Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Choosing Wood For Cutting Boards

Every year it seems I make a cutting board or two as Christmas gifts.  And every year, I get several requests for more.  Maybe they use them for kindling, how would I know?? I like to finish them with pure tung oil, which can often take a month or more to cure.  So I start early - October is not done, and I have three cutting boards built with the first coat of tung oil in place.

When I make cutting boards, they are almost always end grain boards.  These can be outrageously expensive in the kitchen stores, and they can be more expensive to build than a regular board, but the cost can certainly be managed.  The big variable is thickness.  I made one last year for my wife that was 2 1/2" thick and 13" x 17" - that's a lot of board feet - and it weren't cheap, pardner.  Maple, Walnut and Goncola Alves.  It's so heavy my wife doesn't use it much. She's one that asked for another cutting board this year, by the way - but smaller.

Suggested rules for selecting cutting board woods are:  Hard.  Dense.  Tight Grain.  Small Pores.  No Oily Wood.  Low Toxicity.  No Splintering.  Easy to Work.  Available In Your Area.  That's where I start - then I do a bit of bending and sometimes outright break them.  But these are good rules......no, really, they are!!

But.....if you follow the rules, your wood selections can be somewhat limited.  The perfect wood for me is hard Maple.  If I could only pick one wood for cutting boards, it would be Maple.  But one wood is boring  (Note:  If you are going to use one wood, there are interesting things you can do with the grain in end-grain cutting boards, so all is not lost!).  Others that fit are Beech and Birch.  All kinda boring, really - we need contrast to these plain white woods, don't we?

Let's add some darker woods.  Cherry is probably the best, and also a favorite wood of mine to work.  Slightly softer, but I don't think it matters in end-grain boards.  Purpleheart is really hard and dense, not oily like other exotics and I have used it.  Great contrast with the white woods.  It's primary downside is it can splinter a bit, but I think it's controllable.  The other dark wood that is used a lot is Walnut, and I like it.  The only issue is the grain on walnut tends to be pretty open.  But I have used it for cutting boards and rolling pins, and people love the color and figure.  Especially Claro Walnut.

Other woods that I would like to try, but haven't, are Osage Orange, Pecan, Persimmon, Black Locust to name a few.  Domestic wood, but not really available unless you harvest your own or know a mill that handles them.

Exotics?  Pick your poison - literally (I'm being tough on them, but it it's a nice turn of phrase, isn't it?).  Lots of the exotics have some level of toxicity associated with them.  They are also very oily, which can compromise the glue joints.  Having mentioned these downsides, it wouldn't bother me a lot to use them in a cutting board. The only one I have used is Goncalo Alves (the red one in the pic above) and it looks great.  When using exotics, always clean the glue face with alcohol and/or mineral spirits to remove the oil, and do the glue-up immediately after.  Some use epoxy when gluing exotics, but I have always used Titebond 3 or Lee Valley's Cabinetmakers Glue.  Time will tell how the joints on mine hold up.

Some good resources on cutting boards are The Wood Whisperer and Cutting Board Designer Software.

And the fresh new ones, from Birch and Purpleheart, one coat of tung oil.  You can also see tracks from the lunchbox planer on them, they still need to be sanded.  Yes, I use the tailed planer on end grain, but I have a helical head, chamfer the board edges first, and take light cuts.

I'm a hand tool guy, but when I do cutting boards the tailed tools come out.  Speed and precision take precedence in this situation.  I use my bandsaw and lunchbox planer a lot, plus a LV bevel up jack hand plane to flatten one side before running them through the planer.  LV apron plane to chamfer the edges.  I have built them entirely with hand tools, but with this pattern it is difficult to achieve the precision you need for a nice checkerboard.

Fun Little Project

With emphasis on "Little".  This is the LV inset plane, a wee bitty little feller.  Bocote, 11/16" x 1 7/8" x 4 1/2".  It was a fun afternoon with spokeshave and rasp, and I needed the spokeshave practice.  Might turn this little bugger into a chamfer plane, I need one.

