006: pallet wood cutting board #1: visualizing a cutting board in SketchUp

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Blog entry by Gary Fixler posted 03-29-2010 01:03 PM 13024 reads 1 time favorited 6 comments Add to Favorites Watch
no previous part Part 1 of 006: pallet wood cutting board series Part 2: cuts and glue-ups »

I got some good suggestions in my last post about what to do with this block that I glued up from mostly reclaimed red oak pallet wood:

glued up pallet wood block

One of the ideas I liked best was an end grain cutting board. I realized I had pics of each side of the block, so I made a block in SketchUp of the same dimensions, then slapped on textures from those pictures. It looked like this:

3D render of wood block 3D render of wood block

Now I could cut that up by drawing lines at the locations where I wanted the cuts, then using the push/pull tool to shorten them to the right size. I made 2” thick pieces, 6 out of the 13.75” block, accounting for kerf and making them a tad longer originally so I could plane down the resulting board to the full 2”. Obviously I can’t change the end grain textures in this mockup without actually cutting the block, but this did allow me to see the unique side grain patterns on 4 sides of each piece I ‘cut’ from the original. Here are the cut-out blocks made from duplicates of the original block:

cut up virtual wood glue-up

cut up virtual wood glue-up

And now I could make virtual boards to try out various orientations of the pieces:

virtual cutting board tests

Here are the bottoms:

virtual cutting board tests

I’m leaning toward the one with the dark bands along the long edges, framing the board in. It’s the one in the foreground here:

virtual cutting board tests

Another suggestion was to rip it along its length into 3 sections and make a long grain cutting board. It was easy to do that with the same block in SketchUp. Isn’t the future amazing? Here it is, 1” thick:

long grain cutting board concept

It’s neat to see the end grains – looped 3x here – looking so realistic:

long grain cutting board concept

Other end:

long grain cutting board concept

And the bottom:

cutting board concept bottom

If only the texture were 3D as well, I could do virtual turnings! Actually, I want to try that one day by taking a highly figured piece of beautiful wood, like a mallee or walnut burl, then repeatedly planing away exactly the same amount of material – say 0.005”-0.01”, then scanning that face, and eventually building up a 3D texture made of cross sections, just as in the Visible Human Project from nearly a decade ago.

If you’ve never heard of the VHP, they took a prisoner on death row who’d donated his body to science, froze the body in a block of ice, then shaved away 1mm sections from head to toe, taking a few different kinds of images of each layer. In the end they had a full 3D view of the guy and could then cut into him from any angle and see anything from that view. Too, they used color and shape finding algorithms to automatically figure out where all the structures, like bones, muscles, and organs were, and could view or manipulate them by themselves. Again… the future is amazing.

-- Gary, Los Angeles, video game animator

6 comments so far

View PurpLev's profile


8652 posts in 4735 days

#1 posted 03-29-2010 02:43 PM


I like the long grain version more.

-- ㊍ When in doubt - There is no doubt - Go the safer route.

View lew's profile


13361 posts in 4842 days

#2 posted 03-29-2010 03:19 PM


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

View David Craig's profile

David Craig

2137 posts in 4195 days

#3 posted 03-29-2010 03:53 PM

Great use of the texture feature. Nice visual of the cutting board before doing any cuts.

-- There is little that is simple when it comes to making a simple box.

View dvhart's profile


111 posts in 4102 days

#4 posted 03-29-2010 05:11 PM

Very cool visualization Gary! Thanks for sharing.

-- Darren

View HokieMojo's profile


2104 posts in 4815 days

#5 posted 03-29-2010 08:31 PM

wow, that’s pretty impressive. i didn’t even know this was possible. i’m partial to the endgrain version myself, but both look really good.

View Gary Fixler's profile

Gary Fixler

1001 posts in 4468 days

#6 posted 03-29-2010 10:29 PM

Thanks, everyone! So I have one for end grain, one for long grain, and one for any of them. I’ll have to be the tie-breaker! I’m very partial to the end grain. I’ve always liked that, and they self-repair better than long-grain boards, though long grain boards are certainly very popular. I think I see those in kitchens a lot more often, probably because they’re usually easier to make. You can make a kind of merging of the two if you have a wide board. Just cut short ends off and turn them all upright. Then you get end grain, but with contiguous, long strips across the length or width of the board. I think I actually agree with PurpLev that the long grain is a bit prettier – nice, consistent, longer stripes – but I really want to make a 2” thick board with this thing.

It’s interesting to see how the BFs lay out, and how a block about this size can become 2 different styles of boards of useful, but different sizes with very little waste from either. That’ll go into my library of design concepts in my head. If I find a block of wood about this size again – 3”x4”x13” – I know it can pretty easily become a cutting board. The sizes of these things using the actual measurements from the block (down to the 1/32) are either 7-7/8”x10-13/32”x2” or 11-13/16”x13-3/4”x1”. To simplify, that’s a 1” board roughly 11.5×13.75, or a 2” board roughly 8”x10.5”.

Something that occurred to me just now typing this up is that I put boards with darkened (from rusty nails) pallet screw holes on their faces in the middle of the glue-up to hide these imperfections. It’s somewhat guaranteed that I’ll reveal some of these as I cut up the block. I’ll have to fill them. It’ll be interesting to see what happens. I’m going to cut it into 2”+ sections for glue-up into the end grain version (Sorry, Purp!). I’ll keep you posted, and I’ll take some pics and do some screencaps from SketchUp that match those to see how closely my mockup comes out to the final.

-- Gary, Los Angeles, video game animator

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