Finished!

Once the structure of our cutting board is done, we can sand.  Start the edges (and only the edges) with 80 grit.  This is coarse enough to get out the rasp marks, but only just.  And sand with the grain.  If you don’t, the scratches from the sandpaper will be highlighted.  It will be smooth, but it will look like a cat used it as a scratching post.  Sanding with the grain: very important.  As you sand the inside radii on the handle, you can see that if the radius is too tight, or if you’ve got a lot of little details, trying to get some sandpaper in there is not going to work very well.  This is why the shoulders on my particular pattern are the gentle curves that they are.

Once the edges are all sanded, it’s time for the big key to a smooth, satin surface that will remain even after washing.  The key is: water.

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That’s right, water.  See, when wood gets wet, it raises the grain.  We want smooth.  So we’re going to pre-raise the grain, and abrade it off.  This is called “whiskering”, and we need to do it between grits  Then it will remain smooth even after washing.

Rinse the board under the tap, then wipe it dry.  It should be damp, not sopping.  Let it dry.  Then go back to the shop and start with 150 grit.  This time, when the edges are done, and using a sanding block, sand the faces.  If you don’t use a sanding block, you will put ripples into the surface of your board.

Here’s a procedural note.  What ever aspect you are trying to preserve is the one you sand last.  If we wanted blended edges that looked amorphous, then we would sand edges last.  This will ease the border between the edge and face.  We’ll get into that in the next project.  But here we want the border to be smooth, but distinct.  So we sand the face last.  It doesn’t seem like much, but it makes a difference.

So we continue sanding, whiskering between grits, up to 400.  After we sand with 400, we’ll whisker and sand again with 400.  Put down some paper towels for the board to sit on.  Take a paper towel, wet with mineral spirits, and wipe down your board.  You’ll see that this washes off the dust, but it won’t raise the grain anymore.  Let your board dry on the paper towels you put down.  Once it’s dry, rag on a coat of finish.  We want an oil finish here, as a film finish will flake off when you cut on it.  I use this stuff.  It’s available in most hardware stores, it’s food grade, and the emulsified beeswax gives it a nice sheen.  You want to goop it on pretty thickly, then let it set overnight and soak in.  In the morning, buff it clean with a paper towel or clean cloth, and it’s done!  Way better than plastic.

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Well-Rounded

So we stopped yesterday with a nice even perimeter all the way around our cutting board.  So now, while the edges are flat and easy to grip, let’s go ahead and plane our cutting surface even.

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If you look closely, you’ll see that it appears that there’s a dark outer edge and a lighter area in the middle of the board.  The dark areas are what the plane has been cutting.  The light area is a shallow hollow in the middle of the board.  So plane until the surface is a nice even texture, visually and palpably.  Once the other side is done too, here’s a detail that makes a difference.

When you try to pick a cutting board off the counter where you’ve been cutting things, it never wants to come up!  Especially since invariably you have wet hands, and it’s just a mess.  Here’s a way to make the board easy to grab off the counter.  I start with the planed handle, which is even with the rest of the board.

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I then take my plane and cut a sloped surface down to the end of the handle.  It doesn’t have to be a huge slope, but maybe an eighth or so.

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Remember that the grain is reversed on the opposite side of the board, so you’ll have to plane up from the end.  It feels a little strange, but it will work out.  This slope, along with the rounded edges, lets your fingers slide up under the handle and pick up the board easily, even if it’s on a flat surface.

To round an edge gracefully, it should be beveled first.  Otherwise it looks bloated.  Draw a line around the outer edges of the board on both face and edge.  I do it by eye, but it works out to be about a quarter inch or so.

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Once we have those lines as a guide (you could just do it by eye if you’re feeling frisky), connect them with a bevel, all the way around the board.  Once again, I like to use the plane on the flat edges, and a rasp on the curved ones.

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And finally, at long last, we can make the edges round.  I use a fine rasp for this all the way around.  Don’t go past your inside line, and try for a nice, even radius.

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That pretty much finishes the structural part of this.  Tomorrow we’ll sand and finish, and that should be it for this build.

Less talking…

…more working!

Right, so if I have a variety of pieces that need to be made, I always start with the cutting boards.  I’ll get into why a little later, but for now, just know that this is where we’re beginning.

Wooden cutting boards are a better idea than plastic.  A study by the University of California found that wood doesn’t turn into a germ colony like a plastic.  And it’s definitely, definitely better in the “marital bliss” department than using your kitchen counters to cut things on.

I don’t laminate little strips for a cutting board.  The glue fails in every one I’ve seen.  We’re also preferentially using a diffusely porous hardwood.  I found some cherry for a good price, so I’m using that, but rock maple or beech (walnut if you’re a Warbucks) work fine.

So taking our board, give yourself a cutline with a pattern.  Nothing too fancy, or too large.  I’ve seen a Shaker cutting board in this style (in Shea’s book) that looked like you could use it as a table afterward.  My pattern is about 8″ wide by 18″ long.  4/4 (3/4″ thick) stock is good for this.

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Once you have a cutline down, we can cut this out.  You can rough it out with a handsaw, but it’s fair bit of rasp work later to clean up.  Cutting along the entire perimeter of the handle with a coping saw is usually doable, but it’s slow.  I’ve done both, but my preference is a bandsaw.  Makes pretty quick work of it.  Just like a handsaw, though, we don’t want to saw right on the line.  Cut it a little fat so you have some material to smooth up without getting undersize.

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And it looks like a cutting board now!  Well, maybe if you unfocus your eyes a little…

So once we’ve got the shape roughed out, we need to clean it up.  On the flat areas, I typically use my #4 smoothing plane, but you could use a rasp or a spokeshave if you want.  You’ll need a rasp for the curved areas anyhow.

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This is by no means the finished edge yet, but a regular surface will make it easier to work with and give you a more uniform edge.  At this point you should be cutting right down to your cutlines with both the plane and rasp.

We’ve got more planing and rasping tomorrow, cutting the profile on the edge and putting in a detail that will make this a lot friendlier board to work with than a store-bought one.