Nov 10, 2012:

Thought I would add a few notes on making this plane.  The LV online instructions are pretty thorough, but reinforcement doesn't hurt.  Here are the steps I took.
  1. Choose your wood and square and flatten it on all sides.
  2. Drill the holes for the mortise.
  3. Shape the wood however you like.  I used the shape suggested by LV, just hand-drawing and eyeballing everything.
  4. At that point I fit the plane into the mortise, and let it set on my desk for a week.  Just to see if I changed my mind about the shape.  You can also put a finish on it at this point if you wish.  Mine is just waxed, because bocote is oily.
  5. When you are ready to permanently fix the inset plane in the mortise, coat all exterior surfaces of the wood in paste wax.  This will prevent the epoxy from sticking to the wood.  I don't care how careful you are, that epoxy will get on everything, trust me.  Use the wax on every surface except the inside of the mortise, of course.
  6. Coat the bottom of the inset plane with paste wax.  Yep, the epoxy will stick here if you don't use wax.
  7. Lay down a sheet of plastic wrap on a flat surface.  I used a granite plate.  Make sure there aren't any wrinkles in the plastic wrap under the plane.  Apply epoxy to the outside of the inset plane, lay the wood down on the plastic, insert the epoxy-coated plane in the mortise.  This is the part where the epoxy goes places you don't want it to.  Tape the plane/wood body down to the granite plate, making sure every surface is flat on the granite plate.
  8. Let it sit overnight.  The epoxy will settle, and some will likely run out and set up on the bottom of the plane.  You want to keep this to a minimum by having it on a flat surface and taping it down tightly.
  9. Scrape the epoxy off the areas where it doesn't belong.  It comes off easy if you waxed properly.
  10. Use mineral spirits to clean off the excess wax.  It will have dried overnight and won't buff up very well.  Let dry.
  11. Re-wax, and buff to a nice shine.

Here's a picture after I applied the epoxy and taped it down.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Media Center Project

......and I am progressing....er...no, putting off is more like it - the design and build. My wife has asked for this several times, and I've been conveniently ignoring her. I want to do it, but I have not been taking the necessary steps. It's like I have "media center" block. 

So I am motivating myself by putting words to paper (screen, actually) in this public forum. By doing so I expect to gin up a few ideas from the rusty cogs and crevices of my feeble brain. Also, if I don't make progress, I know someone will be watching......

The scenario goes like this: We have a cherry entertainment center with a projection TV in it. Projection TV breaks, and is replaced with a nice svelte flatscreen. To svelte, actually. There are gaps, and gaps are unseemly and must be addressed. See pics.

Note the little table from 1x2 pine; I built that for dorm furniture when I was in college just a couple years back.  This is what needs replacement, as it was just a temporary substitute, oh, say three years ago. What!!?? There's nothing wrong, it works just fine! (I keep telling my wife). 

The plan is to mount the TV to the wall on this bracket; it will be high enough so that the TV will cover the current gap at the top. Then build a cherry media center to go underneath it. Normally I would set the TV on the media center, but the logistics work better to hang the TV and slide the media center under. 

The media center will have rough dimensions of 24" high, 45" wide, and 15" deep. Everything else is wide open at the moment. I have toyed with the idea of a shallow row of drawers across the bottom, and one shelf. I'm thinking the front will be open. I want a simple but classic design that goes with the rest of the entertainment center. 

For inspiration, I'm eyeing this cherry coffee table.  It is 18" high x 38" wide.  Perhaps I can match some of the features it has, such as the moulding, drawers, etc.  

Sunday, October 14, 2012

My Wood Muse Has Abandoned Me

.....at least temporarily.  I haven't written for a couple of months now, as travelling, assisting relatives with cross-country moves and other life events have gotten in the way.  By the way, I can't recommend relative-moving highly enough.  It makes you appreciate the little things in life so much more.

So I haven't been doing much in the way of woodwork, save for the bowls shown in the pic below.  These are everyday working bowls of uninspired design, but thick and sturdy for use in the kitchen.  The wood came from a poplar tree on the local golf course that came down in a windstorm.  I usually turn up my nose at poplar, but wanting to get some green wood turning practice, thought I would give it a go.

And to get my appetite whetted for more woodworking, I thought I would get back to basics.  I took the one remaining poplar log, a crotch, and split it by hand.  Nothing more satisfying that beating on a chunk of wood and watching it reveal it's secrets.