A Cut-Above Cutting Board

Comments (0)

This article is from Issue 24 of Woodcraft Magazine.

Form and function unite in a project that’s all about good taste.

Designer/Builder: Gary Carter

The breadboard-end construction featured here is a time-honored way of keeping panels flat while allowing the wood to shrink or expand across the grain. Mastering this skill empowers you to easily scale up to other projects, such as blanket box lids and tabletops. Our instructions take all the mystery out of this valuable technique, and we’ve even included helpful tips to ensure your success.

Beyond that, the combination of a maple cutting surface or top, lacewood ends, and wenge pegs and legs is a real attention-grabber. The barely-visible legs seem to levitate the board above your table—perfectly appropriate for a light snack. In addition, the legs make it easy to pick up the board for easy handling. The board also features a concealed rare-earth magnet that safely stows a basic cutting knife as shown in Figure 1.

Prepare the stock

1 start by jointing one face of a 30"-long board for the top (A). (See the Cutting Diagram, page 63.) Cut the piece in half and set the two pieces edge to edge. Check for identical thickness. If they vary, thickness-plane the stock as needed.

2 JOINT THE EDGES OF THE BOARDS FOR THE TOP (A). Plan your edge-jointing cuts so that the face-jointed surfaces will all be on the same side of the top when assembled. 

3 EDGE-GLUE THE TOP (A) using a water-resistant glue such as Titebond III. (See the Convenience-Plus Buying Guide.) Clamp securely, ensuring that the assembly stays flat. If possible, let the assembly dry overnight before further machining.

4 JOINT ONE EDGE OF THE ENDS (B), then rip to the width shown in the Cut List. 

5 SET YOUR TABLE SAW’S BEVEL ANGLE TO 20°, and rip both long edges of a 24"-long piece for the feet (C) to achieve the finished width. To prevent kickback, set up your saw so that the waste from these cuts falls to the outside of the blade and is not trapped between the blade and fence. Also, be sure to use a pushstick or sacrificial pushpad. Now, crosscut the feet to final length.

6 THICKNESS PLANE THE TOP (A) AND ENDS (B) to an identical thickness of 3/4".

7 CROSSCUT THE TOP (A) TO THE FINISHED LENGTH in the Cut List, then rip and joint the top to width. Crosscut the ends (B) 1/4" longer than the width of the top, so that they are proud of the top’s width by 1/8" on each side. That way, when the top expands, it won’t extend beyond the ends.

Machine the ends and pegs

1 LAY OUT AND CUT THROUGH MORTISES IN THE ENDS (B) referring to Figure 2. If you have a benchtop mortiser or a mortising attachment for your drill press, use it. Otherwise, drill 1/4" holes at your drill press, and square the corners with a 1/4" chisel.

2 CUT A LENGTH OF  STOCK FOR PEGS (D) that is just proud of 1/4×1/4". (The stock should be long enough to minimize loss due to snipe in the sign planer.) Thickness-plane the stock for a snug fit into the mortises. After you lower the planer for each cut, plane one face, then rotate the stock 90° to an adjacent face for the second pass. 

3 ROUT THE SLOT MORTISE IN THE END (B) with a 1/4" straight bit at your table-mounted router. Clamp stopblocks to the fence to limit the length of the mortise, raise the bit 1/8" above the table, and test the setup in scrap identical in length to the ends. Begin the cut by holding the following end against the fence and the right stopblock, and then lowering the leading end straight down onto the running bit, as shown in Photo A.

Move the stock to the left to make the cut, and lift the following end straight up upon completion. At each depth setting, run the end between the stops twice: once with each face against the fence. This ensures that the mortise is centered in the thickness of the stock. Raise the bit in increments no larger than 1/8" until the mortise is 13/16" deep.

4 SQUARE THE ENDS OF THE SLOT MORTISE with a 1/4" chisel and mallet. As you shave out the waste, be careful not to crack the wood at the ends of the mortise.

5 INSTALL A 13/16" STACK DADO HEAD INTO YOUR TABLE SAW, and clamp a sacrificial scrapwood face to your table saw’s rip fence. With a sacrificial fence you don’t need to waste time sizing the dado blade. Instead, simply nibble up to the shoulder line. Adjust the setup to cut a 3/4" long tenon on each end of the top (A), see Photo B. Raise the blade in tiny increments as you cut the cheeks of the tenon. You want a tenon thickness that allows for a smooth sliding fit into the mortise in the ends (B).

6 MARK THE TENONS ON THE TOP (A) AT 1/4" LESS THAN THE SLOT MORTISE LENGTH in the ends (B). Do this by subtracting 1/8" from each end of the tenon. This space allows the top to expand across its width in response to seasonal moisture cycles while the end (B) remains virtually constant in length.

