End Grain Crossword Puzzle Cutting Board aka "Secret Project"

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Project by Don Broussard posted 08-01-2014 11:25 PM 3365 views 7 times favorited 28 comments Add to Favorites Watch

I had posted a question a while back here on LJs about building advice on a crossword puzzle cutting board and I did get one helpful reply on wood choices. I couldn’t find a project via LJ searches for a project like this, nor on the broader www, so I decided to try it myself.

My Mom is a big crossword puzzle fan, and her 84th birthday is coming up. I chose maple (thanks, Jeff!) for the light cells and walnut (thanks, Marty!) for the dark cells. The process was to cut the walnut and maple into square sticks, then cut into billets with a length of twice the desired finished board thickness plus a blade kerf plus a little extra. My target was to make a 5/4 thick board so each billet was cut about 2-3/4” long.

Crossword puzzles are symmetrical about the center cell, and consist of equal amount of rows and columns of an odd number. The most common number of rows and columns are 15 and 23. Most daily crosswords are 15’s and Sundays are 23’s. I chose 13 since the board will be used in an RV so the smaller size was called for. After cutting the billets, I arranged them in the crossword pattern then glued up each row separately with Titebond II—that was 7 separate glue-ups. By the way, it’s no accident that the design included a cross.

After these glue-ups were solid, I removed them from the clamps and flattened the edges in preparation for the next cut and gluing operation. Next was cutting the individual rows in half, flipping the rows as needed to maintain the symmetry. Rows 1 was left as is, and its partner Row 13 was flipped end for end, followed by Row 2 left as cut and flipped Row 12, then the same for 3 and 11, 4 and 10 and so on.

Due to some slippage and shifting during the overall glue-up, the vertical alignment was off by about 1/8”, or a blade kerf. When preparing the single-kerf dado cut for the grid (walnut), I had to cut where the vertical offset would be included in the kerf, which resulted in the cells being different sizes.

I brought the large glue-up to a friend of mine with a drum sander to flatten the board. We also used his drum sander to size the strips to match the blade kerf width. The depth of cut was 3/16” and the strips were cut 1/4” thick. After gluing up the grid in one direction, I brought the board back to sand the strips flat (after I cut the down a bit with a hand plane) and cut the grid in the cross direction. My final trip this morning was to sand down the new cross grid and round the corners.

Final sanding was with 120- and 220-grit on the RO sander, wipe down with a tack cloth and finish with a couple of coats of mineral oil.

Mom was pretty happy, I must say! I asked her to make like she was solving the cutting board, and she complied.

Lessons learned:

1. Need to be more precise in the milling of the strips. My strips weren’t square so every cell in the puzzle was also not square.
2. Take care during clamping to not shift the blocks. Alignment issues are difficult to correct. I plan to make a jig to ensure glue-ups are both square and flat and provide for clamping above and below the jig.
3. Having a friend with a drum sander is a wonderful thing!
4. Gluing up long grain perpendicular to other long grain in a dado is a bit of an experiment. I tried a full-depth strip with this Proof of Technique Trivet project recently and it seemed to work okay. I left it my hot truck for several days and it didn’t blow up.
5. Even though I told her that the cutting board was meant for her to actually use, I have a feeling that it will end up stuck to her refrigerator, much like my school work in my younger days . . .

Thanks for reading and for the encouragement! A special shout out to Jeff for the challenge, the advice and for the maple. Second shout out to Marty for the walnut, already planed and jointed S4S. Thanks, guys!

-- People say I hammer like lightning. It's not that I'm fast -- it's that I never hit the same place twice!

28 comments so far

View lightcs1776's profile


4256 posts in 2426 days

#1 posted 08-01-2014 11:33 PM

Very nice, Don. That’s a lot of squares.

-- Chris ** If there must be trouble, let it be in my day, that my child may have peace. — Tom Paine **

View DIYaholic's profile


19918 posts in 3447 days

#2 posted 08-02-2014 12:00 AM

That is a GREAT design and an even more wonderful present!!!
Did you make clues & answers???

I’m working on my first cutting board… end grain at that.
Thankfully, I have a drum sander….
So I don’t need no stinking’ friends!!!

Kudos to Jeff and I guess Marty also!!!

-- Randy-- I may not be good...but I am slow! If good things come to those who wait.... Why is procrastination a bad thing?

View JL7's profile


8773 posts in 3737 days

#3 posted 08-02-2014 12:02 AM

Hey Don – this really turned out great! I can appreciate how much effort went into this build…’s a BUNCH of steps. And what a great gift for Mom…...really great….Can’t wait to see what’s next!!

