Random End Grain Block Tutorial

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Blog entry by sam20650 posted 06-13-2011 07:30 PM 10003 reads 34 times favorited 17 comments Add to Favorites Watch

I had some requests on a tutorial of how I put together the end grain butcher block top for the island Jay and I recently built (Once the base gets the final coat of paint to match the kitchen cabinets one of us will post that as a project but here are a few pictures of it almost done)

I took a couple of in process pictures while I was making the top but not as many as I might of had I known I would be writing a lesson on it. So if I miss anything or seem to skip any steps let me know and I will go back and try to fill in the blanks. (if you need a more basic series on how to construct an end grain board check out degoose’s class here )

Step 1.
Raid your scrap pile for all of your cut offs from other projects. You do want to start with pieces that are joined and square or you will pay later with bad fitting glue lines. At this point size is not a factor.

Here is part of the pile of walnut, cherry and white oak that went into this top. The customer only wanted woods darker than cherry so no light colored woods in this one, but personally I like the look of maple, ash and beech in here as well and and pieces with spalted grain are particularly nice. I used just a few touches of bloodwood as and accent color (to reflect the red in the rest of the kitchen).

Step 2.
Decide on an over all width for the finished board. For this top I made 3 12”x22”sections since that is what would go through my 15” drum sander and then glued them up at the end to get the finished size required of 22”x36”. (It is actually more practical to make several of these boards at once if you want them to be a regular cutting board size as you will see once you have read all of the steps.)

Step 3.
Sort the boards into similar lengths and widths. I had left overs from other boards that were all around 17” long 1 1/2” thick of varying widths. I had another pile that was cut off from a larger project so they were 36” long and 2-3” thick.

Step 4.
Start building long grain boards. This top took 6 boards to make the one finished piece. The thicknesses are random and based on what wood cut offs you are using and really is not important. My boards ranged from 1 inch thick to 2 3/4” thick…but they were all 12 1/2” wide to get to the 12” that I wanted after final trimming of the board.

Here is a picture of the strips that went into my thinnest board. You will notice that there are two “units” of walnut and bloodwood at the end of the strips. This is actually crucial in the design but I didn’t take any process pictures (sorry). The process is to take smaller pieces and laminate them together to use all those smaller scraps and accent woods. Then turn on their side. Square up the edges of “unit” so they will mate nicely with the other strips.

Play with the placement of the strips until you get a random pattern of grain and wood species that appeals to you. Then glue them up (I use Titebond III).

Here are the strips laid out in the order that I came up with ready for glue to be applied (Sorry about the lighting!). You can see here there are a couple of “units” that I created with a thinner strips. This time I glued up the three strips of oak and walnut, let them dry and squared them and then glued the bloodwood to the top of them to get to the same thickness and the rest of the board. There is a similar unit of cherry. oak and walnut. Again, just make sure you square each of these up before you get to this step or you will end up with slipping glue lines and have to plane off a good amount of material to get the board back into square (eh-hem—not that I am speaking from experience here!)

All clamped up…

Take the clamps off and scrape the glue before it gets super hard. Depending on the thickness of the board I left them in the clamps from 30 – 60 minutes. After glue is dried run the board through the thickness planer or drum sander to get a nice smooth surface on both faces.
Here we are board #1 with a little bit of mineral spirits to see the grain. This board is 12.5”x17”x1”

AND repeat! Use the next bunch of scraps of whatever thickness seems common. Build “units” and then them into another long grain board. Here is board #2 with mineral spirits to bring out the grain. This board is 12.5”x17”x1 1/2”

And repeat again! Here you see 5 boards (Again, sorry for the lighting!) of various thicknesses and lengths but all constructed with the same method.

Step 5.
Next decide on the thickness of the board. In this case it was island top so I wanted the finished thickness to be 2 1/2”. I cut the sections at 2 3/8”. For an end grain cutting board I would not go below 1 1/2” finished thickness.

Set up your table saw to cut that thickness using your crosscutting method of choice. Here I was using our Jet saw that has a cross cut sled with a stop block. You can use the fence and a miter gauge as well. Make sure you are cutting square. Cut ALL of the boards with this set up in as many slices as the board will yield so that you have to the minimal amount of sanding later.

Step 6.
Final patterning of the design. Flip all of the units 90 degrees

You notice I said at the beginning I said it was made from 6 boards but I only picture 5. At this stage I realized I needed one more board to get to my finished size. I went back and built the last one and added it in. I also realized that I wanted more walnut in the mix so that one had big chunks of dark wood in it.

Now “randomize” the pattern. I flipped them all around until I got them just the way I wanted them in my three 12”x22” subunits. Pay attention to making sure that the species are spread out somewhat evenly across the board. And then labeled them.

Step 7.
Glue up. In this case I glued the board into 2 smaller units and then in to the 12”x22” units

I ran these 12” wide sections through the drum sander to get them all to the same thickness starting at 40 grit and working my way up to 220. Just put all of the boards through before you make any adjustments so they all end up at the same thickness.

I then glued the three boards together

If you were doing a smaller cutting board you would just have to glue up the board from the segments you created. If you do not have a drum sander you could use a random orbital sander but I have a hard time keeping my surface flat in endgrain with that method. And it takes way more elbow grease than my elbows contain. As it is is you still have to finish the board with the ROS as the drum sander leaves some streaks even at 220. So ROS the whole board with successive grits up to 320. I just round the edges a bit with a sanding block (no router).

