I love hard cheeses and hard-crust
breads. My cheese-making skills
are limited and my baking talent
is admired only in our household
and among close friends, so I use my
woodworking skills to make distinctive
cutting boards to serve the foods I like.
The secret to my designs is using
cast-off lumber, those short cutoffs
and deformed pieces that usually
get thrown out
or burned in
(Photo 1). I’ll
I deal with the
scrap pieces I use.
I’ll also explain how
to turn a handle
that’s functional and
Maple, beech, cherry
and birch are excellent
choices. They’re hard,
close-pored woods that
are known to be foodsafe.
It’s a good idea to
stay away from tropical
woods in general,
as many, including
rosewood, olivewood and
cocobolo, contain known toxins
Prepare the board
Scrap pieces usually need two or three
operations: removing bark, flattening
the surfaces and filling voids with
epoxy. After you remove bark, clean
the surface with a brass brush to get
rid of grit and other loose material.
Flatten the surfaces before you fill
the voids. This takes longer than filling
the voids first, because you have to
remove the excess epoxy by hand. But
epoxy can dull a sharp edge—why risk
your jointer or planer knives when you
can sand or chisel of the excess?
If the board you’ve chosen is more
than 12" long, you can use your jointer
and planer to flatten it. If the board
is too short to be milled, savor the
moment; this is a great opportunity
to hone your hand-planing skills
If your scraps are long enough, but
too wide for your jointer, flatten them
using only your planer. With the knives
set to make a light cut, run the board
cupped-face-down until the face you’re
planing is flat. Then flip the board and
flatten the cupped side. Use a sled if
the board is twisted. Shim unsupported
areas caused by the twist before planing.
Once one face is planed, you won’t need
the sled to flatten the other face.
Clean and fill the cavities
Cavities in a board are a natural home
for minerals, sand and dirt to settle in
over the years—these contaminants will
dull your chisels and carving gouges.
That’s why I use a high-speed rotary tool
equipped with a carbide bit to remove
decayed wood (Photo 3).
Use slow-setting epoxy to fill the
cavities. I usually color the epoxy
(Photo 4). For shallow cavities, just pour
in the epoxy. If the void goes all the way
through the board, seal the opening on
the back side with masking tape. Use a
spatula to work the epoxy into awkward
cracks and small dents (Photo 5). When
the epoxy is dry—but before it has fully
cured—remove the excess by hand with a
chisel, hand plane or sandpaper (Photo 6).
Turn and install the handle
I never make two handles alike, so I
have to come up with novel shapes every
time I turn a new one (Photo 7). I use
this opportunity to explore interesting
resources in the environment around
me. Architectural details, mechanical
components and natural formations are
all sources of inspiration. Sometimes, I
laminate the handle blanks (Photo 8).
It’s most efficient to turn two
handles out of one long blank (Photo 9).
The tenons on the ends of the handles are the only parts that must be accurately
turned. I turn 1" dia. tenons for thick
cutting boards (1-1/2" and up); anything
thinner gets a 3/4" tenon. Always make
the tenons longer than necessary and cut
them to length when you fit the handle
to the board.
If you orient the handles so they
meet in the middle, you can turn one
long tenon. But if you’re used to working
in one direction, from the headstock
toward the tailstock, for example, it may
be easier to orient the handles in the same
Establish the tenon’s diameter by
plunging in with a parting tool at several
locations along its length, using calipers to
gauge the depth. Complete the tenon by
removing the waste with a spindle gouge
and finishing with a skew chisel.
Shape the handles’ beads, coves and
fillets with spindle gouges and the skew.
Sand the handles while they’re still on the
lathe; remove them to cut them apart. Use
the handles’ unfinished ends as clamping
surfaces when you glue them in.
Drill a hole in the board and testfit
the handle (Photo 10). Then brush
epoxy into the hole and around the
tenon. Install the handle and clamp
it until the epoxy cures. Remove the
clamps and lay the board on your
bench. If it rocks because the handle’s
diameter is too big, plane or sand
the handle flush on both sides, so the
board sits flat. Then finish shaping
the end of the handle (Photo 11). Sand
each board with 150-, 220- and 320-grit
sandpaper before you apply the finish.
I prefer using flaxseed oil or walnut oil
for finishing (Photo 12). Unlike the
vegetable or mineral oils that are often
used as food-safe finishes for wood, flaxseed
and walnut oil completely cure and
polymerize. They’re very easy to apply,
they enhance the wood’s natural beauty
and scratches don’t show as they do on
varnish and other surface-film finishes.
You should be aware, though, that some
people are allergic to walnuts. If this is
a concern, go with flaxseed oil. Both oils
are commonly available at health food
This story originally appeared in American Woodworker December/January 2009, issue #139.
December/January 2009, issue #139
Purchase this back issue.
Click on any of the images to view a larger version
1. I make beautiful cutting boards from
gnarly offcuts. Maple, beech, cherry and
birch are safe woods to use for serving food.
2. Hand plane boards that are too short
to flatten with your jointer and planer.
3. Remove decayed or unstable wood
using a high-speed rotary tool equipped
with a round or pear-shaped bit.
4. Fill cavities with slow-setting epoxy. I
mix in artists oil paint to add color. Here
I’ve added ivory black, but I often mix
bright colors to create a dramatic effect.
5. Use a thin-bladed spatula to work the
epoxy into narrow cracks and crevices.
Dab on wax to keep the epoxy from draining
out the end of a check.
6. Level the epoxy with the board’s surface.
To make the job easier, start before
the epoxy reaches maximum hardness.
7. I sketch new handle designs for each cutting
board. All of the boards I build are unique, so
it makes sense that the handles should be, too.
8. Laminating thin veneer strips of contrasting
wood into the handle blank (inset
photo) adds visual appeal.
9. It’s easiest to turn two handles on
the same blank, with the tenons facing one
another. Then you can turn one long tenon.
10. Test-fit the handle to make sure it
seats fully. It’s okay if the tenon is a bit
loose, because epoxy can fill gaps and still
create a strong bond.
11. Use a chisel to finish shaping the
handle after it’s glued to the board. Saw
off the waste first and complete the job
12. Rub on flaxseed oil or walnut oil. Then
sand with 400-grit wet/dry sandpaper.
Wipe the board dry and let the oil cure
for several days.