maple/walnut end grain heart cutting board

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Project by Gary Fixler posted 12-25-2009 07:44 PM 19781 views 17 times favorited 16 comments Add to Favorites Watch

Mom mentioned on the phone about a week ago that she wanted me to make her a 10” square cutting board for vegetables. She just meant a 10” square plank section, but I decided to make something end grain and more artistic. With less than a week until my flight, I sprang into action. I had some scrap rips of walnut from a free pile I got from a sign maker earlier this year. They were just sticks, and I had to joint off a layer of varnish on two sides, but they were just big enough to get little cubes from. I made a bunch more from some really cool-looking maple I had laying around, which had brown stripes all over it like those in the rails and stiles in these doors, but much more pronounced and numerous. It had been 3’ too long for my wood shed, so it was standing in the garage. I cut it to 8’ – so I can store that at last – and ripped the 3’ section into strips from which I cut more blocks.

I made 132 blocks total, some 60+ of each into a heart pattern with a walnut heart and frame (designing as I cut them :) Because my precision skills in the shop are a bit rusty, I decided to use my mini mill with its flycutter to plane the 4 long grain sides to get them all exactly square and parallel. This worked amazingly well:

A closeup:

The mill is accurate to 0.001” (a thousandth of an inch), so these are close to that, with probably a few thousandths of variance due to wood movement and fibers and such. Still, ~3/1000ths is a sheet of copy paper, so these were super precise. I was happy.

Then began the long journey into gluing. I didn’t feel I could accurately glue these all together in one go, nor even a whole strip in one go, so I watched movies all night while gluing up first 2, then 2 2s for 4, then strips, then all the strips together 2 at a time, etc., waiting 30 minutes or more between unclampings… Here are some steps along the way, wherein you’ll see that the 4 boxes of 12 small C-clamps I ordered early this year by mistake really came in handy finally (I knew they would, and will!):

lots of blocks being glued up in C clamps 2 at a time

unclamped blocks

pairs of 2 joined blocks being joined into 4

Note I numbered them all at the start, because I spent awhile getting colors, orientations, and grain patterns spread around artistically :) You’ll note in the second row up from the bottom the numbers aren’t in order. The middle set of 4 is made of 2 sets of 2 that are flipped. The 2s were right, but the middle 4 I made out of them was reversed. Thankfully it was all a run of maple and unnoticeable, but seeing that soon after the glue had set put me on my guard for all future glue-ups to remain even more diligent about my efforts:

strips of glued-up blocks

strips of blocks being glued together

Clever use of dining room chairs:

strips of joined blocks being glued together

strips of glued-up blocks being glued together

You can see how uneven they are along their lengths, which stick up at different heights on the flat surfaces of the boards. I’ll plane that down later:

chunks of glued-up strips of blocks

Final glue-up, hooray!

final glue-up of all chunks of glued-up strips of blocks

It’s lumpy and glue-covered, so it’s time to plane it down:

lumpy board ready to be planed after glue-ups

I’d like to make an aside here for a moment to mention that I’ve been rather diligently cleaning up the garage, which is one of the more monumental tasks of my life so far. My only real work surface (i.e. not my router table or saw table) is a 2’x8’ table in the back of the garage, which for the last year or more – sadly – has looked like this (and the rest of the garage has been no better, perhaps even worse):

messy work bench

With much effort expended, including a lot of careful scraping to remove a lot of dried-on wax, and a final wipe-down, I got it looking like this:

cleaned workbench

With all that beautiful reclaimed space, I spent a few hours building this router flattening system (do they have a proper name?) using my old, completely neglected Ryobi router and some nice red oak I’ve had lying around forever. This is a 36” wide, and very flat carriage joined with counter-sunk drywall screws:

router flattener

router flattener undercarriage

router flattener undercarriage close-up

I built some 28” red oak rails for it, shimmed them with paper strips until they were level and level with each other, which took a little while, and then I had this nice router-based planer ready to go. I’ve seen some of you make them, and I’ve wanted one all year. I can finally make so many other things now, including something I already started for a friend (and a second one for mom) – more on that later :)

router flattener system ready to go

Here it is with the part under it, raised up on some plywood. I didn’t need to use any hold-downs, surprisingly. It’s own weight, and the tiny 1/8” bit let me carefully plane it in about 15 minutes (which is a lot of time for this, but for a one-off, I didn’t mind):

router flattener on rails over cutting board

Here’s a boring time-lapse of the router-planer in action. I’m sitting on a step-stool with a facemask on so I can watch the bit as it engages the surface. You’ll see the board slide over to the right on some push moves. Just after the 1:30 mark (though this is 1FPS recording, so it was actually much longer into my work than that) I realized I could just push a block of wood between the right rail and the board and it would stay still for the rest of the effort:

A few of my blocks had drill-holes in them, but if they were in the edges that would be hidden when glued-up, I didn’t worry. That was a mistake, and something to learn from for the future. When I planed the side I had been planning to use as the front, I revealed the side of a screw hole. Later I rubbed in some of the walnut dust, packed it in hard, dripped in some thin CA glue, packed more dust on top of that, sprayed on the activator, and then after it cooled, sanded it flush again with the ROS. It’s quite visible, however. It has a kind of cool wood-burned edge to it that I may employ in the future. I’m considering using the mill to engrave things, then pack them with dust, CA glue, then sand it away to leave a weird, grainy inlay look behind:

revealed and filled screw hole

Anyway, to wrap-up, we opened gifts this morning, and mom loved it! She absolutely will not cut on it, though, saying she’s happy to buy a cheap board to actually use. This one is going on a plate stand :) My stepdad, who’s not usually into this kind of thing and a bit of a gruff old man said we should run a wire through the feet and hang it on the wall. That means it was a success :)

