Ask a woodworker if they’ve made a cutting board and nearly all of them will say they have in the past and still do to this day. For many it’s their first woodworking project. For others it’s their go-to project when they’re looking for an excuse to get into the shop. Every kitchen needs a cutting board and nearly every shop is equipped to make them.
Cutting boards can be as simple as a single wood board or contain dozens of pieces with multiple wood species and shapes. Some require very few woodworking tools and others require a whole shop full of tools. The beauty of cutting boards is that no matter what your skill level or how many tools you have, you can make beautiful, useful cutting boards.
Choosing the Best Wood For Cutting Boards
When choosing woods for cutting boards, look for dense hardwoods, as they are more durable and can stand up to kitchen tasks. You should also lean toward woods that don’t contain an excess of natural oils. Some people have a sensitivity to these oils, and you don’t want your cutting board to alter the taste of your food.
Most people also stay away from spalted and reclaimed woods because you don’t always know what you’re dealing with. If you do use spalted or reclaimed woods, be sure to seal the surface so that it won’t a affect the food in any way. In general, North American hardwoods like maple, walnut, and cherry are commonly used in cutting boards, and rare exotic woods should be avoided. Whatever woods you choose, do your research on food safety before venturing into the unknown.
Sealing and Finishing Cutting Boards with a Food Safe Finish
There are many ways to finish a cutting board and no finish is maintenance free. The more you use the cutting board, the more you’ll need to apply more finish. The finish I like to use takes a two-step process. The first step is applying mineral oil that seeps deep into the wood, and the second step adds a protective film on top of the surface.
- Start with smooth stock. Sand everything down to 220 grit. A good sanding job pays off well on small jobs that beg to be touched.
- Raise the grain. Use a wet paper towel to raise the grain. The moisture causes some of the wood fibers to swell.
- Remove the raised grain. Go back and sand everything smooth again with 220-grit sandpaper. This second sanding won’t take long to smooth everything back out. This step will keep the cutting board smooth after use and washing.
- Lay on the oil. Coat the entire cutting board with a heavy dose of white, food-grade mineral oil.
- And again . . . Some woods and all end grain cutting boards soak up a lot of mineral oil. Keep applying more and more until the oil sits on the surface. Allow the oil to sit for a couple of hours before wiping away any excess.
- Add a little wax. For the second coat, melt paraffin wax on the stove using the lowest heat setting. As the wax melts add a bit of the white, food-grade mineral oil. You’ll want about a 50/50 mix.
- Finish while it’s hot. While the wax mixture is still warm, apply a heavy coat to the cutting board. Let the wax set for a couple of hours. This will leave a film on the surface but it’s easily removed later.
- Buff it out. Use a soft cloth to buff away the wax. This coat gives your cutting board a protective finish and a satin sheen.
Cutting Board Projects | How to Make a Cutting Board
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