Then finish the board with two thick coats of mineral oil and 2 thick coats of mineral oil and beewax (24 hours between) Again there is a lot of good info on LJ about sanding and finishing so I am not going to repost all of that :)

Wow! That was way longer winded than what I expected but hopefully it is helpful!

Any questions/comments are appreciated and welcome…


-- "It is tempting, if the only tool you have is a hammer, to treat everything as if it were a nail." -Abraham Maslow

17 comments so far

View Bertha's profile


13521 posts in 2662 days

#1 posted 06-13-2011 07:34 PM

Wow, it’s a very ambitious procedure. Thanks for posting this.

-- My dad and I built a 65 chev pick up.I killed trannys in that thing for some reason-Hog

View patron's profile


13600 posts in 3310 days

#2 posted 06-13-2011 07:51 PM

great tutorial samantha

you have a wonderful eye for design flow

and a keen sense of balance

thank you

-- david - only thru kindness can this world be whole . If we don't succeed we run the risk of failure. Dan Quayle

View lilredweldingrod's profile


2496 posts in 3076 days

#3 posted 06-13-2011 08:23 PM

Thank you Samantha! This came right on cue. I’m making a cabinet and Momma wants an end grain cutting board for the 34” x 25” top. Since I have never made an end grain board, your tutorial came at the perfect time along with Larry’s 101 class.

1 question: How come everyone making these things are either on another continent or across the world from the Mojave Desert? How do I find someone to build this while I watch? lol

David!!! You need to make another run to Lancaster!!! lol

View degoose's profile


7228 posts in 3324 days

#4 posted 06-13-2011 10:22 PM

Now that is is the grand daddy of all boards…
You have done a spectacular job of describing the procedure… thanks for posting..

-- Don't drink and use power tools @

View Scott Bryan's profile

Scott Bryan

27250 posts in 3791 days

#5 posted 06-13-2011 10:58 PM

Thanks for the tutorial, Samantha. You did an excellent presentation of the process.

-- Challenges are what make life interesting; overcoming them is what makes life meaningful- Joshua Marine

View sam20650's profile


30 posts in 2572 days

#6 posted 06-13-2011 11:06 PM

Thanks! Now I have to get back in the shop and make a few more. I like them because you are never really sure how it is going to turn out until it is all done…and no two boards will be alike…

Oh and I mentioned that I would try to keep you from making the same mistakes I did….so here is one…and related to the earlier warning about making sure those units are squared up…as most mistakes in woodworking are :)

I crosscut the first 5 boards and then had to go back and make the 6th and cross cut it. Then I piddled around with figuring out the pattern (and other things interceded in my non-shop life) so it took a while to get back to it. When I went to glue up the segments they had moved on me…just a little but enough that I had to run all of them through the jointer and then the sander to square them up again…Don’t do that. It sucked. Had I glued them up sooner that would have been avoided. Had I not had the drum sander I think I would have cried…

-- "It is tempting, if the only tool you have is a hammer, to treat everything as if it were a nail." -Abraham Maslow

View harrywho's profile


119 posts in 3201 days

#7 posted 06-14-2011 01:17 AM

Great tutorial, gave me some ideas. Thanks

-- Harry, Indiana

View lew's profile


12019 posts in 3725 days

#8 posted 06-14-2011 02:27 AM

So Cool!

I wondered how you did this when I first saw it.

Thanks for taking the time to show us.

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

View Broglea's profile


684 posts in 3060 days

#9 posted 06-14-2011 03:21 AM

Thanks for the explanation. Great looking butcher block.

View WinterSun's profile


163 posts in 2579 days

#10 posted 06-14-2011 07:32 PM

Thanks for sharing your process!

-- Rory // Milwaukee, WI

View dub560's profile


615 posts in 2882 days

#11 posted 06-15-2011 09:14 AM

Very beautiful…I’ll try it sometime. Thanks for sharing

-- Life is enjoyable especially when you borrow from people

View swamps42's profile


42 posts in 2537 days

#12 posted 06-15-2011 10:34 AM

I love this! I’m building a house right now and will be making a custom island with an end grain butcher block top. I just love your random scrap pile top and may have to try it! Thanks for sharing your process. I really appreciate it!

-- -Kim, Peyton, CO

View SCOTSMAN's profile


5849 posts in 3554 days

#13 posted 06-15-2011 10:46 AM

Wow nicest i’ve seen in a long while.I looked at the first pic and thought it was a floor I thought man that’s a lot of work well done beautiful work. Alistair

-- excuse my typing as I have a form of parkinsons disease

View eddy's profile


939 posts in 3334 days

#14 posted 07-23-2011 07:40 PM

thank you for sharing this i like the idea this is not on my to do list

-- self proclaimed copycat

View jimmy meeker's profile

jimmy meeker

135 posts in 1965 days

#15 posted 02-03-2014 05:19 PM

nice work how do you plan your end grain i have seen some doing it with a planer or a router system. and some say bad idea to send through a planer and some say they never have any problems so what are your thoughts

-- jrm123

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