I should start by saying that I make these boards for friends, all of whom hang them up as kitchen wall art. They have no intention of ever using them to cut on. For a more functional board, I prefer a simpler design, incorporating an end grain surface. But for decorative boards, this process is easier and the result is satisfying.
To make any of these boards, the technique is pretty much the same. First, select your stock. For me, this is usually leftovers, off cuts from larger projects. In the photo above, you can see the maple and cherry I used and the jig I use to hold things in place. Flatsawn wood is great. I cut it into strips and flip is so the edge grain is up, giving the surface a quartersawn, straight-grain appearance. When you cut the flatsawn blanks, the width of cut will end up being the thickness of the board. I start with 1”-wide blanks. After assembling, cutting, reassembling, and thickness sanding they end up around 7/8”.
At the table saw, start by installing a rip blade. I use a Freud Glue-Line Rip blade and it works extremely well. I can go straight from the saw to the glueup. Really, if you’re used to using a combination blade for everything, this is a good time to invest in a good rip blade. You’ll thank me later. Of course, you’ll also want to make sure your saw is tuned-up properly and ready to cut.
It’s wise to start by cutting the widest pieces first. For these, I started by cutting four pieces (two each of maple and cherry) to 5/8”. Then I move the rip fence in 1/16” and cut four more. Keep moving the fence and repeating until you are at the end, cutting four 1/16” strips. PLEASE DON”T DO THIS IF YOU ARE NOT ABSOLUTELY CONFIDENT IN YOUR SAW AND YOUR ABILITY TO USE IT. It’s no disgrace to look at this and be a bit intimidated by these final cuts. I’ve been at this a very long time and only do it when I’m wide awake, and able to pay very close attention to detail. Push blocks are made and sacrificed in this process. As an alternative, you can cut the pieces so they fall on the outside of the blade. You’ll just need to move the fence more often.
In the next photo, you can see how I start putting the pieces in order. For this design, I start in the middle and work outward on both edges. You’ll need two pieces (one each of maple and cherry) on each edge. The jig provides a flat surface, a square reference corner, and a sliding fence that allows me to hold things in place while I position the individual strips. Continue to build outward until you have all the pieces in place.
At this point, make sure you’ve got everything in order, then use a couple of clamps to pull the sliding bar in and hold the pieces in place. Now tighten the knobs and remove the clamps. I use a few strips of clear plastic packing tape to hold everything for the glueup. This allows me to flip the assembly over and just run a bead of glue at the lower edge. Pushing the pieces together forces the glue up and covers both surfaces nicely. When you’ve glued them all up, just add clamps. (For this particular board, I glued up smaller sections to save headaches. The other benefit is you can run the narrower section through most benchtop planers.)
After the glue dries, scrape off the squeezeout and flatten them in the planer or drum sander.
Now you’re ready to repeat the cutting process. This time, however, you’ll want a good crosscut blade in the saw. As before, start with the larger pieces and cut four of each width, continuing through the sizes. Then start putting them in order in the jig again. I have a sliding table on my table saw, so I cut most of the narrow strips this way, using the block next to the rip fence as a stop.
This time, when you assemble the pieces you’ll flip them so each color is next to its opposite counterpart. This assembly is where it gets finicky. It’s important to keep the pieces lined up. When you have them all in the jig, go through each piece and inspect it to make sure it’s right. Then clamp it in the jig.
This time, cover the entire surface in packing tape. This will help make sure nothing shifts during the glueup. Now add the glue and clamps. After it dries, scrape and sand until both sides are flat and smooth.
I use a roundover bit in the router table to soften the edges. This is a matter of personal taste. After that, finish with the clear coat of your choice. If it’s going to be used for cutting, a mineral oil is perfect.
Not sure why I took this photo. I can’t imagine what I used the chisel for. I probably just wanted to show off one of my Matsumura white steel paring chisels. It’s just cool.