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Cutting Board Primer #7: Starting on end grain

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Blog entry by Betsy posted 01-11-2016 03:56 AM 1257 reads 2 times favorited 6 comments Add to Favorites Watch
« Part 6: End Grain Portion Part 7 of Cutting Board Primer series no next part

Hopefully you all had a good long holiday with family and friends. I certainly did and I took advantage of the time to rest up and rejuvenate. I had an amazing sales month but it was exhausting so I really needed time away from the shop but now I’m slowing getting back in the swing of things and getting ready for my first 2016 show in March.

So now we move onto end grain cutting boards.

Some general rules about end grain boards:
1. They all start off as face grain boards;
2. The thickness of your face grain board will equal the width of each slice turned on its edge (i.e. if your panel has been thickness planed to ½” then each slice will be ½” when turned on its edge);
3. The thickness of the finished end grain board is determined by the width of the slices you cut from the face grain panel (if you slice your board at 1.5” then the board will be 1.5” tall/thick);
4. Each slice is turned on it’s edge to expose the end grain;
5. In a simple end grain board your pattern is made by flipping every other slice;
6. You are gluing face grain to face grain;
7. It’s infinitely easier to mess up your pattern when doing the glue up on a end grain board than on a face grain board – been there, done that, got the tee-shirt.

1. They all start off as face grain boards.

All steps making a face grain board are the basis of building end grain boards There’s very little difference. However, for an end grain board your beginning face grain board has to be set up so that when you get to the flipping slice stage there is some offset of pieces to make the pattern.

As an example: The following board is made by flipping every other slice.

The next board is still a good face grain board – but if you flip the slices you end up with the same pattern as if you didn’t flip them at all.

Now add one more walnut board to that same plan then flip every other slice and you get a nice pattern.

Using a cutting board designer program helps with making a pattern – you can experiment and not waste a single board foot of lumber. The designer program I use can be found here: www.1024studios.com/cuttingboard.html. It’s a terrific program and easy to use. For you Mac users you are out of luck as this particular program only runs on Windows. I understand there is a way to run Windows on the Mac – but I have no idea how that works – so you’re on your own on this issue.

2. The thickness of your face grain board will equal the width of each slice turned on its edge (i.e. if your initial face grain panel has been thickness planed to ½” then each slice will be ½” wide when turned on its edge);

If working with a board that requires two or more panels – making both panels at different thickness/width to make one board adds interesting details to the finished board.

3. The thickness of the finished end grain board is determined by the width of the slices you cut from the face grain panel (if you slice your board at 1.5” then the board will be 1.5” tall/thick);

4. Each slice is turned on it’s edge to expose the end grain. Once you’ve made your cuts to the panel, each slice is turned on it’s edge so that the end grain gets exposed.

5. In a simple end grain board your pattern is made by flipping every other slice. That would be flipped end for end not from left to right.

6. You are gluing face grain to face grain; When you glued your initial panel you were gluing edge grain to edge grain in a butt joint. No mechanical assistance is needed to make a good bond – i.e. no screws, no nails or dowels are needed.

7. It’s infinitely easier to mess up your pattern when doing the glue up on a end grain board than on a face grain board – been there, done that, got the tee-shirt. Generally once flipped you would have a dark, light, dark, light sequence (from left to right or right to left however you like). I always just double check the sequence by actually touching each piece and mumbling under my breath light, dark, light, dark, light dark and so on. If I hit a light, light, dark – I’ve messed up catch my mistake before gluing. if you get into doing two or three panel boards it’s even easier to screw up – so you need to find a system of keeping track of your pieces as you go along.

Let’s back up just a little bit and go to the cutting slices stage. This can be a problem stage on getting all the slices the same. If you’ve already tried an end grain board and realize the some of your slices are taller than others or when you put all your slices next to each other you find some that are taller on one end is shorter on the other, the problem could be that your stop block moved or that you failed to notice a gap between your workpiece and the face of your crosscut sled. If you have the taller on one end shorter on the other then more than likely there was a gap between your sled and the panel. You simply need to find out what caused the gap and remove it. You probably will need to trim the end of your panel so that it’s straight again and not compounding the problem in the opposite direction.

When you’ve finished your slicing you should put all your slices side by side and make sure they are all the same height. When doing this check both sides of each slice to see if you have any burn marks. Hopefully you don’t have any burn marks, but if you do, depending on how you plan to smooth your glued up board, will depend on how you may want to address the burn marks. In my opinion, you will save yourself time and effort by taking off that burn mark before you glue up the board. It’s easy enough to just shave a tiny bit off of the slices at the table saw. Generally it can be a skim cut. If you do this method – you must skim cut ALL of the pieces so that they remain the same height.

In theory, when you are ready to glue your board all of the pieces should be square and, therefore, the corners of your pattern through the board should match up like they do on your paper/computer pattern. However, if they do not – your board may not be what you envisioned but it’s not a lost cause. You can do several things (I’m sure there are more). One is to simply adjust the corners to fit the way you want and deal with the uneven edges of the board by slicing them off at the table saw. However, if the fit is way off, or just off more than you like, you may choose to use a little eye trickery. By putting slices of a solid color between each slice you move the corners away from each other and the eye is less likely to see that the corners do not match.

