Archive for January 2018

The Things New Cutting Board Makers Always Ask: The Finishing   3 comments

This is part 2 in a series of 2 posts, dedicated to helping new cutting board makers do what they want to do. For part 1, go here. Go ahead, we’ll wait.

Once you’ve glued wood together, you need to know how to finish your cutting board. Unfortunately, you’ve got a lot of options on how to make a cutting board, and those options will multiply as you move towards the finish line.

9. How do you finish a cutting board?

The recommended best practice is to apply mineral oil to the raw wood. Some immerse the board in a mineral oil bath for several minutes; others wipe on the oil in one or more applications.

The purpose of the oil is to supplement/replace the natural oils in the wood. Those oils will dry out over time, plus the soap and water used to clean the board will leach out those oils. So, for long life, you need to oil a cutting board. Talk to a chef: commercial kitchens oil their boards every day.

Note that the mineral oil has nothing to do with the anti-bacterial properties of a wooden cutting board.

10. Why mineral oil? Why not (insert other oil here)?

Mineral oil is shelf stable and will not go bad. It is FDA approved for human consumption (it’s a laxative). Oils that are grown, such as canola, coconut or olive oil will all eventually go rancid. They are not recommended for cutting board treatment.

11. How do you seal a cutting board?

You don’t.

You oil the board with mineral oil. If you “seal” the board with a varnish or polyurethane, then that coating will flake off when you carve on the board, and will mix with your food. No one recommends that you eat varnish or poly, so don’t use them on cutting boards.

12. What’s Board Butter?

It’s a mix of beeswax and mineral oil that can be used as a topcoat over a board that’s already treated with mineral oil. The beeswax, also FDA approved, gives another layer of protection to the wood, and will help to repel water. Different woodworkers prefer different formulas for their board butter … but if they include any ingredients not approved for human consumption, like polyurethane, then they would not be good to use.

I prefer a mix of 2 parts mineral oil to one part locally-harvested beeswax, which results in an applesauce-like texture when you apply it. Some like their board butter stiffer, which requires heating it prior to application.

13. Should a cutting board have feet?

Cutting Board 16 – End 029a. Detail of the finger hold on the edge of the board.


Some prefer their boards to have non-skid feet. Some prefer to leave the board ready for 2-sided use, which means they have to find some way to keep it from sliding during use.

14. Should a cutting board have handles?

Probably. Especially if a board has no feet, it really helps to have a way to easily pick it up. I put routed hand holds – or finger holds – on just about all of my boards.

15. Should a cutting board have a juice groove?

This is another philosophical discussion.

Some prefer juice grooves. In my home, however, the cook says that if you’re properly cooking your meat you really want the juices to stay IN the meat, so if you’re carving the meat and juice is running out, you haven’t let the meat rest long enough. So, in my home, no grooves.

In the booth, however, I sell boards with grooves on them. Really big grooves, sometimes.

16. What should a cutting board cost?

Carving Board – the poultry side. The graduated ribs of the oval are perfect to hold the fowl in place as you carve.

I don’t think there’s a really good answer to this question. Some craftsmen try and hold to a certain cost per square inch (foolish) or cubic inch (better). I find these methods to be a waste of my time. But that’s me.

Hard Maple costs me about $4.25 a board foot. Black Walnut costs me about $9.00 a board foot. Goncalo Alves costs me about $14.00 a board foot. When I’m pricing a board, I think about the cost of the lumber I used … and round up. Then I add in my other costs, for sandpaper, mineral oil & such … and round up. Overhead costs such as electricity, saw blade sharpening and tool purchases have to be factored in. Those are my hard costs.

What’s your time worth? An honest answer to that question will drive you out of the cutting board business rather quickly, I believe.

And all of this is before you consider variable costs such as event fees, transportation costs, insurance….

After you know your costs, you need to come up with a price that works for you, and then find an audience that believes that price works for them as well. When you sell a board, then that’s the price that you agreed on with your customer. Right, wrong or indifferent, that’s how pricing works.

