I’m going to attempt to use words and pictures to walk you through the process of constructing an End Grain cutting board/butcher block that will last for decades.
That’s right, no mechanical fasteners, just glue! I promise it’s stronger than wood!
STEP 1: Choose your wood
For a long-lasting, durable cutting board you are going to want to choose hardwoods to build with. Some of the standards include Walnut, Maple, and Cherry. You can also use exotic woods such as Zebrawood, Padauk, Canarywood, Bocote, and dozens of others. Some hardwoods that are not good for cutting boards for various reasons include Poplar (too soft), Oak (too porous), and some exotic species that could cause irritation.
You are going to want to pay close attention to the END grain of the boards you select, since you know we are making an END grain board and all. If using Walnut, you may want to select wood that has mostly the dark brown heartwood but can also mix it up and have a board that shows some of the light colored sapwood to create some great patterns and contrast in your block.
To make your life easier, select boards that are as clean as possible. No, this doesn’t mean they’ve been scrubbed with Windex….We are looking for boards free of knots and defects here. You can always cut around them if there are not too many or fill them with epoxy if you’d like (a necessary evil with Ambrosia Maple).
Step 2: Mill and Dimension your wood
Depending on your tool selection in your shop, you may want to purchase your wood from a hardwood dealer that has to tools and abilities to take your rough stock lumber and turn it into square and straight boards. Either way, your boards need to have at least two flat and square sides. There are various methods involving jointers, planers, routers, tracksaws, etc that can accomplish this. Once you have that you are good to go and can make your parallel cuts on the table saw or using a circular saw.
Whether you do the work yourself or have your hardwood dealer do it, now is the time to thickness your boards. You want your boards as thick as you want them wide in your final construction. So if you want 1″ strips of wood making up your final board than thickness all of your wood to 1″ (or 4/4 if you want to speak the lingo). Now if you want a thicker, 2″ strip in your boards (this is what I use most often), then you need to use 8/4 wood to accomplish this.
Step 3: Plan your board and cut to length
Now that you have clean boards that are the desired thickness it is time to cut them to length and layout your board construction.
So let’s say we are using 8/4 (2″) thick lumber and we want our end grain block to be 12″ wide, 18″ long, and 1.5″ thick…..
I want to round up to 1.75″ thickness to allow some room for flattening..
So we will need to start with a board that is 12″x16″. In reality I would probably go to 13″ or so wide to allow room for trimming. The 16″ number is arrived at by dividing our final dimension (18″) by our current board thickness (2″), multiplying by our desired thickness (1.75″) and rounding up to the nearest inch.
Depending on what saw you will be cutting with, also add in some cushion for the saw kerf. This can vary but is typically 1/8″ or so.
So now you have several boards that when laid out come to a measurement of somewhere around 13″ wide x 16″ long and still 2″ thick.
Arrange these boards how you would like to make patterns, etc with the grain. If possible, alternate the grain direction so if the end grain is an arch in one board orient it to be a U in the next board. I hope that made sense….
This allows the boards to counteract each other somewhat to minimize the effects of any wood movement.
Step 4: It’s time for the 1st glue up!
So your boards are laid out, let’s get to gluing. I only use Titebond III in my board construction. It is waterproof and food safe. Titebond II is also generally acceptable but it does not offer the same water resistance so I worry about issues down the road if a board is mistreated (left in standing water).
Apply the glue liberally to one side of each joint, spread the glue evenly, and clamp it together. There a countless methods for gluing and clamping, so I’m not going to go into much here.
For the price and strength it is hard to beat using 3/4″ black pipe from your local hardware store and Bessey 3/4″ pipe clamps. F-style clamps are also a good choice, I prefer the orange Jorgeson clamps but I don’t believe they make them any longer, so you could get the comparable Jet Clamps.
I would also recommend using some 6″ bar clamps or something similar to clamp overlapping the joints to assist in a flat glue up.
Once dry (I usually wait 24 hours) you can scrape of any excess glue and proceed to flatten the board by either a power planer, drum sander, hand plane, etc. This is a very important step to ensure their are no gaps in your final board between the strips.
Step 5: Cut your strips and prepare for final glue up
Here is where you set your table saw, track saw, miter saw, hand saw, or whatever you’re using to cut your 1.75″ strips.
As you cut the strips, keep them in order as they come off the saw. Once your have them all cut, flip them 90 degrees so that your beautiful end grain is now facing up.
This is where you can have some fun flipping and turning the pieces as you wish to create a visually pleasing pattern with the end grain of your wood.
Once you have your board laid out it’s time for the second and final glue up. (unless your going for one of those psychedelic chaos boards that give me a headache to look at….)
Step 6: Final Glue Up
Much like the 1st glue up, using the same glue proceed to spread the glue on one side of each joint and clamp them together. Using cauls, additional clamps, etc to ensure the board is as flat as possible.
After 24 hours in the clamps she is ready for the next step…..
Step 7: Flattening (aka making a absolute mess of your shop)
Like most of the other steps, there are many ways to go about flattening your end grain board. Some of these include a router flattening jig (my preferred method), drum sander, hand planes, and old fashioned hand sanding (may take a few weeks). There is always one in the crowd that says they’ve been putting end grain boards through their planer since they were in diapers without issue, please do not do this. The risk is too great for a failure of the board and/or planer not to mention the tearout, potential deep grooves, and fact that a planer can not get the sides flat and square to each other.
I will go into further detail on my flattening process in a later post, but you can look back in my Instagram feed for some pictures and short videos of the jig in use. It is basically a router with a 2″ flattening bit riding in a carriage across two rails. I use tape or wedges to hold the block in place, flatten one side then repeat for the other side.
Step 8: Final Dimensioning and Edging
Using whatever saw method you choose, here is where you cut your board to it’s final length and width. Pay close attention to make sure your sides are square to each other.
If you had some chipout that occurred during flattening, you can cut it off if really bad, but hopefully its just on a edge that can be routed off.
Once trued up, you can use your router bit of choice (typically roundover for me) to put all of the edges on the board.
This is also the point where you would add any hand holds, juice grooves, etc. Those are a little more involved so I will cover them in detail in a future post.
Step 9: SANDING
Lots and lots of sanding. I use my ROS for this progressing from 60, 100, 150, 220, 320, and finally a hand sanding with 600 grit paper.
Step 10: Finishing
Now that your board is nice and smooth, proceed to finishing the board with whichever food-safe finish you choose.
I know some use Salad Bowl Finish, I find it too plastic-like and kind of defeats the purpose of a warm, natural, wood board for me.
Now you should have a beautiful wooden butcher block fit to be a family heirloom for many years to come!