Making Cutting Boards

In a recent Woodcraft class we had 3 students making cutting boards, Sue Ellen Miller, Liz Matheny and 15 year old Maddy Byers. Special thanks to Liz for the photos and taking great notes, and to Sue Ellen, a retired school teacher, for proof reading this article. Sue Ellen has been bitten by the woodworking bug and is now making more of these cutting boards with her friends. Our teacher was Karen Bennett, who is also a Woodcraft customer service rep. We begin the class with learning what types of wood are best for this project.

Wood Preference

Use hardwoods. For our class we chose lyptus for the red, walnut for the accents and maple for the lighter colors.

Determine the length and width of your finished product. The width may be contingent upon the size of the planer you’ll be using. Our boards will be 13 inches wide as we are using a 13" planer.

There are many safety tips to mention with each and every power tool used. Please refer to the manual for complete safety guidelines for your specific power tool. We will mention a few “Use and Safety Tips” that apply directly to our project. Always wear appropriate safety gear and adhere to all shop safety rules.

Measure & Cut

Cut the pieces of lumber to size using a compound miter saw (a.k.a. Chop Saw). Ours were 14" long. Set up the chop saw with a stop at 14" from the blade using a board and a clamp.

Use and Safety Tips: When using a compound miter saw please refer to the manual for safety guidelines. For our project, we reviewed the following…unlock the arm, bring the blade up and out towards you to the outer edge of the board. Start the blade, then enter the outer edge of the board with the blade spinning, push and saw through. Allow the blade to completely stop spinning before you lift the blade and put it back into place in the resting position. Listen to the sound of the saw, if the wood begins to pinch, the sound of the saw will change.

First square up the end of the board using the chop saw. To begin cutting the boards, make sure the straightest side is toward the rail when the board is lying flat. If there is a gap between the rail and the board, it will cause the board to pinch when cut. If this happens, release the power switch, wait until the blade stops spinning and remove the blade from the wood. Flip the board over and resume cutting for the other side.

Cut all the boards to length (I.E. 14″) on the chop saw, then move on to the jointer.

Use and Safety Tips: Jointer knives are extremely sharp. Keep your fingers above the guard. Push the board through with the grain; not against the grain if possible. Push forward with one hand on the very back edge of the board, using the other hand to push the board in against the guide. Remove debris from the jointer bed after each pass. The debris could elevate the board, impact the cut and create an edge that is not square; defeating your purpose.

You will need one square, smooth side to place against the table saw fence when cutting the boards into your 1 -1/2” cutting board pieces. Choose the best edge of your board and begin creating the edge using the jointer. The jointer should be set up to take off approximately 1/16” of material on each pass. Take as many passes as you need until the board is square, smooth, and without defects. YOU ONLY NEED ONE EDGE TO BE PERFECTLY SMOOTH. Use the jointer on all the boards, then move on to the next station, the table saw.

To the table saw!

Use and Safety Tips: There are many safety tips to mention with the table saw (please refer to the manual); we will mention a few that apply directly to our project. Always use your push stick for this project. Keep your thumb on the lower left corner of the board and always keep your hands behind the blade. We are using shorter 14” boards which allow for greater control than cutting the longer 6-8’ boards with which we started the project. Know where the kill switch lives.

This cutting board will be 1-1/2” thick. Set the fence at 1-1/2” from the blade. Place the smooth edge against the fence and use the push stick to run the boards through the table saw. On the last piece or as the boards get smaller, use only the push stick not your hands. Wait until the blade stops spinning before you remove any material away from the blade. Cut all the boards to the desired size before you move on to the workbench for design and glue up.

Design time.

Take the cut pieces to the work bench to begin designing. Do not glue anything yet. Stand the cut pieces on their edge so they all stand 1-1/2" high. If you choose to make your design symmetrical, start from the center and work your way towards the edge. Keep in mind the width of the planer is 13", so anything over that dimension will have to be trimmed off equally from each side. Try not to go past 13-1/2" inches (removing only ¼" for each edge). One you find a design you like, with a pencil make a #1 in the top left corner and draw a diagonal line all the way across the board to the lower right edge, label that edge #2. If you would drop pieces or get out of order transporting to the clamps, you’ll be able to reassemble the pieces in the proper order starting with #1 and following the diagonal until the last piece #2 is in place.