-- Jeff .... Minnesota, USA

View boxcarmarty's profile


17334 posts in 3132 days

#4 posted 08-02-2014 12:37 AM

Looks great Don, I’m sure ya made Mama proud…..

-- My mind is like lighting, one brilliant flash, then its gone.....

View ShopTinker's profile


884 posts in 3540 days

#5 posted 08-02-2014 01:13 AM

That’s a very cool board Don and a very clever idea! I think you did a great job my friend!

-- Dan - Valparaiso, Indiana, "A smart man changes his mind, a fool never does."

View Don Broussard's profile

Don Broussard

3906 posts in 3024 days

#6 posted 08-02-2014 01:30 AM

Thanks for all the nice comments—much appreciated!

Chris—Yup, it’s a lot of squares. Most people think that each piece is placed and glued up separately. While I’m tempted to let them continue in that belief, I usually tell them differently. It’s not like I’m giving up the magician’s tricks, right?

Randy—I did not make clues and answers. I was planning to stamp the numbers in the cells, but decided against it because the cells were just too small. Maybe next time I’ll stamp ‘em though.

Jeff—A high compliment coming from the master. Thanks again for the challenge and the advice. Am I in the club now?

Marty—I did make Mom proud, and I hope I did your walnut proud as well. Thanks again!

Dan—I was wondering if you still lurked here on LJs. Thanks for the nice comment and it was good seeing you in Boston!

-- People say I hammer like lightning. It's not that I'm fast -- it's that I never hit the same place twice!

View firefighterontheside's profile


21045 posts in 2629 days

#7 posted 08-02-2014 02:14 AM

Don I would say that the secret project was a success. Definitely a learning process. Mine was interesting to make as well. I have made two cutting boards with walnut and maple and really like that combination. I just pledged to build some cutting boards for my fire department firefighters association fund raiser/silent auction. Perhaps this will be the inspiration.

-- Bill M. "People change, walnut doesn't" by Gene.

View steve_in_ohio's profile


1195 posts in 2383 days

#8 posted 08-02-2014 02:48 AM

very unique design, great job

-- steve, simple and effective

View JL7's profile


8773 posts in 3737 days

#9 posted 08-02-2014 02:54 AM

Yes Don…’re in the club! Don’t forget the secret handshake…

-- Jeff .... Minnesota, USA

View CFrye's profile


11005 posts in 2612 days

#10 posted 08-02-2014 03:05 AM

Great job, Don! my head would be spinning positioning, checking, re-positioning, rechecking,... Beautifully crafted gift for Mom! Thanks for sharing. What’s next?

-- God bless, Candy

View Monte Pittman's profile

Monte Pittman

30550 posts in 3110 days

#11 posted 08-02-2014 03:11 AM

Shows imagination. I always like unique pieces. Great job sir.

-- Nature created it, I just assemble it.

View mudflap4869's profile


2043 posts in 2231 days

#12 posted 08-02-2014 04:04 AM

3 down. Anteater.
Great job Don. I am a sucker for crosswords and wordsearch. But my oldtimers onset isn’t helping to solve them.

-- Still trying to master kindling making

View eddie's profile


8565 posts in 3386 days

#13 posted 08-02-2014 04:50 AM

Don you are in the club for sure ,thats a very cleaver idea , love the board .tell your Mom Happy Birthday for me , great build . now you got me inspired to get in the club ,thanks for sharing

-- Jesus Is Alright with me

View MrStyle's profile


88 posts in 2502 days

#14 posted 08-02-2014 01:15 PM

very nicely done.. and very creative thinking.

View Don Broussard's profile

Don Broussard

3906 posts in 3024 days

#15 posted 08-02-2014 01:16 PM

Thanks again for the positive comments!

BillM—When I asked that question about the crossword puzzle cutting board almost 2 years ago, maple and walnut were the suggested woods. I like both of them a lot.

Steve—It was really pleasing when Mom recognized the crossword pattern, so I didn’t have to point that out to her.

Candy—Next up is probably something in the wood storage category. Well, maybe after another cutting board . . .

Monte—Thanks. I did have to do some research on how puzzles are designed. I had been thinking about doing this for a couple of years and I finally got it done. Yay, Don!

Jim—I am not a “puzzler” myself, although Mom does ask me for puzzle answers sometimes. She uses an ink pen to do her crosswords, so it’s a rare thing when she needs help.

eddie—Go for it! I’m thinking my next one will go a bit smoother, like clamping things square so they won’t move. I’ll pass on the birthday wishes to Mom!

-- People say I hammer like lightning. It's not that I'm fast -- it's that I never hit the same place twice!

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