the glue up to try and make it clear what to do.
Once the glue is dry the cutting board needs to be sanded. Hopefully you have a drum sander, if not you can use a belt sander and random orbital sander. I used a belt sander the first couple of boards that I made. Trust me when I say using a drum sander is a lot more fun! Whatever you do, don’t try and flatten the board using a planer. End grain does not plane well. You will ruin the board, the planer will kick it back at you and you will scare the hell out of yourself, even if you don’t get hurt. Trust me on this! Use a belt sander or a drum sander.
Once the board is smooth take it back to the crosscut sled on your table saw and trim the edges.
Final sanding can be done with the random orbital sander. If you find any small knot holes in the board, simply fill them with 5 minute epoxy and sand it flush.
Your board is now ready for a finish. However, if you want to “kick it up a notch” head over to your router table. Set up a 1/4″ round over bit in the router table and round all four sides, top and bottom of the board. Use a scrap piece of wood as a backer board to help minimize tear out. Also, if your router is variable speed, slow it down to help prevent burning the wood. Cherry is particularly prone to burning.
To round over the corners, I stood the board up on end. I nailed together a simple jig to which I clamped the board, to help keep it upright and at 90 degrees to the router fence.
To route some finger grooves on the sides of the board you need to chuck a 1/2″ core bit in your router. Set the height at 3/8″. Remember our board is just over 1″ thick and we will be routing a groove on each side. If you set the router bit to high, the grooves will run into each other. Set up some stop blocks on either side of the bit. Take care that the stop blocks are the exact same distance left and right of the bit. This is important because we are routing a groove on both the top and the bottom of the board. If the stop blocks are not set at the same distance either side of the bit, the grooves will not line up on each side of the board. Make a test cut on a piece of scrap to confirm your set up. You can see on my test cut how the ends of the groove on the top line up with the ends of the groove on the bottom.
If you are not familiar with this type of “plunge cut” on the router table, then practice on some scrap. Ruining your board at this point will really make you grumpy and irritable!
If all goes well this is what you should end up with on each side of your cutting board. The board is now fully reversible, you can use either face and pick it up easily regardless.
I finished the board with Butcher Block Mineral Oil. Poke around on the internet and you will find tons of information and debate on which finishes are food safe. From the research I’ve done, I feel that any finish is safe, provided that it is fully cured. This can take weeks in the case of some finishes. I chose an oil finish over a film finish because of the ease of repair of the finish. I’m assuming the board will be used and after a year or so of cutting will be pretty beat up. With the mineral oil finish it will be easy to run the board through the drum sander a couple of times and then apply some more mineral oil.
When applying the mineral oil, pool it on one side of the board. You’ll be amazed at how thirsty the end grain is! Keep on pooling it and spreading it around. After 5 to 10 minutes if you hold the board up and look on the underside you will see the mineral oil has started to come out that side. Pretty cool stuff. Flip the board over and pool some more oil on. After about another five to ten minutes the board should have stopped soaking up the mineral oil and you can wipe off the excess. I used 4 fl. oz on this board.
The finished board measures approximately 11″ x 15″ and is just over 1″ thick.