I sell cheese boards (approximately 8″ x 11″ x 5/8″) for $35 – $50 depending on their exact size and wood design. Plain maple boards would be cheaper than boards made with more expensive woods like Bloodwood, Mesquite and Purpleheart.

I sell cutting boards (12″ x 16″ x 1-1/4″) for $75 – $140 depending on their wood design, if they have a juice groove, etc. Large cutting boards (16″ x 21″ x 1-1/2″) sell for $275 and up.

Note that these are my prices as I head into 2018. If wood costs go up, then my prices will as well.

Prices – and wood costs – vary by region. End grain boards will cost more than edge grain boards. Some hobbyists charge less because they can. Some professionals charge more because they must.

What should you charge? I don’t know.

17. Can you make a living selling cutting boards?

Not in my experience. I’m having a lot of fun, but paying the mortgage? Not so much.


Cutting Board 16 – End 038. Black Walnut, Yellowheart & Hickory. End Grain, Large Custom Juice Groove. 20″ x 26″ x 1-1/2″. Commissioned Piece.

Cutting Board 15 – 094. Jatoba, Black Walnut, Yellowheart, Jarrah, & Jatoba. 13″ x 19″ x 1-1/2″. Commissioned piece; replacement board fitted in a counter top.


The Things New Cutting Board Makers Always Ask: The Making

The Woods In The Woodshop

So You Want To Buy A Cutting Board….

Cutting Boards: What Kind Do You Want?

Cutting Boards: Care & Cleaning

Cutting Boards: Restoration

The Things New Cutting Board Makers Always Ask: The Making   1 comment

This is part 1 in a series of 2 posts, dedicated to helping new cutting board makers do what they want to do. For part 2, there’s a link at the bottom of this post.

Cutting Board 17 – 109. Hard Maple, Edge Grain. 11″ x 14″ x 1-1/8″.

Building a cutting board is a rite of passage for many woodworking hobbyists. Many of those hobbyists ask the very same questions. Here, then, is a complete list of common answers to those common questions.

1. What size should a cutting board be?

The size that the cook wants. That’s the best answer to this all too common question.

Personally, I define a “cutting board” as a board that’s about 12″ x 16″ x 1-1/4″. However, I know that many of my “cheese boards” and “small boards” are purchased to be used as cutting boards, and those boards can be as small as 8″ x 10″ x 5/8″. Big enough to slice a tomato? You bet. Big enough for meal prep to serve a family of 4? Not so much.

I sell the most “cutting boards” at the 12″ x 16″ x 1-1/4″ size, but I sell many more “cheese boards.” Of course, that may be because they cost less than half what a “cutting board” does.

2. What woods should I use in a cutting board?

Cutting Board 17 – 424. Bubinga, Cherry, Purpleheart & Hard Maple. End grain, juice groove. 17″ x 21-1/2″ x 1-1/2″.

Really, just about any wood will be OK. Go to a high school woodshop where they are making cutting boards, and you’ll see that they use whatever they have at hand. That doesn’t mean the boards are good, but the wood is cheap.

A study at the University of Wisconsin – Madison examined the natural anti-bacterial properties of several wood species, and they were found to be comparable. That’s one reason why wood is used to make the very best cutting boards.

The FDA says that commercial cutting boards should be made from Hard Maple or its equivalent. Hard Maple is a close-grained wood (meaning not very porous), that has proven to be an excellent cutting surface for centuries. Butcher blocks are made from Hard Maple. That’s the gold standard.

3. What woods should I NOT use in a cutting board?

Avoid woods that are a lot softer than Hard Maple. Avoid woods that are much more porous than Hard Maple. Always avoid:

  • Used woods … where have they been? What has been sprayed on these woods? Do you want your food prepped on this wood? You don’t know where it’s been.
  • Treated woods, such as wood from pallets or rot-resistant manufactured woods. Poisons are injected into these woods.
  • Laminated woods, like Bamboo. Bamboo is a bulbous grass that when properly harvested and laminated, can make hard lumber. However, the character of this wood is such that it will dull knives. Bamboo is not a good cutting board wood. It’s VERY CHEAP in the countries where it is grown, but it does not make a good cutting board.

