I love giving cutting boards as gifts. They’re relatively simple to to make and the recipient is usually pretty stoked to get a thoughtful, handmade item. The time that goes into a cutting board isn’t huge and they’re a great weekend project.
I like making walnut cheeseboards because they’re simple to make using hand tools and don’t require a big shop space. The dark color is also really sexy looking. If you have scraps of walnut laying around, this is a great project to use up some odd pieces. You can also mix other woods into the project for a multi-colored look as long as they’re food safe.
The shape of a cheese board doesn’t matter. You can use curvy lines, follow a live edge, round corners, or whatever you want. The cheeseboard doesn’t need to be constrained as a rectangular box.
Food safe wood list (there are others as well):
- Walnut – I have, however, read that the shaving are bad for pets and the yard
One of the guys I work with has a birthday coming up. About a year ago he saw one of my Walnut Cheeseboards and loved it so I thought I’d make him one for his birthday in July.
- Rough cut walnut, maple, or some other food safe wood
- Titebond III (Ultimate – the green one)
- Hand plane – I’m using a Stanley #4
- Sandpaper – I use multiple grits up to 400 Grit
- Compass for creating rounded corners
- Band saw (optional – for rounding corners)
- 1 1/4″ Spade drill bit to create the grab hole
- Router with a round over bit – I’m using a trim router and it’s more than enough for this project
Oh and one quick note on hand tools. There are certainly ways to build this project using power tools rather than hand tools. As I discussed here, I don’t have access to power tools in my current living situation so I opt for hand tools. Both approaches work and it’s more about what you have access to or prefer.
Moving from a rough cut piece of wood to the board is simple. For this project I decided to dig through my pile of walnut and find two similarly wide pieces.
I know this cheese board is going to have a seam running down the middle so I’m spend some time trying to find grain patterns that lined up reasonably well. If you have a single board that you can cut and then join together you won’t need to worry about the board width.
Once you have the two pieces of wood you want to use the next step is getting ready to glue them together. If you’re lucky enough to have a jointer, that will help. With hand tools I plane down two sides of the boards. I want them to be flush when I’m done.
Make sure to check that your planing is creating side that’s square with the fact of the board.
You can tell that you’re looking good when the boards can be connected side to side without light shining through. Simply hold them together and then hold them up to something with light behind.
I like to use Titebond Ultimate. It’s safe for indirect food contact and waterproof as long as it’s not submerged. It’s my go to for cutting boards and cheeseboards. I like to take over our kitchen when I glue things together because I don’t have a proper workbench. My wife is very understanding. Your experience may vary.
It’s a good idea to dry fit your glue up together. To keep the landlord happy and the counter glue free, I glue on top of wax paper. I generally let the glue dry until the next afternoon when I get home from work, which is far longer than the glue instructions require.
The next step is getting the faces smooth and roughly parallel. Since we’re just making a cheeseboard, it’s more important to have smooth, level faces. It’s also good to get the faces as close to parallel as possible, but it’s not critical. Being ever so slightly off won’t ruin the project.
Planing the faces always takes me a bit of time. The rough faces take a bit of work to get flat. I’ve watched others hand plane boards somewhat quickly, but that’s not my speciality. I work slowly and chase walnut shavings around the house until I get both faces smooth.
The cheeseboard is small so rocking on the counter is pretty simple to correct. I like to put the board on the counter periodically to check and correct rocking.
Choosing a Shape:
I like to cut my cheeseboards into shapes. In some cases those shapes are determined by the wood itself. The cutting board below has an angled corner because the wood had a big knot that I needed to cut out.
Before creating the rounded corners I’m going to create a parallel and perpendicular shape. This project has a little extra width and length so I’m going to start by creating a proper rectangle. I chose to cut my shape out using a band saw, but I could have gone with hand saws if I was feeling less lazy.
For this project I’m going to go with a more basic shape that has rounded corners and a hole for grabbing. I start out by outlining my plan on a piece of paper and transfer my desired shape to the board. The specifics don’t matter, but you’ll want to use a compass to draw the rounded corners.
There are an infinite number of shape variations so don’t get hung up on the rounded corner thing I’m doing. There are plenty of other interesting shapes and styles to explore. Sometimes imperfections (knots) in the wood will make the shape choice for you.
Once you have a plan for the board shape you’ll want to transfer it to the wood and then cut it out. You can use hand saws, a band saw, or a table saw depending on what you need to cut.
After the corners are cut and the edges are routed away, it’s time to do some final sanding and finishing. I move through a series of sandpapers all way the way up to 400 grit. After the first sanding cycle, I get them wet to raise the grain, let them dry, and then repeat the sanding. I run through that cycle a couple of times.
After going through the sanding cycle, it’s time to apply some food safe oil to the board. I used Howard Cutting Board Oil on these boards, but it’s just mineral oil. If you have access to food grade mineral oil, you can use that as well. I apply several thick coats of the mineral oil, let them sit, and wipe them off between coats. I usually let the first coat sit for a few hours to overnight. I let the subsequent coats sit on the board for around 30 minutes.
Note that even after wiping the oil off the board, it will be a bit greasy. Even though it’s probably not advisable, I like to wash the board lightly with mild dish soap to remove the greasy outer layer a bit.
After oiling the board, you’re all finished. The oil really makes the wood grain pop and the cutting boards will look gorgeous.