Now as for glue ups. I’m of the opinion of just a tiny bit of squeeze out is a good thing. You don’t want to be sloppy with the glue on an end grain board. You have to be aware that any liquid will seep into the pores of an end grain board. Glue is liquid – now this is only my opinion but it makes since to me, but you don’t want glue to clog up your pores because then your oil will not soak in. This is why I’m not a “wiper” when I glue end grain boards. I let the glue set to a consistency that I can shave it off with a dullish old chisel.

One thing about the clogging up the pores thought. I don’t know how deep the glue could get before it hardens. Since glue is pretty thick it may not penetrate far at all and planing or sanding may deal with the clogs but since I don’t know the answer, I err on the side of caution and don’t wipe up excess glue.

Now as to the smoothing the glued up board to prepare for edging and sanding. This can be done with a hand plane, a belt sander, a random orbital sander, or an electric planer. Your glue up technique really plays a role here. If you have a lot of high/low spots you’ve got a lot of work to do. But if your glue up is good and you start with a pretty even board to start with you’ll thank yourself at this stage.

The lingering problems from past health issues means I don’t have the hand strength to do hand planing and have no desire to smooth a board with an electric sander. Both methods are used every day by many woodworkers to great affect. But my preference is to use a electric planer. This is a very controversial method. If you are new to woodworking IT IS NOT the method I would advise you to use. Planing end grain is a very dangerous method – if you try to take off too much in a pass the board could blow up in the planer sending pieces of the board like projectiles. You can be injured easily and you could, at a minimum damage your planer beyond repair.

With all that said, if you are comfortable with using a planer all I can tell you is what I do – I’m NOT telling you to use my method – but since this is my blog and I figure I need to be honest about my method. My first thing is to make sure my slices are all good, all the same height, etc. I make sure my glue up is absolutely dead on flat, and I glue on a sacrificial pine board on both ends of my board to deal with any tear out which will happen on any end grain board that is not pre-cut or protected with a sacrificial board. I sneak up on the cut and once I make contact with my board I barely change the height on each pass. “Barely change” is I gently bump my height wheel. Because my glue ups are good, I generally only have to pass the board through the planer two or three “barely bumping” times on each side. Once I’m happy with the finish I can sand with a hand sander from 100 to 150 to 200 and I’m ready for oil.

I realize that using an electric planer is very controversial but I can honestly say that I’ve been doing this method since I started making boards which is a long time ago and ALL of my end grain boards go through the planer. I’ve never had an issue with an end grain board. (I did have some curly maple blow up on me and got a piece caught in my planer fan, but thankfully, the machine was not damaged beyond repair.)

I only use mineral oil on my boards. I do use bees wax from time to time, but plain oil is my preference. Because I do so many boards at a time, I keep oil in a tub and soak each board 15 minutes. I determined the time by experimenting with some boards sacrificed to the experiment. I soaked boards at different time periods, let them dry and then cut them in half to see how far the oil penetrated with each time period. 15 minutes won out.

So I hope all of the above helps you out a bit. I’m open to questions and any comments. (I will say I know some will want to take issue with using an electric planer, but like I said earlier – I’m not recommending it – just being honest of how I do things.)

Happy WW’ing to all and to all a good night!

-- "Our past judges our present." JFK - 1962; American Heritage Magazine



6 comments so far

View lew's profile

lew

11339 posts in 3218 days


#1 posted 01-11-2016 04:46 AM

Great job, Betsy!

I need to try the soaking method. Right now I just apply the oil let it soak in and the apply more.

Here’s a link to another program for designing the cutting board pattern-
http://www.lastalias.com/cbdesigner/

-- Lew- Time traveler. Purveyor of the Universe's finest custom rolling pins.

View lightweightladylefty's profile

lightweightladylefty

3138 posts in 3175 days


#2 posted 01-11-2016 05:07 AM

Betsy,

You’re a great teacher! Thanks for sharing.

L/W

-- Jesus is the ONLY reason for ANY season.

View ellen35's profile

ellen35

2724 posts in 2895 days


#3 posted 01-11-2016 12:46 PM

Thanks Betsy. This is great and saved for future use.
I know what you mean about the planer… when I first started making boards, I didn’t know any better and I was VERY lucky. No explosions. Now I use my drum sander and again, take small bites.
Ellen

-- "Don't let the perfect be the enemy of the good." Voltaire

View MrFid's profile

MrFid

804 posts in 1367 days


#4 posted 01-11-2016 06:00 PM

Great blog series! I really enjoyed getting caught up with this, and you’re a great writer. Thank you for all the tips. I knew some of it, but there was a lot of new info here for me. Thank you again.

-- Bailey F - Eastern Mass.

View Betsy's profile

Betsy

3338 posts in 3359 days


#5 posted 01-24-2016 09:19 PM

Thanks everyone. I’m working on the next installment.

-- "Our past judges our present." JFK - 1962; American Heritage Magazine

View TheFridge's profile

TheFridge

5765 posts in 949 days


#6 posted 01-24-2016 09:26 PM

I don’t plan on doin cutting boards but if I did, this would be a great primer.

-- Shooting down the walls of heartache. Bang bang. I am. The warrior.

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