Instead of spending $100 or more for an end-grain cutting board, spend a few enjoyable hours in the shop building your own one-of-a-kind piece. If that sounds like an appealing use of your time, just follow the steps ahead.
What Is the Best Wood to Use for an End Grain Cutting Board?
You can use salvaged or scrap wood to create and end grain cutting board. A working shop generates lots of scrap wood, most of which is usually too small and common for anything except kindling.
Occasionally, a piece calls out for special attention, like the slab of salvaged heart pine left over from a bench that Tom and Kevin had built earlier. This is what we’re using in the video above.
Heart pine is the heartwood of longleaf pine, a tree prized for its strength, rich color, and hardness. Sadly, over harvesting has driven the species to near extinction; the wood that is available today comes from lumber pulled out of old buildings or logs fished from rivers.
How to Make an End Grain Cutting Board in 9 Steps
Tom’s plan was to slice this rough-sawn scrap into strips and assemble them into a cutting board with the wood grain running vertically. This creates an attractive mosaic that also serves a practical purpose.
“On edge-grain cutting boards, every knife nick shows,” Tom says. “But when a knife blade hits end grain, the fibers separate. The board is undamaged and the blade stays sharp.” Even better, the pine’s high resin content makes it naturally antibacterial.
Find the Right Scrap
This 2-inch-thick plank of salvaged longleaf pine—about 3 feet long and 1 foot wide—provides all the wood needed for this project. Run it through a planer to flatten both faces, then use a miter saw to crosscut it into two equal pieces and to square up the ends.
Rip Into Strips
Use a table saw to trim the weathered wood from either side of each board. Next, rip the boards into strips that are the same thickness on all four sides, as shown. A push stick helps keep fingers safe.
“As we worked on this project, the wood’s lovely aroma filled the entire shop,” Kevin says.
Alternate the Grain
Place the strips on a workbench and divide them into two groups. Turn each strip so that the direction of the end grain varies from one strip to the next. This ensures that the finished block won’t cup or split when the wood gets wet and dries out.
Set aside one strip in each group and turn the others a quarter turn counterclockwise. Apply and spread the glue on the turned strips, as Tom is doing, first with an acid brush, then with a stick. Rotate each strip back a quarter turn, then place each set-aside strip against the exposed glue on one side of each assembly.
Clamp, Then Cut
Clamp the assembled strips into two panels; use a damp rag to wipe up any glue that squeezes out. When the glue is dry, in an hour or so, clamp a stop to the miter-saw table 2 inches from the blade. Trim the panel ends. Butt an end against the stop as you cut each panel into identically sized strips.
Stagger the Strips
Place all the strips so the end grain faces up. Shift each one sideways so that the glue joints in each strip are offset from the ones in the neighboring strips. Use the same gluing technique as in Step 5 to make a single panel, and glue a sacrificial 2x to each end. Clamp the panel and 2xs for about an hour.
True the Edges, Plane the Faces
Use a circular saw and edge guide to trim one side square to the ends. Trim the other side with a table saw. Now run the board through the planer to smooth out the faces. The 2xs prevent the ends from chipping. After planing, slice them off with the miter saw.
On using a thickness planer
- Metal check. Before you start, make sure the board you’re planing has no embedded nails. They can ruin planer knives.
- This end first. If the grain on the board’s side has a slope, feed the board into the planer beginning with the end that the grain slopes down toward. Feeding it the other way may tear the surface rather than smooth it.
- This side down. If the board is cupped from side to side, place the concave side against the planer table and flatten the convex side first. Then plane the concave side.
- Just a little at a time. Set the planer depth to remove only about 1⁄16 inch of wood at a time. That enables the planer blades to spin at a high rpm for a smoother surface.
Rout the Edges
Using a router, round over each vertical corner, then rout a cove in the board’s top and bottom edges, as shown. The cove makes the board easier to pick up. Smooth all sides with a random-orbit sander, starting with 100-grit sandpaper and finishing with 320 grit.
Coat with Oil
Rub mineral oil onto every side of the board. After 20 minutes, wipe off any excess; reapply, wait, and wipe again. This food-grade oil warms up the wood’s color, repels water, and protects against stains. Unlike a cooking oil, it won’t turn rancid. Reapply regularly.