How to Make a Butcher Block

How to Make a Butcher Block

A butcher block is a serious hunk of wood, used as the solid base for heavy-duty chopping and cutting. But it isn't seriously a hunk at all. Because hardwoods rarely come in the size needed for chopping blocks, they are made from many columns of wood fixed together, which is called laminate. There are two kinds of laminated chopping blocks: edge grain and end grain. Edge grain is made of long strips of wood. End grain blocks, from wood cut across the growth rings, resist nicks and chips better. And, because your knife edge goes between the wood grain instead of across it, end grain blocks tend to help your knives stay sharper longer.

Oak and maple are the most common woods used for chopping block construction, though any hardwood will work and you can find blocks made from birch, cherry, and walnut. Here you'll learn to make a stand-alone, checkerboard-patterned, end grain chopping block, using the hardwood of your choice.

TOOLS:

• Measuring tape

• Pencil

• Table saw

• 3 or more bar clamps

• Metal straightedge

• Electric sander or sandpaper and large muscles

• Rag

MATERIALS:

• One 3-foot 2 × 6 light-colored hardwood board

• One 3-foot 2 × 6 dark-colored hardwood board

• Wood glue

• Coarse, medium, and fine sandpaper

• Mineral oil

1 Before you start, measure the depth of your hardwood boards and make sure they are really 2". If not, let the width of your boards define the size of the cubes you will use throughout (i.e., if your board is 1¾" deep, you will make cubes of that size). Whatever the depth of the boards—let's assume it's exactly 2"—use your table saw to rip the hardwood boards into exactly square strips, the length of the board. Cut these strips in half. You should now have six 2" × 2" × 18" light strips and six 2" × 2" × 18" dark strips.

How to Make a Butcher Block

2 On a flat surface, lay the strips next to each other, alternating light and dark. Apply a thin, squiggly strip of wood glue between each wood strip, making sure they lay square to one another. Clamp the strips together with at least three bar clamps. Use a damp cloth to wipe away any excess glue that squeezes out. Let dry overnight.

How to Make a Butcher Block

3 You just turned the strips into a sheet, and now you'll turn the sheet back into strips. The distance between cuts will be the width of your butcher block. For this project, we'll cut the 18"-long sheet crosswise into 12 new strips each 1½" thick. Use a tape measure to make marks every 1½" along the endmost light strip and then corresponding marks every 1½" along the endmost dark strip. Use a straightedge and a pencil to draw straight lines connecting the marks opposite each other—your new strips should alternate light and dark blocks (just as in Step 4 of How to Build a Classic Chess board). Now use your table saw to cut these strips. Cut directly in the center of the lines you drew. Because the finished thickness of your board needn't be precise, don't worry about how much wood you lose to the saw blade (this thickness is called the "kerf"). As long as you're consistent in the way you cut, your chopping block will turn out flat.

How to Make a Butcher Block

4 On a flat surface, lay the alternating-block strips next to each other to create a checkerboard pattern. As before, apply a thin layer of wood glue between strips, and clamp together what should now look like a finished, checkerboard-pattern chopping block. Wipe clean any excess glue. Let dry overnight.

How to Make a Butcher Block

5 Use an electric sander or sandpaper and significant elbow grease to sand both faces and all corners of the block, first with coarse, then medium, and finally fine sandpaper, until smooth. Use a damp rag to wipe the block free of sawdust. Use a rag to wipe the block with mineral oil. Let the piece sit overnight, and then apply a second coat of oil. Wipe away any excess oil. Apply a new coat of oil every couple of months to keep your chopping block looking great.

How to Make a Butcher Block

OILING A BUTCHER BLOCK

Whether you make your own or have a store-bought block in need of some TLC, butcher blocks are perfect for experimenting with oil finishes. Here are some tips and tricks:

• Make sure the wood is clean—a little mild soap and a damp rag will do the trick.

• The oil works best if it's warm when you use it. You can place the bottle in a bowl of hot water for about 5 minutes to heat it.

• Use a rag or, better, an old sock, to apply the oil to the wood in multiple coats.

• Let the butcher block sit for 5 minutes or so between applications, until the block cannot absorb any more oil. (It should take 5 or 6 coats.) Wipe up any excess oil with a rag.

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