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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

FAQs for Mr M’s Woodshop   1 comment

Mr-Ms-Logo---Large1. Do you make these yourself? There are two answers possible here: “Yes, ma’am” or “Yes, sir.”

2. Are these cutting boards? Ummm … yes. Well, mostly. There are some serving pieces, as well as some game boards on the way. But you could use them all for cutting, if you’re so inclined.

3. These are different strips of wood? Yes, these are strips of different kinds of wood, all shown in their natural color. I don’t use dyes or stains; all wood is all natural.

Glue-up in progress.

Glue-up in progress.

4. How do you hold the boards together? I glue them together using an FDA-approved glue called Titebond III. That glue is actually stronger than the wood. When I have an end cut that’s waste, I’ll always break it to test the joints … and the glue joint never breaks. The wood always breaks first. This is very strong glue, much stronger than craftsmen had 20 years or 200 years ago, when craftsmen used other methods (dovetail joints, biscuit joinery or threaded rods) to hold “chopping blocks” together.

4. Do you make chess boards? By popular demand … they are now in production. I think the first set will be done in June. People told me to make them, so I did. I’m a listener. That’s me.

5. Do you make … ? Here are the things I’m trying to keep in stock now. If I can make things faster than I sell them, then these types of boards will always be available:

  • Cutting boards – end grain boards, from 8″x12″ to 18″x24″
  • Cutting boards – edge grain, from 8″x10″ to 12″x20″
  • Cutting boards with juice grooves, from 12″x14″ to 18″x24″
  • Engraved boards, from 8″x12″ to 12″x16″
  • Sous chef boards (handled, portable boards) from 6″x15″ to 18″x22″
  • Novelty boards shaped like surfboards, pigs and (spoilers!)
  • Lazy Susans
  • Cheese & Cracker servers in several styles
  • Custom orders always welcome (especially from patient people!)

Coming later this year for holiday shopping:

  • Wine bottle & glass holders
  • Candle holders
  • Baby stuff (spoilers!)

6. What woods do you use? I generally use about a dozen species of hardwoods, both domestic and international. Here are the woods I’m currently using (though some of these woods I don’t put into cutting boards, only into serving pieces):

Small Board # 15 - 035. Cherry, Yellowheart, Hard Maple, Jatoba, Purpleheart, Padauk and Honey Locust End Grain. 13

Small Board # 15 – 035. Cherry, Yellowheart, Hard Maple, Jatoba, Purpleheart, Padauk and Honey Locust End Grain. 13″ x 11″ x 1-1/4″.

  • Ash
  • Bloodwood
  • Cherry
  • Goncalo Alves (Tigerwood)
  • Honey Locust
  • Jarrah
  • Jatoba
  • Mahogany
  • Maple – Birdseye
  • Maple – Hard
  • Oak – Red
  • Oak – White
  • Padauk
  • Purpleheart
  • Teak
  • Walnut
  • Yellowheart

When you're doing multiple projects simultaneously - the only way to be efficient! - organization is key.

6. How long does it take you to make a board? Between 2 and 6 hours of dedicated shop time, depending on the size of the board and the number of processes it might require. However, I always make several boards at a time (I have about 60 in production in my shop right now), and it takes at least 3 weeks, and often 6 or more weeks, to complete any board. Some boards take a very long time, if I have several extra steps in the production process and challenges crop up along the way. And that time doesn’t include trips to the lumber yard or emptying the dust collector, which is the worst job in the shop.

Small Board # 15 - 015. Purpleheart, Cherry, Padauk, Jatoba and Yellowheart. 7

Small Board # 15 – 015. Purpleheart, Cherry, Padauk, Jatoba and Yellowheart. 7″ x 12″ x 1-1/4″.

7. What’s that yellow wood? It’s called Yellowheart, from Brazil, and that is its natural color. Oh, and that purple wood is called Purpleheart, and it’s from Africa. There’s also a wood called Redheart, but I don’t use it (too expensive, not generally available in lumber-sized quantities that I use and not that unique, IMHO).

