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?

No.

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″.

More

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

One response to “The Things New Cutting Board Makers Always Ask: The Making

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  1. Pingback: The Things New Cutting Board Makers Always Ask: The Finishing | MowryJournal.com

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