4. Can I use Oak in a cutting board?

This is a great philosophical debate in some woodworking circles. Let’s start with a truth: Red Oak and White Oak are not actual species. Rather, they are collections of harvested lumber that are graded by the lumber mill to be in the Red or White Oak category. Red Oak is generally more red (duh), and White Oak has some very distinctive grain patterns made famous in Mission style furniture (there’s a wonderful article about the 2 categories of Oak, on the Wood Database site). However, there is no hard line separating Red & White Oak, and some pieces are difficult to categorize.

Red Oak is an extremely porous wood, so it fails the FDA recommendation to use Hard Maple or its equivalent. White Oak is much less porous (whisky is aged in white oak barrels!), so some argue it’s OK to use (true in the heartwood, but less so in the sapwood).

My recommendation: do not use any Oak in cutting boards. There are better, prettier woods to use.

5. What are the best woods to use?

Cutting Board 16 – End 040. Bubinga, Cherry, Bloodwood, Goncalo Alves, Canarywood, Padauk, Purpleheart, Yellowheart & Hard Maple. 16″ x 21″ x 1-1/2″.

There is something called the Janka hardness scale, that measures how hard wood is. Hard Maple gets a score of 1450. That’s my gold standard.

Some people use much softer Hard Woods in cutting boards, like Cherry (Janka score of 950) or Black Walnut (1010). Some people see nothing wrong with using Alder (590) or Box Elder (720), which are both considered Soft Woods.

6. What glue should I use to make a cutting board?

Glues have come a long way since hide glue was used a hundred years ago.

Most woodworkers use Titebond II or Titebond III. You’ll find both are commonly available; both are approved by the FDA for food contact surfaces. Titebond II is less expensive, somewhat less water resistant, and has a shorter “open” time before it sets. Titebond III costs more, has a bit more water resistance, and has a longer “open” time. Please note that the manufacturer gives these specifications:

  • Clamp the joint for a minimum of 60 minutes.
  • Do not stress the joint for a minimum of 24 hours (so, no machining for a day after a glue up)
  • It is not possible to “starve the joint” by applying too much clamping pressure.

Some woodworkers elect to use all sorts of glues, such as Gorilla Glue.

You’re an adult, you get to choose.

7. Can I glue face grain to edge grain to end grain?

This question frustrates me a lot. Many people are passionate about this topic, and woodworking forums are full of posts from people that love to insult others that don’t have the spectacular insight that they claim to have.

Taylor Swift sang about it: Haters gonna hate.

Cutting Board 17 – 101. Jatoba, Hard Maple, Cherry & Canarywood. Edge Grain with Bread Board Ends. In-counter replacement, commissioned piece. 16″ x 21″ x 3/4″.

Here’s a fact: wood expands & contracts at a greater rate across the grain than it does along the length of the board (“with the grain”). So, when you glue end grain to edge/face grain, you have a potential for the wood to break when those uneven amounts of contraction cause the laminated piece to burst apart. Read an exhaustive explanation, here.

So, gluing end grain to edge grain can end poorly. Putting a frame around a cutting board, gluing the ends of the cutting surface to the edge grain of the frame is a bad idea. Not recommended.

However, it’s also true that cutting boards with bread board ends have been made successfully for decades, and are a part of many kitchens. I recommend bread board ends for cutting boards less than 1″ thick; the cross grain ends help to keep those cutting boards flat.

8. Can I run an end grain cutting board through a planer?


Not safely. No.

I know, I know, you have seen it done on You Tube. You’ve perhaps even done it yourself a time or three, and nothing bad ever happened to you. I have also planed an end grain board, and nothing bad happened.

I was lucky.

The simple truth is that the shearing force of a planer – any kind of planer – does not play well with the very hard but brittle structure of an end grain board. And, wood being wood, some end grain boards will break when sent through a planer. They may crack, and they may break apart rather spectacularly.

