Before the holidays my daughter’s boyfriend said he wanted to work with wood to make something as a gift for family members.  He said he wanted to make end grain cutting boards using some 12/4 brown maple that he had. 

I have a Dewalt planer and I have talked to friends who have upgraded it with a helical cutter head so that they can work with end grain.  But up til now I have not spent the $400 to buy the new head and upgrade my planer.  I told him that I was not sure how it was going to work.

He was persistent so I thought, what is the worse that can happen?  He spends a lot of time on the end of a random orbital sander trying to make a horrible surface smooth.  Technically why should I care as it was his time and not mine.

Interestingly enough I am a premium member of and find George’s videos very helpful and informative.   At the time we started working on the end grain cutting boards together George was in the process of creating and posting a video about that exact topic.  I did not see the video until after we had made the first set of boards and it is a good thing as I would have placed a lot of credibility in what George said and I would have taken a completely different path.

It was a lot of fun and something completely new to me that I had not done before.  I had gone to a show the weekend before Thanksgiving and there was a woodworker that I knew, Wayne, who as at the show selling all sorts of exotic cutting boards.  I appreciated the skill involved in making them but at that moment they did not excite my woodworking genes. 

One of the boards that we worked with had some spalting in it.  We did not know it until we had completed the first pass of gluing and were cutting them for the second pass of gluing.  He did not know what is was and I explained to him that it was microorganisms getting in to the wood and breaking it down.  That since the wood was kiln dried the process was essentially stopped and the bugs were dead.

To my great surprise my Dewalt was able to make a fairly decent surface on the end grain.  I should not be surprised because I have never regretted that purchase and it has been a workhorse in my shop and always exceeded my expectations. 

Clay ended up spending more time then was necessary using the sander to create a smooth surface.  Mostly because he was not sure how much time he needed to and because he wanted these gifts to be special. 

The next step was to treat the wood and when I made a long grain butcher block island I used mineral oil to treat the wood.  I have read it is what is preferred.  The local pharmacy sells it in a small plastic bottle, I think it is 16 ounces.  When buying it in that amount you need to pour it on the cutting board and wipe it around with a rag.  Wait for it to soak in and then repeat. 

After awhile he took them to his house where he has a heated garage and continued the process until he was satisfied.  I had not seen them for awhile and he brought them back to show to me.  I am going to take pictures later and post them but they are gorgeous.  Especially the one made from the spalted wood. 

For Christmas he completely surprised Stacie and I by giving us one of them that had a very strong spalted signature.  We were thrilled and have had it in the middle of our dining room table ever since.  It will hold a special place in hearts, always.

With that sitting on our dining room table I started to think about making some myself.  It was about that time that I ‘discovered’ the video from George V on  Basically George clearly said that cutting long grain in a  planer was fine and could be used to make the 2nd glue up very easy to do.  But when it comes to smoothing the surface of the end grain you need to build a router bridge and use your router with a large diameter bit in it.  I suppose it depends on which planer you have.  That clearly is not true with the Dewalt with the old 3 blade cutter in it and I am certain it is far from the truth if I had a helical cutter.

I have made boards mostly with scrap wood left over from other projects.  I have made thick ones and thin ones.  Large and small.  I have even started experimenting with gluing up boards going in different directions.  I guess I would have to say ‘I have been bitten by a bug’.  I now like making them and look forward to going to my workshop and making something new. 

Clay gave his cutting boards to family and was telling me last nite that they have used them and he has a concern.  When he finished them they were silky smooth.  Almost like they were made out of granite and not wood.  But since they have used them and wiped off the good they cut the wood has become very rough.

I know what is going on.  Basically when exposed to water the grain of the wood is popping up.  This is something that is written about a lot and there is debate as to the best way to handle it.  Recently I read about ‘burying’ this.  What you do is you stain the wood, put on your first coat of poly.  Both materials are probably water based.  This will make the grain raise.  After the first coat you sand the wood enough to remove the raised grain but not so that you break through the poly.  Then when you put on subsequent coats it will be smooth.

Does anybody have any suggestions as to what you do when the finish going to be oil?

What I am going to try with one of the cutting boards I have that I am working on is to wipe it down with water after I have sanded it all the way thought 320 grit.  That will raise the grain and I was going to sand it again.  I am not sure how many times I need to do this or even if the grain will ever stop being raised.  We will see. 

I will be posting pictures of the cutting board with spalted maple and some of my own work shortiy.