Thursday, May 1, 2014

How to Make a Crappy Cutting Board

We have had several store-bought wooden cutting boards floating around the kitchen for a few years.  I can't really say where this one came from, but I am happy to say I did not make it myself.

I have been annoyed with it for some time, as it is ugly and looks like it is about to fall apart.  Not to mention that there are lots of little openings on it that are great places for bacteria to hide.

Heading out to the shop to make a cutting board on purpose seems to me like I should really be spending my efforts doing something more productive, so there this thing sits, mocking me every time I walk in the kitchen.

Enough, crappy cutting board!  You will mock me no longer.  It's my turn to mock you!

At least, perhaps make a point about how to glue up panels and choose lumber for a project.

Pretty much all we use this for is for cutting bread.
At first glance of the above photo, I see cracks between the laminations at either end of the board where the glue has begun to fail.  I think what is happening here is the board is sucking up water at the ends when it is washed in the sink.  The ends swell a bit, crushing some of the fibers, and when it dries out, shrinks a little smaller.  Eventually, these laminations open up.  Perhaps it is combined with the glue disolving a little.

Closer view of the delaminating.
The second thing I notice is the crazy direction the grain in the individual pieces goes.  It's as if whoever put this together paid no attention whatsoever to how this board would look when complete.

Actually, I am absolutely sure they didn't.

I'm not sure what kind of wood this is, but the grain is fairly clear and distinctive.  Some of the pieces are quartersawn, some flatsawn, some of them have relatively straight grain, and the big piece in the middle has the grain going at a significant angle (called run-out).

Note to self:  don't do that.

When I glue up a panel, nowadays I normally try to line up the grain at the glue  lines so it is not so obvious there really is a glue line there.  Spending the time to match nice even grain and color from one stick to the next really pays off in the looks of a project.

But, there's more:  Not only is this a no-no from a design perspective - It also can affect the strength and stability of a project.

"Come on, Brian, It's just a stupid cutting board!"

I hear you, but bear with me.  This thing hardly will sit flat on the countertop.  Check out this photo along the end:

Not so straight any more.
Because each piece of the laminated board has grain going different directions, each board shrinks and expands in different ways.  This creates a lot of internal stress on the completed cutting board, and it is no wonder that this thing isn't even close to flat anymore. 

Probably a 1/8" lip here at the end.
Bad things can happen when boards want to bend and twist in different directions.  Looking at the above photo, you can see that not only are these two boards headed in different directions after starting to delaminate, but one of them has developed a large crack because there is still too much internal stress on that piece, being pulled in different directions as it is.

Run-out on the edge, too.
Looking at the edges of this cutting board, one side has nice straight grain on the edge, and the other has some severe run-out.  I've noticed that this can be hard to avoid at the lumber yard if the bark is still on the lumber.  If you can, try to get lumber with the least run-out from the start.  It will save some headaches in the end.

With this in mind, I am determined to get rid of this old eyesore.  Next time I'm in the shop, I will take the extra few minutes to make a new cutting board.  No matter what I come up with, it has to be better than this one.


  1. Hi Brian,
    I can tell you've got a lot of time on your hands!
    I know this is going to sound profane and you might stop talking to me (well at least for a week). How about buying a plastic cutting board which you can put into the dishwasher after slicing those chicken breasts?
    I think the bacteria is not just hiding in those crevices of a board you have!

    1. Hey, John. Nah! I actually have a couple plastic ones, too. Although, I think wood cutting boards are superior.

      The USDA or some such federal agency declared plastic cutting boards more hygenic twenty or thirty years ago without backing that decision up with any research at all. It turns out plastic cutting boards can harbor bacteria. Wooden ones tend not to as much, as long as there aren't cracks or splits (unlike this one). I'll find a link later for you, but somehow nature deals with it.