Daniel Clement, from Manheim, PA, planed an end grain board on his DeWalt 733 planer. Unfortunately, he had the spectacular happen: “It was scary … the thing shot out at 30-40 mph down my driveway.”

Daniel Clement’s flying missile of a cutting board, after the planer was done with it.


Scott Ross had run 80 end grain boards through his 20″ segmented head planer … and then this chaos board broke apart when he planed it.

These common questions take you through the first several steps of designing and making a cutting board. To learn about how to finish your new board, follow the link below.

Cutting Board 17 – 121. Hard Maple, Canarywood & Bloodwood. Edge Grain. 13″ x 17″ x 1-1/8″.

Cutting Board 17 – 108. Goncalo Alves, Black Walnut, Honey Locust, Jatoba & Cherry. Edge Grain. 11″ x 17″ x 1″.


The Things New Cutting Board Makers Always Ask: The Finishing

The Woods In The Woodshop

So You Want To Buy A Cutting Board….

Cutting Boards: What Kind Do You Want?

Cutting Boards: Care & Cleaning

Cutting Boards: Restoration

So You Want To Buy A Cutting Board….   2 comments

Every home has a kitchen. Every kitchen has at least one cutting board. When the cook – or the cook’s really good friend – decides they need a new board, then the conversation begins.

Let’s start with the pretty.

There are 2 basic kinds of cutting boards, which are called edge grain (they are “stripey”) and end grain (they have lots of small squares, and often remind people of quilts or chess boards).

Edge grain cutting board. Cutting Board 17 – 141. Yellowheart, Canarywood, Hard Maple & Jatoba. 14″ x 18″ x 1-1/4″.

End grain cutting board. Cutting Board 17 – 433. Jatoba, Hard Maple & Canarywood. End grain. 16″ x 21″ x 1-1/2″. Commissioned piece.

Both can be great cutting boards. The end grain boards are like the classic butcher block, and they do show less wear over time. With an end grain, you cut on the ends of the boards. The grain of the wood is facing up, and the knife goes between the grain when you cut. Then, when you oil the board, the grain heals itself and the cuts almost disappear.

With edge grain, on the other hand, you actually score wood fibers when you cut. However, I only use very hard wood, and they don’t mark as easily as a plastic or soft wood board that many people are used to.

So, that’s the first question for you to answer:

  1. Do you like stripes or squares?

Edge grain boards (stripes) will be less expensive, as they are easier to make. End grain boards take more time in the shop, and require a lot more sanding to make smooth. I prefer end grain boards personally; I enjoy the challenge of making them. Velda’s main board, though, is an edge grain. She likes stripes … so that’s what she’s got.

Once you answer that first question, the questions get a bit easier.

Second question:

2. What size do you want?

Boards come in many sizes. For me, I call “cutting boards” anything that’s 12″ x 16″ or larger. Normally, I make 3 sizes: 12″ x 16″, 14″ x 18″, and 16″ x 21″. Those are counter top boards, and many people leave them on their counter for daily use. I do make larger boards upon request, but I don’t keep larger sizes in my inventory.

Some people prefer smaller boards: if you’re only going to slice an onion or trim the crust from a sandwich, you may want what I call a Cheese Board (about 8″ x 11″ and thin, at 5/8″. Small. Lightweight.) or a Small Board (about 6″ x 11″ x 1″. More robust, but still small enough to move around easily.)

Cheese Board 16 – 054. Purpleheart, Birds Eye Maple, Goncalo Alves, Jatoba, Bloodwood & Yellowheart. 9″ x 11″ x 3/4″.


Small Board 17 – 246. Hard Maple, Padauk & Purpleheart. 10″ x 11″ x 1″.

Again, no wrong answers here. Some people want a larger, counter top board for daily use, and then supplement it with a few small boards for individual needs. Some people, cooking for one, only want a small board. That’s OK; you’re an adult. You get to choose.

