Types of wood
Making a cutting board is a lot more involved than people realize but it is well worth the work. I feel the most important part of the process is picking the correct wood. There are lots of different types of wood out there to choose from so it can be quite overwhelming. You have to make sure that the wood you choose is a hard wood and not a soft wood like pine or poplar. You want a dense hardwood with a closed grain like maple, cherry or my favorite, walnut.
Types of cutting boards
Picking the type of grain on the board you want to use helps with durability and the look of the cutting board.
-End grain would be the best choice but is the most amount of work and skill. End grain is the end of each piece of wood. It’s the toughest part of the wood and holds up best to knife cuts.
-Edge grain would be the next choice but that uses more wood then choosing face grain. Edge grain is made by gluing strips of wood together using the face grain. Edge or end grain are both a tougher grain then face grain and will take knife cuts better.
-Face grain uses the least amount of wood but is not the toughest grain. It is the best grain to use for a beginner or if you want to keep your costs down. Make sure when you purchase your lumber that it’s S4S (surfaced four sides) lumber. It will cost more but you wont have to worry about jointing the lumber.
Ok so you have all of your wood picked. NOW WHAT?? You might have watched a bunch of YouTube videos and they have all of this expensive equipment like planers, routers, jointer and other stuff you have no interest in buying. Good thing is, you don't need all of that equipment to make a basic board. You will need some basic tools to get this done.
To get this done you will need a circular saw, jig saw, wood glue, clamps, a few calls, orbital sander, sandpaper, tape measure, mineral oil and some motivation. If you don't have a circular saw then you can purchase pieces of wood that are already cut to cutting board size. The company Rockler has some cutting board kits that are already precut to the right size. If you don't want to do any gluing or cutting then purchase a piece of hard wood that's the sized you need. If your board is 12"x16" then buy a piece of hardwood that is going to be big enough so you don't have to make any cuts.
Step 1- Cutting
If you bought a kit or a piece of wood that is big enough so you don't have to make any cuts then skip this step. If not, then you have to figure out how big you want your board to be. Cut all of your boards to the size you want using your circular saw. Make sure you don't rip the boards because that will take off your square edge. You are just cutting the ends of the wood to get the correct length. Once you get all of your wood cut to the desired length then we can move on to the gluing.
Step 2- Gluing
Make sure you use Titebond III for the glue. Lay all of your wood out on a table with the face grain that you want to use facing toward you. You are going to put glue on the edge grain of each piece of wood. Don't be cheap with the glue. Make sure glue is covering the entire edge grain of the wood. The extra will squeeze out when you clamp. If you don't put enough glue then the boards won’t hold and could fall apart once any pressure is put on the wood.
For a 12"x16" cutting board you will need 2 pipe clamps and 5 f style clamps. You will lay all of the wood on the bar clamps with the face grain that you want facing you. Then you will place two calls on the top of the wood and two on the bottom (a call is a piece of scrap wood that you use so the clamps push against the scrap wood and gives good even pressure throughout the squeeze and doesn't damage the cutting board wood). You will place your f clamps on the calls and tighten as much as you can so all of the wood is flat (this part is important because if you don't get all of the wood flat then you will have a lot of sanding to do). Start tightening the clamps until you see the edges of the wood tight against each other. You will see a lot of glue squeeze out. That's ok. You don't want it so tight that all of the glue squeezes out, just tight enough that the edges push tight against each other. Then you will place two calls on the top of the wood and two on the bottom. After you're done clamping then let it sit overnight so the glue can harden.
This is by far the worst part of the process. If you have a planer this part will only take a few minutes. If not then buckle up, you're in for a fun ride. How much sanding depends on how good of a clamping job you did. If your wood is not flat to the touch then you will have to sand all of the wood so its flat (so make sure you take extra time on your clamping). I like to sand everything smooth using 80 grit sandpaper before I do all of my shaping on my cnc. In between each sand you should take a wet rag and rub it on the board to raise the grain. That way when you put your finish coat on the board the grain shouldn't raise. If you don't plan on shaping your wood to any design then sand it smooth with 80 grit first, then 150 git, then 220 grit and I like to finish with 320, but that's not mandatory. If you plan on making a shape then stop after using 80 grit.
I am assuming you don't have a cnc or a router so you will have to shape the wood by hand. Figure out a shape that you want and then trace it on the board using a pencil. If you aren't a good drawer I would just do a simple shape like round edges. Cut the shape out with the jig saw as best as you can. If you don't have a jig saw and don't want to shape it than just round off the edges of the board with some sandpaper. Now you can go and finish sanding the board with 150, then 220 and finish with 320.
Once you have have everything sanded smooth and looking the way you like, it’s time to put the finish on. You have to use a food safe finish like bees wax or mineral oil. Put a coat on, let it sit for about half an hour and then wipe off. I like to let it sit for around six hours to let the wood grain really soak up the finish. Put one more coat on and repeat and you are all done. Now you can feel proud that you made your first cutting board. It’s a great feeling to produce something from nothing.