Looking for Suggestions on How to Create a Topographic End Grain "Cutting Board"

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Forum topic by garbonsai posted 03-24-2014 05:29 PM 1806 views 0 times favorited 9 replies Add to Favorites Watch
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154 posts in 3011 days

03-24-2014 05:29 PM

Topic tags/keywords: question oak joining

The title sounds a little weird. Let me try and explain with the aid of the SketchUp pictures below. Right. So, I have a project in mind where I’d like to take a bunch of small oak blocks (roughly 3/4” thick by 2” wide by between 3/4” and 2” long) and join them together similar to how you would an end grain cutting board. What I want to end up with is one side (the back) that’s flat, and one side (the front) that’s basically like a topographic map of a city:

What I modeled in the images is roughly 6” x 12”, but for this project, I’m going to scale that up. I’m not opposed to incorporating some sort of backing for structural and/or joining purposes—the back won’t be seen. I know I have to take side-to-side wood movement into account. What I can’t wrap my brain around is how to join the blocks together.

I thought about using a plywood backer with a dovetail “keyway” routed into it, and matching dovetail “key” cut onto the back of the block. That would allow for movement in parallel with each keyway, but not perpendicular to it.

I thought about using screws through a plywood backer into the back of each block, but that seems like a really poor solution that won’t account for movement in any direction. Plus, it sounds heavy (although I can account for this).

I thought about applying glue very carefully to the shorter of the two faces where two blocks meet, but I’m not sure I’d be able to prevent squeeze out, and sanding/scraping would be impossible once I joined more than two blocks together.

I’ve thought about several other (probably) hair-brained methods, but none of them seemed workable for one reason or another. So, my question is, how would you go about doing this? There probably isn’t a single answer (if there’s one to be had), so feel free to share what you think (or know) will or won’t work. I’m open to suggestions.


-- Do not taunt Happy Fun Ball.

9 replies so far

View Mark Shymanski's profile

Mark Shymanski

5623 posts in 4768 days

#1 posted 03-24-2014 05:34 PM

I’d go with the glue idea. If you are concerned about squeeze out just glue one layer on at a time which would give easy access to any mess.

-- "Checking for square? What madness is this! The cabinet is square because I will it to be so!" Jeremy Greiner LJ Topic#20953 2011 Feb 2

View Marcus's profile


1165 posts in 3075 days

#2 posted 03-24-2014 06:00 PM

I’ve actually had a similar idea floating around in my brain for a while as well. I was going to try to using my brad nailer with the thinking that when all attached together, it would be somewhat rigid, but also have enough play where if it moves, the brads could flex a little bit. My thought was to have random lengths and the joints staggered, so this idea may not work for you.

View Woodknack's profile


13552 posts in 3436 days

#3 posted 03-24-2014 06:13 PM

My thinking is glue the blocks together then use a hidden french cleat to mount on a backer. I’ve been staring at the one on the Talking Dead for a couple seasons and thinking of how I’d do it.

-- Rick M,

View garbonsai's profile


154 posts in 3011 days

#4 posted 03-24-2014 08:50 PM

@Mark Shymanski: My concern would be once I had a row done, the second row would be impossible to reach…

@Marcus: I’d thought about possibly doing something similar re: staggering. Thanks for sharing your idea.

@Rick M.: You’d think, being a huge Nerdist fan, I’d have watched Talking Dead and seen that thing. Nope. I suppose we just don’t watch much TV. That’s not exactly what I’m working toward, but it’s a starting point. I did a quick Google Images search for “talking dead wood art”, which led me to this item available on etsy. Looks to me like the creator of that replica may or may not have accounted for movement, but the various spaces and gaps between the blocks would probably be enough to absorb any expansion that occurred. Probably. For $448, I’m hoping that piece has plenty of longevity…

-- Do not taunt Happy Fun Ball.

View Woodknack's profile


13552 posts in 3436 days

#5 posted 03-24-2014 10:31 PM

I’ve seen the Etsy piece and it is a good example of “waiting for the lottery”, (paraphrasing a good quote I read elsewhere) woodworking. The closeups make it look poorly made from 2×2 pine.

Here is the original for anyone that hasn’t seen the show. One of the few things that has survived all the set changes.

But I’m thinking a french cleat screwed to the back that fits in a slot so it would be hidden would allow plenty of movement while being secure.

-- Rick M,

View a1Jim's profile


118161 posts in 4633 days

#6 posted 03-24-2014 11:09 PM

It seems to me your over complicating this build . Since wood movement is across the grain just have the grain orientated so that is horizontal with the plywood that will allow the wood movement with out restriction . I would just use a straight 2×4 as a glue straight edge and glue each row together (don’t forget to wax up the 2×4 so glue won’t stick to it)after all of the rows are glued up glue and nail the strips to your plywood and together. Don’t apply glue to close to the top of your pieces so you won’t have squeeze out.


View oldnovice's profile


7702 posts in 4423 days

#7 posted 03-24-2014 11:29 PM

Funny this should come up just when I was thinking about something very similar. I want to use up all, or at least some, of my scraps and make a “birds eye” view of a city, Chicago for one (capturing Wrigley Field).

Starting with a piece of MDF painted gray to black to be the city streets demarking the city blocks and then glue/screw various height blocks on the MDF. Obviously there would also be some green, for city parks, and blue, for lakes/rivers. To not make the black MDF to prominent the streets would be less than 1/4” wide.

-- "It's fine in practise but it will never work in theory"

View Gixxerjoe04's profile


850 posts in 2632 days

#8 posted 03-25-2014 03:01 AM

Plan on trying the talking dead thing eventually, made a thread about it awhile back haha. I think ill probably use cherry and maybe a walnut boarder. Was going to glue the pieces together carefully, picking the backing and securing all of that to the backing is what I’ve been thinking about, figured it’d be pretty heavy, thought about glue and screws.

View garbonsai's profile


154 posts in 3011 days

#9 posted 03-26-2014 03:20 PM

@Rick M.: Thanks for including the photo for those that haven’t seen it. The french cleat would probably be a bit easier to implement than a dovetail keyway and matching dovetail on the back of each piece.

@a1Jim: Thanks for the input. My original goal was to have the end grain facing out, which means the movement would happen side to side and top to bottom. Rotating so the end grain faced the sides would alleviate some movement, true, but the wood I’m using to create this is reclaimed wood flooring. By the time I plane it down and cut off the tongue and groove from each side/end, I don’t know if I’ll have wide enough pieces to create the variations in depth I modeled above (or at least something close). Maybe the best way to approach this is to make a small sample and see what works…

@oldnovice: Using MDF would certainly make this a lot easier. Less movement, for one.

@Gixxerjoe04: Keep us posted, please. I’d like to see how it turns out.

-- Do not taunt Happy Fun Ball.

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