Are you just throwing that timber on the fire then?
If there’s one thing better than a hand-made oak chopping board, it’s a hand-made oak chopping board that didn’t cost you anything to make.
I was recently buying timber to finish off another project and noticed how many good pieces of wood there were lying in the off-cuts bin. I asked the man who was helping me what they did with them and was shocked to hear that they just burn them at home. Dimensioned timber! Burning it! Sacrilege. So I asked if I could have a few of the nicer pieces and he agreed. One such piece, a 300mm wide offcut from an 18mm American oak board had an interesting wany edge. It’s probably what sealed its fate as an offcut in the first place. The board was also slightly cupped and only one of the corners was square, a challenge but a freebie is a freebie none the less.
Try this at your local timber merchant. I’m sure you’ll be able to get hold of a piece big enough for a reasonably sized chopping board. Alternatively, this same method would produce smaller serving boards for food and snacks.
Flattening the board
First off, as with any project, I made the board flat. This one had a little rock between the corners and some fairly bad lumps from the planer thicknesser. I clamped the board down (to the kitchen worktop, it was cold outside) and worked across the middle of the board diagonally, I did this on the convex surface of the board. I set the plane to a very shallow thickness and took off very light shavings until the board was smooth and flat.
For an in-depth explanation of flattening a board by hand, I’d recommend this video.
This step might start to feel like a lot of work but don’t be tempted to leave it out. Anytime the thought to skip flattening enters your head, imagine trying to chop vegetables on the chopping board with it rocking about under your hands. If you’re OK with that then go ahead without flattening.
The chopping board looked a little long to my eye so I decided to use the golden ratio to set the proportions. If you’re unsure what the golden ratio is, it’s worth reading up on; it can be very useful for deciding the proportions of stuff that you make. Essentially it’s a number (1.618) which occurs in the ratio of many things in nature, using it can really help to make things look “right”. I used an online calculator to get my numbers by measuring the width of the board and putting it in as the long dimension. Using the calculator left me with 300mm x 485mm as my final dimensions though this part is really entirely down to the size of the wood you can get and what you want at the end. I started from the end of the chopping board with the Also known as a live edge or natural edge. It is when the side of a piece of timber has not been cut and planed. Instead, it ends with the naturally undulating surface formed by the outside of the of the tree.... (as I knew I wanted to keep all of that feature) and measured along the top edge (as I knew this was both straight and square to the end). I then used a try square to get a line across the board that was A line that is 90 degrees to another line. The edges of a square board are perpendicular and a perfectly vertical post is perpendicular to the ground.... to that edge.
Cutting to size
Using a mitre saw on the floor like this is not only difficult but it’s uncomfortable too, however this was a quick Saturday project and setting up the table for the saw didn’t feel worth it. Start by setting the straight edge against the fence and then make a squaring cut at the end of the board you want to keep. Then flip the board over and cut across the board at your mark, so for my board this was 485mm from the first cut. I also used the saw to make the side with the Also known as a live edge or natural edge. It is when the side of a piece of timber has not been cut and planed. Instead, it ends with the naturally undulating surface formed by the outside of the of the tree.... square by setting one of the newly cut edges against the fence and shaving off the smallest cut that went all the way across the edge.
Starting with a fairly coarse grit, I used 80 for my first pass, sand down the surfaces of the chopping board. This removes any leftover bumps and smoothed out the tear-out you can see in the bottom right of the image, this was an artefact of my planing (poorly). I then worked down through 120 to 180 grit. Going finer than this isn’t really necessary at this stage.
“a random orbital sander makes life easier”
I also gave the Also known as a live edge or natural edge. It is when the side of a piece of timber has not been cut and planed. Instead, it ends with the naturally undulating surface formed by the outside of the of the tree.... a light hand sanding, this removed any flaky dry bits of bark that would more than likely fall off at a later date anyway. I sanded just enough that the light wood beneath was starting to show on the highest points of the surface and left the rest dark. The pattern this creates on the wood is really beautiful and definitely helped to give the piece a unique look.
I ran my trimmer around all edges using a 45-degree chamfer bit set at a couple of millimetres. This not only helps give a professional look but helps to make the board harder wearing. Sharp corners on the ends of boards are prone to chipping out when they bash against other things, this step prevents that.
You could skip this step if you wanted but using a card scraper, or even a metal ruler with a decent edge can help to get an even smoother surface. I drew the edge of a 30cm ruler towards me across the surface while holding the workpiece still. This removes a very thin layer of wood and gets the surface absolutely flat. Think of it as somewhere between sanding and planing… kinda.
I decided to use Danish oil is actually a mixture of oil and varnish, the proportions of which depend on the manufacturer. The oil used is usually tung oil or linseed oil. It is a type of drying oil, meaning it bonds with the wood and goes hard leaving no oiliness behind. It resists water well, making it a good choice for anything that might get wet. It wouldn't, however, protect wood from submersion or prolonged damp conditions. It is best applied in three to four coats with a lint-free cloth, leaving time between each coat. The directions on each brand will vary. It is important to note that cloths used to apply danish oil can actually suddenly burst into flames (seriously) and so... as I had some already and from what I’ve read any oil that “cures” should be food safe after about 30 days. Do your own research on this though if you feel worried at all by nasty chemicals ending up in your dinner. I also considered using a natural, non-drying oil such as vegetable or olive. These would give a similar appearance but as they never fully dry, the surface would always feel slightly greasy and this didn’t appeal to me (or my wife) at all. After ensuring the surface was dry and dust free, I applied the oil by pouring liberally on to the surface of the wood. Spreading the oil about with a cloth and then finally smoothing in the direction of the grain gives a very easy perfect finish. After 20 minutes wiped the surface again to redistribute any oil that hadn’t absorbed as quickly. I did 3 coats in total sanding lightly with 400 grit wet and dry paper in between.
The finished article
I’m pretty happy how this turned out after only a couple of hours work. We now have to let it set aside for a month so that the Danish oil is actually a mixture of oil and varnish, the proportions of which depend on the manufacturer. The oil used is usually tung oil or linseed oil. It is a type of drying oil, meaning it bonds with the wood and goes hard leaving no oiliness behind. It resists water well, making it a good choice for anything that might get wet. It wouldn't, however, protect wood from submersion or prolonged damp conditions. It is best applied in three to four coats with a lint-free cloth, leaving time between each coat. The directions on each brand will vary. It is important to note that cloths used to apply danish oil can actually suddenly burst into flames (seriously) and so... can fully cure and be food safe. Once the curing time is over, it’ll be doing many hours work in the kitchen.
Also published on Medium.