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Making Cutting Boards with Exotic & Tropical Woods

by Mark Stephens | November 27th, 2009
A beautiful array of cutting boards - notice some have handles, others have a curved edge, and others are rectangular

A beautiful array of cutting boards - notice some have handles, others have a curved edge, and others are rectangular

If it’s not obvious, making cutting boards is easy; all you need is a table saw and a router – and the router isn’t totally necessary either. 

While you’re going to find a wide array of cutting board styles, they are all based on butcher block construction: strips of wood turned on edge so that the rings of annual growth are perpendicular to the top and bottom.  Or as close to perpendicular as possible.

Close up showing basic butcher block construction. Made up of 3/4" thick red oak cut to 1-3/4" wide, turned on edge and glued together

Close up showing basic butcher block construction. Made up of 3/4" thick red oak cut to 1-3/4" wide, turned on edge and glued together

For instance, here’s a red oak butcher block using 3/4″ thick material that’s ripped into equal 1-3/4″ strips.  They’re turned on edge and glued face-to-face, making a block that’s 1-3/4″ thick and the most stable grain is now gracing the business side of the cutting board.

After this, it’s  all a matter of variation.  Either by including different woods and colors, adding some shape to the design, including a handle, routing a trough around the edge, or tossing a curve ball by making the end grain face up.  Take a look below.

Styles of Hardwood Cutting Boards

Woods to Use . . .or not use

The best woods to use share similar qualities: they’re hard, dense, and they’re close grained.  Hard maple is the shining icon here – it makes a good, durable cutting surface that’s also easy to clean.  Other woods like ash, oak, and hickory will be fine as well, though these have a more porous structure.  It’s possible that the pores could become a nice little home for bacteria, so you’d need to be faithful about cleaning after use.

Moving into exotics, you get to bring a lot life to your cutting boards. Woods like purple heart, bubinga, satinwood, guatambu, jatoba, canarywood, curupay, bloodwood, afrormosia, shedua, wenge, coyote, ipe, goncalo alves, and many more all have vivid color and rock solid properties for long lasting cutting boards.

How to Finish and Care

Butcher block oil for protection and long life

Butcher block oil for protection and long life

For a cutting board to last a number of years, especially with colorful tropical woods,  a simple coating with mineral oil does the trick.  Every few months, depending on the usage, you’ll need to sand out the knife markings and re-apply the oil.

You can also purchase “butcher block oil” virtually anywhere.

Try this: Cutting board hardwood package

“Build a Cutting Board” Pack with Hard Maple & Curupay
Shipping Included
$75.99Click for details

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This entry was posted on Friday, November 27th, 2009 at 2:07 pm and is filed under Tips and Tricks, Woodworking Projects. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

  • Don K.

    What type of glue should I use for a cutting board?
    Won’t regular yellow glue dissolve if you thoroughly wash & scrub your cutting board?

    Please advise.

    • http://www.woodworkerssource.com Mark Stephens

      Use either Titebond II or III:

      Titebond II (blue label) passes the ANSI Type II water resistance specification, and it’s a fine glue to use on cutting boards. To go a step further, Titebond III (green label) passes the ANSI Type I specification for being waterproof. Use either of those if you like the ease of a one-part glue.

      You could also use a polyurethane glue, such as “gorilla wood glue.” It also meets the ANSI Type II specification. One of the advantages to the poly is that you get a longer open time, and for a gluing a cutting board that’s nice to have. But Titebond III also has a decent open time (10 minutes at 70 degrees)

  • JJ

    I would assume it only works because they are sandwiched between side grains. Time will tell.

  • GerryK

    I really like the work by Stan Jones – but I’m confused; His chevrons appear to be made by gluing end grain to end grain. How does that work?

    • http://www.woodworkerssource.com Mark Stephens

      Yes, it looks like because those end-grain-to-end-grain pieces are sandwiched on the edges that it works okay. I suspect gluing up is a little tricky to keep those end joints nice and tight.