8. Won’t a knife mark up this board? Well, yes, to a degree. The purpose of a cutting board is to protect your counter and protect your knife from damage. However, these boards are made from very hard wood – much harder than the inexpensive boards that many people use that are made from softer woods. Therefore, these boards will not show wear like cheaper boards. And, importantly, these boards won’t dull your knives like the cheap boards made out of bamboo or plantation-grown teak. I don’t use those woods.

9. What are the different types of cutting boards? There are two basic types: edge grain and end grain boards. Choosing between them is really an aesthetic choice, though the classic choice is definitely an end grain board. End grain boards do cost a bit more, as they are more difficult to make. They take a whole lot of sand paper to get smooth, too.

Small Board # 15 - 021. Padauk and Hard Maple. 8

Small Board # 15 – 021. Padauk and Hard Maple. 8″ x 12″ x 1″.

Edge grain boards have lots of stripes, and you’re looking at the edges of the boards. When you cut on an edge grain board, you’re actually scoring wood fibers, so they will show wear a bit more than end grain boards. However, my cook (and wife) Velda likes the “stripey” look, and her board shows very little wear after a couple years of hard, daily use. When you oil her board, it looks like new. I do resurface it about once a year, too.

Cutting Board # 15 - 033. Hard Maple, Purpleheart and Honey Locust End Grain. 14

Cutting Board # 15 – 033. Hard Maple, Purpleheart and Honey Locust End Grain. 14″ x 18″ x 1-1/2″.

End grain boards have lots of little squares, and are often said to look like a chess board or a quilt. You actually are cutting on the ends of the boards; they’re made like the classic butcher blocks that have been used for centuries. When you cut on end grain, the knife slips between the grain structure of the boards, and that grain structure self heals when oiled. Therefore, end grain boards don’t show as much wear as edge grain boards.

10. How do you get your boards so smooth? I use seven different sanding machines on some boards, believe it or not, and still use old fashioned paper and sanding blocks when I sand by hand as well. I work each board through 5 grades of sandpaper: 80, 120, 180, 220 and 320 grit. When I’m done, boards are generally as smooth as glass.

The pool of mineral oil gives a hint of what colors are to come.

The pool of mineral oil gives a hint of what colors are to come.

11. What finish do you use? I only use food grade mineral oil, and then a topcoat of mineral oil mixed with locally-harvested beeswax. That’s all I use, and it’s all you should use on your wooden serving pieces, IMHO. Please, don’t use organic oils like walnut, olive or coconut. Those oils will all turn rancid eventually, and then the tainted wood will have to be removed from your board. Only use mineral oil, which is both shelf stable and FDA approved.

12. How often should I oil the board? Whenever the wood feels dry, wipe on some mineral oil. Do 3 or 4 applications over 24 hours, and your board should be good for 1 or 2 months, depending on how often you use it.

13. How do I clean a board after I use it? Soap and water. Just don’t submerge the board in the sink, or run it through a dish washer. After you clean the board, set it on edge to drip dry. Don’t let water pool on the board: water will eventually harm the wood and the glue joints.

Cutting Board Scrub14. Do you have a website? Yes, I do. You can also go to my daily blog which shows all of my woodworking, along with lots of pictures of National Parks and more: that’s I also have a dedicated woodworking website:

15. Do you sell online? Sure, and I ship everywhere. However, I treat every board as a custom piece, so I don’t have a retail site on the web. Email me, and we’ll discuss what you want specifically, and then I’ll make it. When I make something for you, it’s exactly to your order; it’s not a standard design sitting on a shelf. You’re always welcome to buy a board out of my existing inventory, of course … and that inventory is constantly changing. I make between 20 and 50 boards each month, but no two boards are ever exactly alike.

16. When should I order a board for Christmas? Now would be good. I just completed my first Christmas order this week. Since it appears my cutting board business is tripling this year, I’m trying to get ahead as much as possible! Especially if you want something unique, please talk to me by Labor Day. Remember, it sometimes takes up to 2 months to make a board, and we’ll be doing many craft fairs in the 4th quarter, so shop time will be at an absolute premium.

17. These boards are too pretty to use! OK, you want me to make them uglier?


Posted June 11, 2015 by henrymowry in Woodworking

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