Board Basics: How to Finish an End Grain Cutting Board

In my previous post about making an end grain cutting board, I discussed selecting and milling the wood, ripping it to width and gluing it into a panel. Follow along as I describe the next steps in finishing a beautiful maple end grain cutting board any chef would be proud to own.

Maple cutting board

Here are the remaining steps to making the cutting board:

1. Flatten the panel

With the panel out of the clamps, make sure it is perfectly flat and the faces are parallel to each other. To accomplish this, flatten one side of the panel, taking off as little material as possible with a jack plane. Once you are satisfied that the panel is dead flat, send it through the planer to make both faces flat and parallel to each other. The panel should be a little under 1 1/2″ thick at this point and about 15″ long.

2. Trim one edge and crosscut into strips

The next task is crosscutting the panel into strips. The width of the cut will determine the thickness of the cutting board. I usually make mine about 1 1/4″ thick. First, establish a 90-degree angle on one end of the board, which you can do by using a mitre gauge on the table saw. Next, set the table saw fence to 1 1/4″. Putting the freshly cut edge against the fence, cut as many strips as you can get out of the panel, being sure to use a push stick.

maple panel with straight edge

Cut a 90-degree angle on one end of the board using the miter gauge on a table saw.

maple board with cross cuts

Using the fence to set the width, make crosscuts on the table saw.

maple crosscut strips

The crosscuts result in 1 1/4″ thick strips. The strip on the left was turned to reveal the end grain.

3. Glue it all up again

With your strips ready, arrange them with the end grain facing up. Now go back to the gluing set-up and glue the strips edge-to-edge into another panel. It’s critical to make this panel as flat as possible because sanding end grain is much more difficult and time consuming than sanding edge grain. It will help to remove glue squeeze-out with a damp cloth.

4. Consider the edges, handles and feet

Before you finish the board, there are a few design elements to consider: edge treatment, handles and feet. I like to break the edges of the board with a hand plane to give them a crisp look. You can also round them over with a router or sand paper. Metal handles can be attached or, as I like to do, you can make recessed handles either on the underside of the board or in the middle, the latter making it possible to use both sides of the board for cutting. I make recessed handles on the router table. Finally, feet help hold the board off of a counter where it might get wet. I use small rubber feet with internal washers secured with stainless steel screws to avoid corrosion.

cutting board recessed handle

Recessed handles are easy to make with a router.

cutting board rubber feet

Rubber feet lift the board away from water on kitchen counters.

5. Sand all surfaces

When the board comes out of the clamps, sand the top and bottom to 80 grit, then check to see if the board is flat. If it isn’t, determine where the high spots are and knock them down by sanding or using a sharp hand plane. I like to establish a fresh edge on the sides using the table saw. Sand all surfaces of the board through 120 grit, 150 grit and 220 grit. Pay special attention to the underside of the recessed handle. Get the surface damp, let it dry completely, then sand it again at 220 grit.

maple board before finish

A cutting board with all surfaces sanded to 220 grit.

6. Finish the board with mineral oil

There are several schools of thought about finishing cutting boards. The goal is to protect the board without using a toxic substance that will contaminate food. The easiest and safest finish I can think of is food-grade mineral oil, which you can buy at a grocery store or pharmacy. I have recently started using a mix of mineral oil and beeswax, which you can make yourself or buy from the store. The idea is to saturate the surface, let it soak in a bit and then wipe it clean. Once the board has dried for a few hours, apply a few more coats until the board doesn’t soak up the oil as quickly. If the board dries out in the future, simply apply another coat of oil.

maple board being finished

Food-grade mineral oil makes an easy and effective finish for cutting boards.

Get creative

Now that you know the basic idea of how to make end grain cutting boards, try different patterns and sizes with different kinds of wood. The possibilities are endless. In use, wash the board with a little soap and water, then let them dry completely before storing them. Oil them once a month or whenever they appear dried out. These boards are workhorses that also happen to be really beautiful.

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