Board Feat

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This article is from Issue 80 of Woodcraft Magazine.

A step up. The board below is made from curly maple, with wenge feet. The light-toned boards at right are curly maple with ebony feet. The tawny-toned board is osage orange with yellowheart feet.

Dovetail cleats make ideal feet for your next cutting board.

It’s a good bet that cutting boards are among the most popular gifts for woodworkers to make. A finished board shows off our favorite material, and if there’s a simpler way to utilize scrap pieces of beautiful wood, I certainly haven’t discovered it. To make a cutting board extra special, I like to add a pair of dovetailed cleats to the underside of the board. These distinctive feet give the board a proud and practical stance on the countertop. And the sliding dovetail joint is an effective strategy to prevent warping. 

After making quite a few cleated cutting boards, I’ve come to rely on some design details that make the most of this feature. To highlight the feet, make them from a contrasting  wood species. I sometimes like to make the dovetails a little taller than the depth of their dadoes because this  creates a nice visual effect. Beveling the edges of the cutting board also draws attention to the dovetails, as shown above. Since a board will expand and contract based on how much moisture it absorbs, I make the feet slightly longer (about 1/4") than the full width of the board.


Go to our website and click onlineEXTRAS for 5 tips for making better cutting boards.

Two bit technique. The straight bit used to rout the initial dado in the cutting board should be close in diameter to the narrowest part of the dovetailed dadoes you plan to rout.

Dovetailed dadoes begin with a straight bit

Before you begin routing dovetailed dadoes, make sure your board is dead flat. Even a slight bow will result in an uneven dado. Cut the board to its final length, but let it run about 1/4" beyond its finished width. This will enable you to cut away any exit tearout afterward. Plan to make the finished dado depth between half and two-thirds of the board’s thickness. The board I’m routing here is 1" thick. Get started by removing a good amount of waste with a straight bit that matches up well with the finished dimensions of your dovetailed dadoes. I like to position the fence about 2" from the bit, but you can use a different spacing, depending on the overall size of the cutting board.

Setup bars ensure foolproof height adjustment. The lower bar is exactly 1⁄2" thick–the planned depth of the finished dovetail dado. By extending a second bar over the first, I create a stop to use when adjusting bit height for the final pass. Use the same bit height for straight and dovetailed cuts. 

Rout parallel dadoes. A straight bit will remove most of the waste. Press downward and against the fence as you push the board through the bit. Although I’m relying on hand pressure alone, it’s a good idea to attach a featherboard to the fence to help with the downward pressure. 
Now for the dovetailed dadoes. Depending on the dadoes’ finished dimensions, you’ll be able to complete each dado with one or two passes. Don’t change bit height if you’re routing a wider dado with two passes. 

Creep up on the perfect fit. Most of the dovetail bit remains buried in the fence when routing the feet. For safe, accurate routing, set up a featherboard to press the workpiece down against the table. Then use a pushstick to exert pressure against the fence as you advance the foot through the bit.

Rout the feet, then finish the job

The stock I use for the feet is 7/8" thick and 1-3/4" wide. I usually set bit height to rout the dovetails about 3/16" taller than the depth of the dovetailed dado. But you can set bit height to match dado depth if that’s the look you prefer. Make sure to prepare some extra material for test cuts to fine-tune your router table setup. Keep adjusting the fence position until you can rout a dovetail that slides snugly into your dovetailed dadoes. Don’t aim for a tight fit that forces you to hammer the dovetails in their dadoes. The next steps will ensure that the feet stay locked in place.  

Snug but not forced. Aim for a fit that’s snug but not forced. Since I make the feet about 1⁄4" longer than the width of the board, I make sure the feet protrude an even amount on opposite edges.

Pin the tail. Wrap tape around a 1⁄4" bit as a depth stop to drill through the center of each foot and about 1⁄8" into the board. Then glue a dowel in each hole with epoxy. Trim your pins flush, and give the board a final sanding. 
Time to take a bath. An inexpensive aluminum baking tray enables you to fully saturate a cutting board with mineral oil without making a mess. Let it soak overnight —the more oil your board absorbs, the better.


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