Glue & Clamps

Use and Safety Tips: Set up the clamps side by side. Use Titebond II or Titebond III Glue, which are both non-toxic and water resistant. Have a wet cloth ready. The glue will not stick to the aluminum clamps: no worries.

Set up the parallel clamps. Place the cut pieces flat on the clamps with the first piece flipped on edge against the stationary end of the clamps. With the first piece of wood in place, put glue on the second piece which is lying flat. Squiggle a line of glue from end to end, flip the wood on its edge and press and wiggle against the first piece of wood already in place. Continue to quickly ‘squiggle and wiggle’ the glue onto each piece and flip into place until all the pieces are glued together. Try to keep the edges neat and aligned and the surface level as you are gluing. When finished, use a scrap board to press flush against the edge to realign the edges if needed. Clamp the pieces together until the glue squeezes out. Check for gaps and tighten the clamps to close the gaps. Fill any gaps you cannot press together with glue. Don’t over tighten the clamps and squeeze out all of the glue. Wipe off the excess glue with a wet cloth. Wipe the top, bottom and edges. It is okay to flip the board over while in the clamps. Setting time is 10-30 minutes, depending on temperature and moisture of wood for Titebond ll. Allow 24 hours for full strength bond before unclamping the board. We now actually have a piece we can call a cutting board.

To the Planer!

Day 2 or 24 hours later…begin by unclamping the cutting board. Use a scraper to delicately remove the excess without gouging the wood. Just remover the big chunks of glue that pooled under the clamps. Once that is accomplished, move to the planer.

Use and Safety Tips: The board goes into the planer with the grain; not against the grain. It is helpful to have a person on the opposite side catch the outbound material unless you have an extended outfeed table or rollers.

The planer will make the top and bottom smooth by removing material that is raised. The board goes into the planer with the grain. Use the elevation crank (a.k.a handle or dial.) to adjust the thickness to meet the top of the board. Run the board through once. Lower the thickness by turning the elevation crank to the right. (If you think of the dial as a clock face, change the dial by 10 minute increments). Run the board through the planer again. Continue this process until the cutting board surface is smooth and even. NOTE: If you make several boards at once and one gets smooth before the others, flip the smooth one over and run it through once (to get excess glue off) before you put all of them through a rotation cycle. And for each one, once you have one smooth side, flip it. Repeat for each board that gets smooth. The last pass through the planer, you may want to reduce to a 5 minute increment. Flip the board over and repeat the process for side 2.

After a few trips through the planer our 1-1/2" thick cutting boards are now 1-3/8" thick. The next step is back to the table saw to trim up the edges/end grain.

Back to the Table Saw

Use and Safety Tips: There are many safety tips to mention with the table saw (please refer to the manual); we will mention a few that apply directly to our project. Keep your hands behind the blade. Do not engage the wood until the saw blade is fully spinning. Do not remove any material from around the blade or pull the miter gauge back toward you until the saw blade has completely stopped spinning. Know where the kill switch lives.

The intent is not to remove a lot of material; just trim to make it square. This process requires a miter gauge with a fence. The fence is a piece of wood attached to the miter gauge. The fence has a cut through it to show where the saw blade will make contact. Align the front edge of the cutting board with saw teeth, but not touching the blade. Align the back end of the cutting board (nearest you) with the edge just covering the saw cut in the fence. Hold onto the cutting board with your left hand on the outside left edge and push the cutting board forward through the saw blade using the handle on the miter gauge with your right hand. Going too slowly will cause burn marks; nice and steady.

Finger Grips & Corners

Next make the corners. Do not cut yet. If adding finger grips to the edge of the board, you’ll need to know the arc/angle of the corners to determine the length of the finger grips. You can use commercial template or draw your own. Outline the corner cuts with a pencil on the face of the cutting board. Mark the starting and stopping points of the finger grips with a pencil on the face of the cutting board.