7 TRIM THE TENON TO LENGTH with a handsaw, as shown in Photo C. Make the vertical cuts first, then slice horizontally, being careful not to cut into or mar the tenon’s shoulders.

Hold the following end firmly against the fence and right stopblock as you lower the leading end of the workpiece onto the bit at the start of the cut.

For fine-tuning the length of a tenon, cutting into a sacrificial fence is easier than dealing with the cutters and spacers that work with your dado head.

Complete the assembly

1 CLAMP THE TOP (A) AND ENDS (B) TOGETHER to test the fit. If the joints don’t close completely, disassemble and look for shiny parts on the tenon that indicate a too-snug fit at that area. Make any adjustments needed.

2 MARK THE LOCATION OF THE FOUR OUTER MORTISES (closest to the edges of the top) while the top (A) and ends (B) are clamped together. Insert a pencil point through the mortises in the ends to mark the tenons on the top cheeks. Also make light pencil registration marks on the ends and top before unclamping so you can return the ends to the same positions later.

3 UNCLAMP THE TOP AND ENDS to re-mark the location of the four outer mortises. Shift these four mortises 1/64" toward the shoulder of the tenon in the top (A). With that slight offset, the parts will pull tightly together when driving the pegs. As indicated in Figure 2, you’ll add 1/8" to each side of the mortise, widening each one to 1/2". This provides room for expansion of the top. Cut the mortises using the same method that you used earlier.

4 MAKE A PATTERN TEMPLATE TO ROUT THE RECESS FOR THE KNIFE. To do this, cut a scrap of 3/4" plywood to the same size as the top (A). Lay the top face down on your workbench, and put the plywood on it. Position your knife (one you already own or see the Buying Guide) where you want it, and then draw a pencil line 1/8" outside the perimeter of the blade. Cut along the line with your scrollsaw or bandsaw and sand the edge smooth.

Clamp the top securely in your workbench’s vise to cut the haunches, trimming the tenon to final width.
Using a plywood template containing a cutout of the knife shape, rout a recess in the bottom face of the top.

5 CHUCK A FLUSH-CUTTING TOP BEARING BIT INTO YOUR HANDHELD ROUTER. Clamp the pattern template and the top (A) to your workbench as shown in Photo D. Set the bit’s depth of cut to 1/16" more than the thickness of your knife blade. Make your first routing pass counterclockwise along the perimeter of the template, then work back and forth to clear out the rest of the waste. Unclamp the template, and test-fit the knife. If necessary, use a chisel to refine the shape of the knife recess.

6 DRILL A 1/16" HOLE FOR THE RARE-EARTH MAGNET approximately centered in the shape of the blade recess. Drill barely deeper than the magnet’s thickness.

7 APPLY GLUE ONLY TO THE CENTRAL THIRD OF THE MORTISE AND TENON. This will bond the assembly but allow the top (A) to expand and contract in width. Clamp the assembly.

8 DRIVE THE PEGS (D) into the four outer mortises first, then the center holes using a utility knife. Wipe glue onto the walls of each mortise with a toothpick before you drive the pegs. Be sure that the peg comes out on the bottom face of the ends.

9 CUT THE PEGS WITH A FLUSH-CUT SAW. Scrape all surfaces of the assembly to remove milling marks, then sand.

10 BEVEL-CUT THE ENDS OF THE FEET (C) at 20°, making these parts 9" long. Glue and clamp the feet to the bottom of the assembly where shown on Figure 1.

Apply the finishing touches

1 EPOXY THE MAGNET INTO THE HOLE on the underside of the assembly.

2 SAND ALL SURFACES with 220-grit paper using a sanding block. Always sand with the grain to avoid creating unsightly cross-grain scratches.

3 APPLY THREE COATS OF FINISH (we used Butcher Block Oil) with a clean cotton cloth according to the following schedule. Allow each coat to dry before applying the next one.

Coat 1:  Apply oil, wet-sand with 400-grit sandpaper, allow to penetrate five minutes, wipe off excess with separate clean dry cloth.

Coat 2: Apply oil, wet-sand with 600-grit sandpaper, allow to penetrate five minutes, wipe off excess.

Coat 3: Apply oil, allow to penetrate five minutes, wipe off excess with separate clean dry cloth. 

About Our Builder/Designer

Stephen Johnson operates a one-man studio in Athens, Ohio, that specializes in producing fine furniture and custom woodwork designed to achieve a comfortable balance between form and function.


Write Comment

Write Comment

You must be logged in to write a comment. Log In

Top of Page