Everyone starts their woodworking journey somewhere.
Smaller projects that offer immediate usability are some of the best to start on—there’s nothing better than making functional projects right when you get started.
Cutting boards have a surprising number of steps since it’s one of the few woodworking projects you’ll attempt that comes into direct contact with food.
Let’s approach this properly, and with a bit of due diligence, we’ll make something phenomenal.
What Type of Wood to Use?
You need a wood that has a fine grain to it and a lot of density.
The very best wood to use is oak, but mostly any hardwood will do (of which, there are two-hundred varieties).
You can use hard maple, birch, cherry, and walnut if you’d prefer the look, or if you already have these raw materials handy.
You only want to use a hardwood variant when you make a cutting board.
As we learned about with wet sanding, wood absorbs moisture from the air and retains water that’s been put on it.
The softer the wood, the more porous it is, and the worse it is to use as a cutting board.
You don’t want bacteria and liquid from whatever you’re cutting (meats, rinsed off vegetables, poultry, etc.) to leach into the wood.
Hardwood is also far more resistant to your blade coming into contact with it.
You’ll be sharpening your knives, and constantly knocking it against the wood—it has to hold up against stress and the test of time.
Your cutting board won’t last forever, but it should last for as long as possible.
What Tools Do I Need?
You can’t get the job done without the right tools.
Each of these serves a unique purpose and will help you make a restaurant-style cutting board that will look ridiculously expensive, and highly aesthetic.
You’ll need to start with a table saw.
You can get creative with the design on your cutting board, so long as it’s a cohesive piece, and all that power and it’s going to depend on how straight your cuts are.
If you’re feeling adventurous, you can make 45° cuts and make a diagonal-looking design on the board.
Just know that the more intricate the design, the more cutting and time it will take. That’s not to discourage you from being artistic with this, it’s just important to know.
You’ll need a straight and even finish on this, so your wood planer is really going to shine with this project.
You might be running your cutting board through the planer ten or fifteen times; it’s important that it’s as even as possible, so we’re really going to put it to work.
Handheld Electric Sander
You could use a belt sander, but we’re just looking to smooth things out before we apply a finish to it.
You may also be using this to sand down the edges at some point to ensure everything is cohesive.
These are the underdogs of this project. Without clamps, wood gluing is going to be a nightmare, and result in an unsteady piece.
You will need a high number of clamps depending on how you’re going to make the design in the cuts of your wood.
That will create extra glue points, and while there’s nothing wrong with those, they need to be fastened properly to keep this from literally falling apart.
You’ll be using a little more glue than is required, just to account for any discrepancies.
No need to worry; having a handy glue scraper will keep the surface perfect while ensuring it has the maximum bond.
You’ll be sanding and applying tung oil later, so get a pair of thick latex gloves, protective eyewear, and a face mask to make this process as simple and smooth as possible.
What Materials do I Need?
This is quite literally going to hold the entire thing together.
Even when you add a finish, which we’ll be talking about in a minute, you aren’t adding a frame that boxes everything in and holds it together.
You’re relying on the power of wood glue and clamps, and that’s all you really need.
100% Pure Tung Oil
Tung oil, when it’s 100% pure and not mixed in with any chemical fillers or additives, is completely organic and food-safe.
It’s the only thing that you’ll be using to finish this board off so we can actually use this for food preparation without the fear of chemicals leaching into our food.
It’s not something you want to throw in the dishwasher (because you shouldn’t be putting wood in the dishwasher anyway), but it will hold up for months to years before needing another coat.
Step by Step Guide to Get it Done
Note: These steps are designed to be detail-oriented for a traditionally small cutting board, coming in at 10” L by 7” W. The steps are the same regardless of size, so feel free to make a bigger cutting board than what we have listed here, accounting for measurement changes and extra finish.
Cutting Your Wood
Use your table saw to cut your selected wood into 10” L x 1” W strips of wood.
If you have the option, mix and match two different wood types for some aesthetic flair, or mix and match the visible grain if it all came from one piece.
Each piece of wood should be freshly cut on all sides (no end pieces) for consistency.
Apply Wood Glue
Position your seven strips of wood on the clamp frame, and flip the board up so you can see the sides.
You’re going to apply a healthy amount of wood glue to the side of six of the strips, and position them together so that they begin to stick.
When you’re applying the wood glue, it’s important to spread it out so it covers 100% of the wood’s edge; we’ll worry about spillover later. Clamp them together now.
Planing the Wood
After giving the wood enough time to dry, you can release the clamps. Take a look at the wood—it’s not going to be a perfect glue-up, it’s going to be uneven, and that’s okay.
It’s time to run it through the planer on both surfaces. This will smooth out any imperfections. During the initial glue-up, we tried to make the cutting board as cohesive as possible.
Plane the wood until it’s almost perfectly smooth on top, or at least so there are no raised areas.
Trimming the Edges
You’ve planed the wood, so the top and bottom should be fairly even now. Bring this back to your table saw, because you’re going to trim about 1/32” to 1/16” off of each end.
There’s likely to be a bit of unevenness since we could only do so much during the glue-up. This will keep everything perfectly uniform, and looking professional.
It’s time to make a sandstorm. Get a mask on, and bring your cutting board over to the workbench.
Use your sander to smooth out every single area, even if it grinds away a bit at the wood.
This is the last time we’ll be perfecting the cutting board before applying our finish, so it’s really important to get this right and take your time.
Smooth out the four outer edges just a bit so there’s no sharpness to the corners when we finish this up.
Time to Finish it Off
Dust it off, and get ready to apply your finishing coat. 100% tung oil is completely food-safe, but it’s not something you want to absorb into your skin in heaps.
Put on your protective gloves (latex works best), and tip the can onto your cutting board. You want a good amount because you’re going to cover 100% of the board in this.
Once there’s a small pool in the center, use your hand in circular sweeping motions to apply the tung oil to absolutely everything.
Use a rag to wipe away extra and keep the surface smooth. Allow it to dry in a well-ventilated area.
You don’t want to apply the tung oil in separate coats, because we’re trying to keep the finish nice and smooth.
If need be, position them on rubber pegs for maximum air-to-surface contact.
Can I Reapply Tung Oil on an Old Cutting Board?
Yes, and you should be doing this at least once a year (provided that this is getting proper use).
Tung oil is organic, and it’s subject to breaking down like organic materials, so it’s best to reseal your cutting board with it from time to time.
Can I Use a Biscuit Joiner Instead of Wood Glue?
You can, but either way, you’re going to have to use glue to hold the biscuits in place since we aren’t using nails or screws.
If you want to add biscuits in between the wood for extra durability, feel free to do so. The project will take longer as a result.