Set up the router table to cut out the finger grips. We used a WoodRiver 1/2″D Core Box Bit.

Use and Safety Tips: As with any drill bit, router bit, etc. do not let the bit bottom out. Push the bit all the way in until it touches, then pull back so the shank does not rest on the chuck. Always test a scrap piece of board for depth.

Place a mark on the router table where the left side of the core box bit will make first contact with the wood. Place a mark on the router table where the right side of the core box bit will end contact with the wood. Test making a finger grip in a scrap piece of wood.

To cut the finger grip, steady the board on the right corner, slightly tilted up so that the two beginning left pencil mark on the cutting board edge down onto the bit. Slide the board to the left with our right hand and holding it against the fence with your left hand. Slide the board until the ending marks on the cutting board and the router table line up. Wait until the bit stops spinning. Remove the cutting board by tilting it to the left with the right corner coming up. Lift it off the bit. Turn the router table off. Repeat the process on the other end.

It’s time to cut corners using the bandsaw. The corners need to be cut before going back to the router table to finish the edges. Using the bandsaw, remove the corners just outside the pencil line. This will leave enough material for sanding out any burn marks and the pencil lines.

Once the corners are cut, use the appropriate sander to smooth out the cuts and remove the excess material. Cutting boards with corners rounded outward (convex) use a belt or disc sander. Cutting boards with corners rounded inward (concave) use a spindle sander.

Set up the router table to finish the edges. We used a WoodRiver 1/2" Chamfer Bit for cutting 45 degree bevels and a Roundover Bit for rounded edges.

Use and Safety Tips: Keep all material against the bearing. Keep the material to the right side of the bit by rotating the material. This is going to be a process you can feel more so than see since the activity happens on the underside of the material. If you need to stop, pull away from the bit; to resume back up to about an inch from where you stopped and re-engage the spinning bit.

Again, use a test board to view the cut and dial in adjustments as needed. With the bit spinning, start cutting in the center of one end of the cutting board by moving the cutting board into the bit. Keep the material to the right side of the bit by rotating the cutting board counter clockwise against the bearing. Go completely around one side, flip the cutting board over and repeat.

When the edges are complete, use a hand sander to finish the flat sides and fill in any cracks. Start sanding with 180 grit and finish with 220 grit. Put a dab of glue on your finger and smear the glue in any small cracks on the surface of the cutting board. The dust from the sander will stick in the glue and help fill the cracks, therefore the glue must be wet while sanding.

Sand the roundover or chamfer edges by hand.

Finish It!

Finish the cutting board using either General Finishes’ Salad Bowl Finish or Butcher Block Oil. To apply Butcher Block Oil simply flood the surface, allow the oil to penetrate, then wipe off the excess. Re-apply when surface shows wear. The Butcher Block Oil will darken and bring out the contrast in the wood. It has a very rich, but dull finish compared to the Salad Bowl Finish.

General Finishes’ Salad Bowl Finish is non-toxic and food safe when dry. It is also highly resistant to water and food stains.

Liz’s board was finished in Butcher Block Oil, which is also non-toxic and food safe when dry.

Salad Bowl Finish is applied with a clean soft cloth. This finish dries glossier and the wood shows through lighter than using Butcher Block Oil. Salad Bowl Finish will need reapplied less frequently.

Maddy’s board was finished in Salad Bowl Finish and will become a fine Christmas gift.

Make a Cutting Board With One of Our Kits

You can choose your own woods or purchase one of our exciting Cutting Board Kits. We have removed some of the steps and waste by milling the stock for you.

Each piece of stock is hand selected and surfaced on all 4 sides. This kit is practically ready for glue up. This fantastic assortment will ensure no two cutting boards are the same.

It's a quick and easy way to make a beautiful custom cutting board for a gift or for yourself!

If you would like to share your project with us, email us at, or message us on our Facebook page.

auf Wiedersehen!….Frank
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