I had originally been planning to use the butcher block oil mom claimed to have (still haven’t checked) and follow whatever prescribed treatments were. I’ve heard of the once-an-hour-for-a-day, then day per week, week per month, and month per year idea, which seemed possible, if a little bit of a pain. I read up on walnut oil and allergens, mineral oil and continual wetness, and vegetable oils and odor/decay, but I think we’ll forgo all of it if it’s just going to be a decoration. Honestly, I’m kind of glad. It was my first cutting board, and the maple is soft, which isn’t a good idea for cutting boards anyway. I didn’t realize that at first, but finished the project anyway once I learned. Mom had asked for a 10” square. This is about 9×11.

Hope everyone else had a great holiday!

-- Gary, Los Angeles, video game animator

16 comments so far

View mtnwild's profile


4861 posts in 4989 days

#1 posted 12-25-2009 07:52 PM

That’s super cool man! Really putting those skills to some excellent work. What a great idea, very well done. Great presentation there, informative, great shots…....Thanks…...........

-- mtnwild (Jack), It's not what you see, it's how you see it.

View autumnraewoodworking's profile


8 posts in 4577 days

#2 posted 12-25-2009 07:52 PM

That took dedication
Nice job

-- Andy, Pine Plains, NY

View reggiek's profile


2240 posts in 4732 days

#3 posted 12-25-2009 08:02 PM

Great job and innovations. Quite a lot of detail….was very interesting reading…It turned out beautiful and is an excellent gift…thanks for sharing it with us….I’ll miss all the holiday projects that are posted…not the ones I had to make though…LOL

Hope your holidays are good…and to a more prosperous new year….

-- Woodworking.....My small slice of heaven!

View sras's profile


6701 posts in 4591 days

#4 posted 12-25-2009 08:19 PM

Very creative! Nice write up and project.

-- Steve - Impatience is Expensive

View Gary Fixler's profile

Gary Fixler

1001 posts in 4843 days

#5 posted 12-25-2009 08:53 PM

Thanks, everyone! I just realized I had the Flickr set all set to private. I’m not sure if most of the pics and two of the videos here were visible, but if not, all should be now.

-- Gary, Los Angeles, video game animator

View Scott Bryan's profile

Scott Bryan

27248 posts in 5284 days

#6 posted 12-25-2009 10:29 PM

Gary, this is a pretty cool cutter. And you documented the process well. Nice job on the router sled too by the way. That looks like a pretty good.

-- Challenges are what make life interesting; overcoming them is what makes life meaningful- Joshua Marine

View lew's profile


13534 posts in 5217 days

#7 posted 12-25-2009 10:43 PM

Great Looking Board, Gary!! Bet your Mom will love it!

Nice collection of clamps, too!

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

View Dusty56's profile


11868 posts in 5150 days

#8 posted 12-25-2009 10:52 PM

Beautiful job on that pixelated heart , Gary : )
Thanks for all of the details and time that you put into this post !
Happy Holidays to you and yours !

-- I'm absolutely positive that I couldn't be more uncertain!

View PurpLev's profile


8654 posts in 5110 days

#9 posted 12-26-2009 04:24 AM

looks great! love the idea.

that’s a great way to plane them down with the router – beats a planer hands down in terms of safety, and beating up the tools.

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

View Innovator's profile


3589 posts in 4875 days

#10 posted 12-26-2009 04:13 PM

Gary it came out great.

My Mom has one I made her a year ago sitting in her kitchen and she wont use it either.

-- Whether You Think You Can or You Think You Can't, YOU ARE RIGHT!!!

View WWilson's profile


106 posts in 4525 days

#11 posted 01-11-2010 06:56 PM


Very nice work. I really liked the way you chronicled the process. Your pics and expliations were very helpful! Very cool method of surfacing the uneven glue up. I tired doing that with my planer once and the results were disatrous (not to mention unsafe). I completely ruined the piece. I will use the router sled method from now on!

View Jimthecarver's profile


1124 posts in 5247 days

#12 posted 02-03-2010 09:28 PM

I’m scratching my head thinking ” why didnt I think of that?”
Gary you are the man, I will also use this method on my cutting boards instead of the other methods I have used in the past.
Great post.

-- Can't never could do anything, to try is to advance.

View a1Jim's profile


118321 posts in 5039 days

#13 posted 02-03-2010 10:50 PM

View Dusty56's profile


11868 posts in 5150 days

#14 posted 02-03-2010 11:18 PM

Gary , thanks for the videos and all of the explanations…very helpful indeed : )

-- I'm absolutely positive that I couldn't be more uncertain!

View clieb91's profile


4267 posts in 5397 days

#15 posted 02-07-2010 03:10 AM

Gary, Good post and nice little project. I want a mini-mill! that thing looks pretty awesome.


-- Chris L. "Don't Dream it, Be it."- (Purveyors of Portable Fun and Fidgets)

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