It’s not sawdust, it’s Wood Glitter

Last night my wife had most of the teachers from her preschool over to do one of those “Drink & Paint” parties where everyone gets sloshed & attempts to copy a painting. I took this wonderful opportunity to head out to the workshop & try my hand at building my first cutting board.

I generally just heat up leftovers and eat at my desk for lunch, but yesterday I actually took off & headed over to the lumberyard to pick up 2 large chunks of walnut & hard maple to make a few cutting boards for Christmas gifts. Cutting boards are like training wheels for woodworkers, so I thought I’d go ahead & give it a try. It was also a plus in the fact that this was the first time I worked with rough lumber & not pre-milled pine or plywood.

Feeling rough

Left is hard maple, right is walnut. On top is a chunk of purpleheart I plan on using in one of the boards. Didn’t need much so I just bought a 2x2x12 blank.

Now that I have a jointer, a planer, & a table saw I can buy rough cut wood & mill it down to the exact size I need. First you run the wood on the finger-destroyer jointer to flatten the edge. Then, using that edge as a guide, you joint a face to flatten & square it.

Next, using the flattened face, you run the wood through the planer to get the piece to the exact thickness you want. You also use the jointed side to index against your table saw’s fence to make perfectly parallel faces.

Having thick wood is no longer a problem They call it 'walnut' because it sounds like 'wallet', which is where this stuff gets you

Well, almost perfect. Lesson #1 of the evening – your tools drift. Over time, fences move, saw blades tilt, and that which was perfectly perpendicular now is a  4 dimensional rhomboid. The fence on the jointer had moved ever so slightly. Because of this, I had more of an 89.4° edge rather than a perfect 90°. So I had to fix that.

I only realized this when I was indexing the wood against the table saw fence & saw a gap. So it took a bit of tweaking to get the fence right. I need a better square (add that to the to-buy list).

Once that was fixed, it illustrated that my saw blade was not 90° either. Had to fix that. Only took 2 cuts before I realized that.

Then I cut out perfect 1.4” rectangles.

Perfect imperfection

1.4”? “Robb, why not an inch and a half?” Turns out there’s only 1 math in woodworking – subtraction. If you cut your piece exactly to 1.5” and then realize the edge is not 90°, well, some wood has to come off. Lesson #2 – Cut proud, shave / sand / joint down to your final size.

With everything finally aligned correctly, I was able to cut out the strips I needed for the walnut as well as the maple. I decided in mid stream to not do an end grain cutting board but to do an edge board for simplicity. Lesson #3 – Know your limits & plan accordingly.

Maybe, just maybe this will work

Laying out all my slices, it was time to glue them up. Lesson #4 – YouTube videos skip the frustrating part of trying to get all the clamps in the right spots while juggling loose wood and getting the clamps to not run into each other, etc. I did put down wax paper between the wood & the black pipe because I’ve read that the pipes will leech into the wood if given a chance.

It's an adhesive AND a lubricant! The big squeeze

I used glue. Lots of glue. I’m afraid of a glue starved joint. Here, I’m using Titebond II which should be perfectly adequate for a cutting board. Once the glue does it’s job, the two pieces of wood will technically be one. In fact, you stand a better chance at breaking the wood in a natural fault line than you do at a properly glued joint. It’s that strong.

Until it does it’s job, however, glue is a $#(&*ing lubricant. As soon as I started applying pressure, each piece of wood moved in directions unknown to PhD level geometry teachers. The moved horizontally, some moved vertically up / down, the entire piece started bowing in the middle (I was able to counteract that with the top clamps), but even worse, a few of the strips actually twisted along the horizontal axis.

How? See Lesson 1. If you’re off, even by tenths of a degree, the wood will rotate to flatten its face to the one next to it. Lesson #5 – Glue up is messy, slippy, and things are going in directions you don’t think about. I gotta understand how to use cauls to level things out, how to apply pressure correctly so that shifting is minimal, etc. Glue up is critical to master, otherwise I will never get a flat, easily worked with laminate.

No amount of YouTube video watching can replace actual experience. It’s the difference between getting a degree in a field and working in that field. Books & videos can shorten the amount of time to become proficient at a task, but nothing, and I mean nothing beats hands on experience. Even Neo had to get his ass kicked a few times before his implanted training was effective.

The cutting board is in glue up right now. I’ll break it out when I get home tonight, scrape off the glue-boogers, then try to flatten it out a bit in the planer to counteract some of the twist. Finally, I’ll trim the sides, route the edges for a round over, sand, sand, sand, sand, and do some more sanding then finish it up with some beeswax & mineral oil.

The work itself is fun & exciting, but the learning is even better.

posted by by Robb Allen @
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