It’s easy to understand why cutting boards are such popular woodworking projects: You don’t need to spend a lot to get creative with fancy patterns and wood species. That’s what Tom Silva set out to do in making this “op-art” cutting board, with an assist from Kevin O’Connor. “I’ve seen these in woodworking magazines, and I thought it would be fun to try it out,” Tom says.
Three woods of contrasting colors give the board its intriguing appearance: maple, oak, and cherry sourced from a hardwood lumber dealer. Tom and Kevin cut and glued together wood strips into identical rhombus shapes, then sliced them into six-sided pucks.
When assembled into a board, they fool the eye into seeing three dimensions. As with any board in which the grain runs vertically, “a knife does less damage to the wood than on a flat-grain board,” Tom says.
Cutting boards make great gifts. Tom had such a good time making this one, he went ahead and made two of them: one for his son and one for his daughter.
Steps for building a 3D cube cutting board
Step 1: Plane the boards to a uniform thickness
Run the boards through a thickness planer to flatten and smooth each face, and make them the same thickness: between 1 1⁄4 and 1 3⁄8 inches. If you lack access to a surface planer, some hardwood lumber suppliers will plane the boards for you, for an extra charge. Then use a track saw (or a circular saw guided by a straightedge) to rip one edge of each board straight and square.
Step 2: Rip the first bevels
Tilt the table-saw blade to a 60-degree angle. Check the angle with a magnetic digital angle finder (see Tip) or a protractor and bevel gauge. Using hot-melt glue, attach a flat, straight board to the saw’s fence so its bottom edge sits tight against the saw’s table. Place the workpiece edge that was straightened in Step 1 against this auxiliary fence and rip a 60-degree bevel into its opposite edge. Bevel the remaining boards the same way.
Step 3: Cut the remaining bevels
On one end of each workpiece, mark a cutline to complete the rhombus section. Measure all sides of the section to make sure they will be the same width after the cut, and adjust the saw’s fence so the blade will cut on the waste side of the cutline. Guide the beveled edge of each workpiece along the auxiliary fence to complete the rhombus blanks.
Step 4: Glue the pieces together
Take three blanks and spread a thin coat of wood glue on each surface to be joined. Press the pieces together to make one six-sided piece, wiping off any glue that squeezes out with a damp rag. Hold the pieces together and wrap painter’s tape tightly around them (or ask a helper to do it). Wipe off any excess glue and make sure all the edges line up. Remove the tape after the glue dries, in about 30 minutes.
Step 5: Assemble the Pattern
Use a miter saw to cut each six-sided piece into 2-inch-thick pucks. You’ll need about 36 pucks to make this board. To achieve the 3D effect, arrange the pieces so that the same wood species touch only at their corners.
Step 6: Glue and clamp the pucks
Lightly sand the sides of each puck with 120-grit paper; set aside a few to fill the edges. Wet down your work surface so the glued pieces won’t stick to it; then, starting at the board’s center, brush glue on the pucks’ sides and set them against one another following the pattern created in Step 5.
Cut the set-aside pucks in half on a band saw or scroll saw to fill in along the board’s edges, brushing glue only on the surfaces that will meet.
Surround the glued pieces on four sides with 1x3s and clamp them together, as shown. Wipe up any glue that squeezes out.
Step 7: Flatten and fill both faces
When the glue is dry, remove the clamps and use either a belt sander or a slab-flattening router jig (see Tip) to flatten both board faces. Mix wood glue into the sawdust created by the flattening process, then use this paste to fill any gaps in the board surface, as shown.
Put the board back in the flattening jig and run the bit lightly over both faces again, or sand them with a belt sander and 120-grit sandpaper.
Pro Tip: Slab-flattening jig. As its name implies, this workbench-size jig flattens uneven wood surfaces. The jig has two parts: a plywood base with a pair of parallel rails a bit wider than the board’s thickness, and a sled long enough to slide on the rails. The sled has a slot that allows the router bit to slide back and forth, and rails to corral the router base.
Step 8: Cut to final size
Line up a framing square with the edges of the cutting board and mark perpendicular cutlines on all four edges. Trim the edges at the cutlines using a track saw or a circular saw guided by a straightedge.
Step 9: Round the edges
Chuck the roundover bit into a compact router; run it counterclockwise around both board faces. Round over the corners with a random-orbit sander and 120-grit paper.
Step 10: Finish with food-safe oil
Give the board a final sanding on all sides with the random-orbit sander and 220-grit paper. Clean the wood with denatured alcohol, then coat all sides with a food-safe cutting-board oil to seal the wood and make the pattern pop.
Tom used one from Walrus Oil, a blend of mineral oil, coconut oil, beeswax, and vitamin E.
After rubbing it in and wiping away the excess, he waited 24 hours before repeating the process. The board should get a fresh coat of oil between uses, whenever the wood looks dry.
Tom built the cutting board out of pieces of maple, cherry, and mahogany. He chose them because he already had the leftover pieces in his garage and because their variety of shades lend themselves nicely to the 3D cube effect.
To cut the angles of the boards, Tom used a combination of a Kapex KS120 sliding compound miter saw, which is manufactured by Festool, and an Industrial Table Saw from SawStop.
Tom and Kevin secured everything together using some wood glue from Gorilla Glue.
All the other materials required for the project, including sandpaper and mineral oil, can be found at home centers and woodworking supply stores.
- 6⁄4×8 clear walnut, 30 inches long
- 6⁄4×8 clear maple, 30 inches
- 6⁄4×8 clear cherry, 30 inches long
- Hot-melt glue
- Water-resistant glue
- 1 1⁄2 -inch-wide painter’s tape
- 120- and 220-grit sandpaper
- Cutting board oil
- Safety glasses
- Ear protection