Flag Cutting Board

Tackle the curves with a pair of shop-made templates.

I like straight seams as much as the next woodworker, but I’d rather play with organic shapes. However, getting curvy seams to fit together demands special consideration. Sometimes a joint can be squeezed into submission, but as curves become tighter, or change direction, the matching parts must be cut to fit perfectly. 

After many trials and errors, I came up with a simple system that makes curved joinery easy to master. I designed this patriotic maple and cherry cutting board in order to teach my woodworking students how I handle curved seams on my more complex, one-of-a-kind creations. 

The trick is creating a pair of complementary templates that set the bit to either side of the cut line, for perfectly aligned seams. Various bit/bushing combinations will work, but to simplify things and obtain the smoothest possible cut, I prefer using a 1/2"-straight bit and 1-1/2" O.D. template guide. You can make your own 1-1/2" O.D. bushing to fit a 1" O.D. template guide (see OnlineExtras), or purchase a ready-made guide (see the Buyer’s Guide on p. 70). 

As you’ll see, the stripes don’t need to be straight-laced. You can play around with their width to create a billowing effect. And after completing the board, you’ll get a chance to combine epoxy and mother-of-pearl to create an eye-catching inlay. (See the “Sparkling Star Inlay,” on p. 53.)

Order of Work

  • Make the templates.
  • Trace, saw, and rout the stripes.
  • Assemble the cutting board.
  • Trace and saw the outer edges.
  • Add the star (see p. 53.)
  • Sand smooth, and apply finish.

A template guide and 2 templates outwit the bit

Creating a pair of complementary offset templates starts with making a master pattern. You can sketch out a curve freehand, or use the provided pattern. Just make sure that the curves are fair and smooth, since bumps can create gaps on the glueline. Also, make the pattern longer to prevent errant cuts at the beginning or end of a pass.

Make the “top” template as shown. To make the matching “bottom” template, affix the offcut from the previous step to another piece of MDF. Rout a second groove, and complete the template’s edge as shown.

To complete the templates, add hold downs and sandpaper grip pads. Finally, reinforce the working edges with CA glue.

Start with a Master Pattern...

...use it to make the Top Template and Bottom Pattern...

Make the top template. Pair the template guide with a 1⁄2"-dia. bit and rout a 3⁄8"-deep groove. Then, saw through the groove and finish the edge with a pattern bit.

...then create the Bottom Template.

Make the bottom template. Using the cutoff from the previous step, rout a groove and finish the edge as before to create the bottom template.

Finish the edge with a pattern bit


For a full-sized master pattern, and instructions for making a 11⁄2"-dia. O.D. template guide, go to woodcraftmagazine.com.

Start making stripes

You’ll need about three board feet each of cherry and maple to make this cutting board. Start by milling your boards to 5/8" thick and 22" long.

The easiest way to keep track of the templates is to make the flag from the lowermost stripe upward. To start, lay out the first stripe as shown. (Note: Leaving the outermost stripes square-edged helps with glue-up. You’ll do the final profile shaping after assembly.) After tracing the stripe’s upper edge, use a bandsaw to cut just outside your line.

To finish the edge, secure the stripe to the top template so that the sawn edge extends just over the template edge, and rout as shown.

Lay out the first stripe. Positioning the opposite template on the on the waste side of the cut allows you to pay attention to the grain. Keep the bottom edges square until after assembly. 
Bandsaw outside the lines. Use X’s to distinguish the stripe from scrap. Leftover material can be used to make additional stripes.

Upper edge cleanup. With the first stripe’s upper edge overhanging the “top” template’s edge by 1⁄16-1⁄8", flush-trim away the saw marks.

Climb-cut for clean cuts. Feeding the stock from left to right, or climb-cutting, can reduce splintering where grain runs uphill. To maintain control, make light passes.

Rout the rest of the stripes

To create the next (and subsequent) stripes, start by tracing, sawing, and shaping the bottom edge. After routing, test the fit against the previous stripe.

Now, here’s where creativity kicks in. Varying the width of the stripes, and even tapering the stripes (as shown above, right) creates a billowing effect. The stripe’s edges may not be parallel but the production process remains the same. Saw off the waste, and then clamp to the template and shape the top edge. Rinse and repeat until you have a stack of alternating colored stripes.

Start with the bottom. Use the bottom template to shape the bottom edge. The long-arm hold-downs accomodate boards up to 6" wide.
Blowing in the wind. Shift the bottom template slightly to create a tapered stripe. When assembled, the stripes create a billowing effect.

Finish the top edge with the top template. Saw your stripe to rough width, then use a router to clean up the cut. 

Squeeze it together

The flag-shaped puzzle comes together fairly quickly, but don’t rush it. First, do a dry run. (Note that the stripes can be arranged in any order.) Once you achieve the desired look, apply gentle clamping pressure to test the joints. To direct clamping pressure across the curved seams, notch the outer edges. After applying glue, position a single clamp and cauls and inspect the assembly. A slipped stripe can create a gap. To correct, simply tap the end, and then apply additional clamps.

Once the glue has dried, use the templates to lay out the top and bottom edges, and then saw and sand to shape. Plane or sand smooth, and then round the edges.

Stripe assembly. Arrange the stripes on riser blocks and waxed cauls. Notching the oversized outer stripes helps direct clamping pressure to the seams. 
Tapped tight. Apply light pressure at the center of the cutting board, then add clamping cauls to keep the assembly flat. To correct minor gaps, tap the end of the offending stripes. Apply additional clamps at the end notches when the stripes fit together.

Trace the templates. Use the templates to finish the top and bottom stripes. Cut the edges and ends on a bandsaw, and then sand them smooth. Finish the edges with a roundover bit.

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