If spring is here with summer chasing it down like a third baseman going after a bunt, it’s time to start grilling. Take advantage of the good weather and feast outdoors, maybe with a radio on for the play-by-play of your local team’s heroics. And when preparing all this food for the grill, there’s nothing better than a maple cutting board.
If maple is strong enough for baseball bats, withstanding hundred mile an hour fastballs and sending them high into the bleachers, then it will certainly hold up to your chopping needs. Like any other tool in the kitchen, as long as it gets proper care and attention, it will last for years.
Plan your cutting board. There are a few decisions to be made. Will you be using end-grain (the ends of the boards where you can see the pores of the wood) or edge-grain (the side of the board, where the grain runs long)? End-grain cutting boards are more durable, but for the basic board I made, I decided to use edge-grain to simplify the process and save some time.
If you’re making an end-grain cutting board, you will need to cut your lumber so you have uniform blocks of wood as tall as the board is thick. These will be arranged with the end-grain pointing up to form the face and all of the edge-grain joined together. Think of it like forming a grid of wood blocks, glued together to create one large square.
For my edge-grain board, I knew I would lay the planks out and join them edge to edge, so it was just a matter of figuring out the dimensions of the wood to create what I needed. The plan was to build one large rectangle out of four boards, then use a jigsaw to cut it in half, making two smaller cutting boards (I gave one to my brother).
Select your wood. Once you have a plan and dimensions, you can pick out your wood. Sometimes this process happens the other way around. You find yourself staring at beautiful planks you just can’t say no to, then have to figure out what to do with them. But for our purposes, let’s say you know what you want and it’s time to buy the maple.
Look for unblemished wood. Some discoloration in the grain is natural and will add to the beauty of the piece, but splits, large knots and gouges are things to be avoided. The cutting board should be as smooth as possible so you can work on it easily and keep the surface clean.
Pick wood that suits your dimensions. For my project, I used one-by-six maple boards.
Cut your wood. Using whatever method will give you the straightest cuts, get your lumber down to the size of the board. I used a table saw to rip my boards to two and half inch widths, then cut them down to length with a circular miter saw.
Join your wood together. There are a lot of options for joinery. Everything from hand cut dovetails if you’re a master carpenter to dowels or biscuits to pocket holes. The size of the board and weight will dictate how strong you need the joints to be.
My simple board needed nothing more than simple butt-joints, secured with food safe wood glue. I first arranged the boards in the order and size I wanted them, to make sure everything worked in a dry fitting. Then I applied a bead of glue to where the boards would contact each other and clamped the whole piece with several pipe clamps (these are clamps that attach to regular dimension plumbing pipes, giving great length and strength).
Some glue will squeeze out of the joints, so be sure to clean that up with a damp cloth before it sets up too much. Leave your board glued and clamped like this for at least twenty four hours, or the length of time designated on your glue instructions.
Finalizing. With the glue set, you can remove the clamps and finish shaping and cleaning up your board. As I said earlier, I used a jigsaw to cut the board in half (with an ‘S’ shape) to create two boards. I cut a carry hole with a hole saw on a power drill. Using a router and a roundover bit, I eased the top edge of the board, giving it more comfortable ergonomics. Then I set to sanding, and sanding, and sanding.
Get the board nice and smooth. Either by hand or with a power sander. If you have the time, you can even push a planer over the surface to get it perfectly level. Run your hand over the board. It has to feel right before you’re done.
And when it’s finished, use a damp cloth or a tack cloth to remove all the sawdust. The wood is still raw, so it needs some protection. I used a food grade mineral oil to condition my board. Just coat a clean cloth with some oil and rub it all over. Other finishes are available, but always make sure they are food grade.
Use the board. There’s nothing like the feel of a good sharp knife moving through your soon to be dinner on a maple board. You can clean it with soap and water, but never, ever soak it. It’s also a good idea to dry it right away and give it a little coating of mineral oil to keep it conditioned.
So the next time you’re carrying those thick steaks to the grill, the radio announcing who’s up to bat, you’ll know that you hit your own home run with the maple cutting board in your hand.