It doesn't take much time or money to make an edge grain (edge grain = just the edge strip of the wood, like the side of a 2 x 4) cutting board yourself. Plus they make awesome gifts for just about anyone old enough to be trusted with a knife.
Start with the wood — dense hardwoods with closed grain are popular choices because they hold up well to knife cuts and resist moisture. Maple and walnut are some of the best woods around, but cherry is another beautiful contender. For this tutorial, I've used cherry (just because I had some lying around — no shame in using what you already have!).
What you need
- Hardwood board (maple, walnut or cherry)
- 150 and 220 grit sandpaper
- Food-grade mineral oil
- Clean rags
1. Flatten the board
The board I used was just over 8” wide — too wide to be flattened on my 6” wide jointer. So after cutting the board to a rough length for two cutting boards, I put it on top of my table saw (the flattest surface in my shop). I checked and the board rocked a bit when I pressed down on it, so it wasn't quite flat. Using a block plane, I removed a small amount of wood on either end and repeated until it sat on the table without a wobble.
2. Plane, joint, rip and crosscut
With one face flat, run the board through the thickness planer — just be careful to feed the board in the direction where the grain runs downhill so the planer blades don’t cause tear-out. This cutting board doesn’t have to be any particular thickness, so I just planed it until I had two parallel, smooth faces.
Next up, joint one edge and rip the other on the table saw, taking off only enough to establish smooth parallel edges. Using a crosscut sled on the table saw, get your ends square before cutting the boards to their final length. Since the board was about 8” wide, I used the Golden Ratio to land on a length of 13”.
3. Get a handle
I like to have some sort of handle to grip my cutting board when I'm lifting it. The easiest way to do this is simply drilling a hole in one of the corners — I used a 1” Forstner bit.
4. Make it glassy
A cutting board's gotta have a glassy surface, or else it's just a hunk of wood. So put in the elbow grease for this step.
The board should come out of the planer fairly smooth, so start with 150 grit paper using a random orbit sander. The randomness of the orbit prevents ruts from forming as the sander spins the paper. Each pass covers up the scratches from the previous pass, so your surface won't have any marks or spirals. After you've worked through the board and edges, switch to 220 grit and repeated the process. A spindle sander is great for sanding the inside of the hole, but you can also use sandpaper wrapped around a dowel.
5. Smooth the edges
Rough edges are definitely a party foul here, so make sure to round them down. You can do this with sandpaper, or a router with a round-over or chamfer bit. I like to take off the corners with a block plane, holding it at a 45-degree angle and using the same number of passes for each edge so that they're consistent. The block plane approach gives you a nice, faceted edge. It’s consistent but not completely perfect — a sign that the board was made by hand.
6. Raise the grain
Wood fibers tend to swell and stand up when moisture is applied to them, and that'll give you a rough or fuzzy-feeling surface. Raising the grain forces the fibers stand up so that you can then sand them off, making the finished surface that much smoother.
With the whole board sanded to 220 grit, wipe the surface with a damp paper towel so it's is wet but not flooded. You can also use denatured alcohol, which dries faster. Set the board aside until it's completely dry, then sand the whole board again with 220 grit paper. This extra step makes a dramatic difference in the smoothness of the surface.
7. Oil it up
To give the wood protection from water, finish it with food-grade mineral oil — you can get that at grocery stores and pharmacies. Flood the surface with mineral oil, let it soak in for a few minutes, then wipe it off. Let it dry for a few hours or overnight and then repeat the process a couple more times. Some people make a “butter” using mineral oil and beeswax, and that's cool too. There are also finishes you can buy for wooden utensils that would work well. I chose mineral oil because it's easy and it works. And if the board appears to be drying out, just oil it again.