A good cutting board should be at least 1″ thick, I believe. That makes it strong enough to become a reliable kitchen tool. Thinner boards are fine for cutting … but not pounding. The thickest boards I normally make are 1-1/2″. That’s as thick as they need to be for function. If you want a thicker board because you want the look of a big, thick hunk of wood on the counter, no problem. I can make it – and you’ll have to lift it to clean it. Your option.

I do make handled cutting boards, which I call Sous Chef boards. Those are made to be mobile, and move from counter to table to stove top as needed. I also make in-counter boards, commonly called bread boards because they have “bread board ends.” These relatively thin boards are made for 2-sided use, and often are stored in a slot under the counter top, above the silverware drawer. Both the Sous Chef boards and the in-counter boards do not have the non-skid rubber feet found on the other boards described on this page.

Sous Chef 17 – 917. Purpleheart & Birdseye Maple. Large size, with the work space approximately 11″ x 15″, with the handle extending for an additional 6″.

Sous Chef 17 – 902. Bubinga & Hard Maple. The work surface is 9″ x 12″, with the handle extending another 4″.

Cutting Board 17 – 129. Black Walnut, Birdseye Maple & Padauk. Bread board ends. 16″ x 20″ x 3/4″. Commissioned Piece.

Next question:

3. Do you want a juice groove?

Juice grooves help catch the, uh, juices and crumbs that you generate as you work on your cutting board. Cooks that are moving meat from the grill to the kitchen often find that a juice groove will help contain the liquids that flow from juicy meat. Some just like to keep their counter tidy; even tomatoes leak a bit when they are diced.

Juice grooves are often small and pretty much non-functional, in my opinion. I make juice grooves larger than many craftsman … and have made them very large on my meat carving board.

Carving Board – the poultry side. The graduated ribs of the oval are perfect to hold the fowl in place as you carve.

Carving Board – the beef and pork side. Hard Maple. 14″ x 19″ x 1-1/4″.

Next question:

4. What kinds of wood do you want in your board?

I use about 25 species of wood, all chosen for their beauty as well as their suitability to make an exceptional cutting board.

Please note that I *never* color a wood artificially. I use fresh, all natural lumber and only treat it with FDA-approved mineral oil and beeswax. The oil and wax protect the wood from water; a properly treated cutting board will last for decades. Read about the care of your cutting board here.

The FDA says a commercial cutting board should be made from Hard Maple or its equivalent. Hard Maple is “close grained.” An alternative would be Red Oak, which is a common hardwood, but is very “open grained.” I do not put Red Oak in cutting boards for that reason.

The woods I do use are all selected for their hardness and beauty. Some boards I make are plain – perhaps even made from just one wood, like Black Walnut. Others are what I call colorific. No wrong answer here.

For a gallery of things I’ve made that highlight most of the woods I use, go here.

Final question:

5. Are you picking up the board from my home in Santa Clarita, or where should I ship it?

Happy to ship the board as needed. I charge you my direct shipping costs only.

Here are the features common to every board:

  • The board is saturated with food-grade mineral oil, which is FDA approved. This is the only oil I recommend you use to treat your board.
  • I finish each board with a top coat of hand-rubbed “board butter,” which is a combination of locally-harvested beeswax mixed with mineral oil. Both the oil and the wax help the board repel water.
  • Non-skid rubber feet held on with stainless steel screws.
  • Routed fingerholds on 2 edges.

All of these boards are made by me in my shop. If you want to order a board from my current inventory, tell me what you’re looking for and I’ll give you some options. Want to come by the house to see what I’ve got? No problem; we’ll set an appointment.

If you want a custom board, I’ll talk to you about the design that you want. I’ll send you options, and then you can choose the exact wood design that you want. From that point, I’ll start your board when I make my next batch. Generally, I can custom make a board to your specific desires and deliver it in about a month. Or maybe 6 weeks. Sometimes that becomes longer if I have projects backed up, and as the holidays approach, all bets are off. I do my best to communicate how work is progressing; you’re welcome to ask me for updates any time.

Thank you for considering my cutting boards. This totally out of control hobby is a labor of love for me, and I appreciate your support.




%d bloggers like this: