In the early nineteenth century a butcher block was almost a necessity in every kitchen. Back then, it was merely a section of a tree trunk set on legs. Now, thanks to better equipment, you can take a tree trunk and cut it into sections to make a more portable, kitchen-friendly butcher block. The durable wood surface will hold up well to the constant cutting and pounding we do to prepare food. Wood from fruit and nut bearing trees, such as birch, maple, cherry, or walnut, makes the best butcher blocks. By using different types of wood, you will have contrasting colors to make up the surface. You can make your butcher block any size and thickness, but the thicker it is, the heavier it will be. In addition, using a butcher block to cut on will keep your knives sharper longer.
Find an older, mature tree, then with an ax or chainsaw, cut it down. Just make sure it is your tree or that you have permission to cut it down. Do not cut a small or young tree, as the wood is not mature enough to use. If you have a tree that needs to be cut down, why not use the lumber to make a butcher block.
Using a table saw, cut your tree trunk into strips. Cut them at least one and a half inches thick or thicker. If you go thinner, they will be harder to work with, and you will not have a strong butcher block. It will warp, which is not what you want to happen.
Figure out how wide and long you want the butcher block to be. Cut the pieces half an inch longer than you want your finished product to be, because you will have to sand the pieces to make them smooth. Set your table saw’s fence so you can rip cut the stock 1/16th of an inch wider than you want the butcher-block depth.
Lay the cut pieces on a flat surface. If you use two different woods, alternate them, which will make the top attractive.
Take good quality wood glue that is safe for food preparation and glue the two long, narrow sides together. Make sure the glue is safe for food preparation. The best way to do this is to squirt the glue down the middle of the board. Take a brush and spread the glue, covering the entire surface of that section. Press the two sections together, matching each end as closely as possible.
Lay this glued piece down on a flat surface, which will keep it from sliding around and becoming uneven. If any glue seeps out, wipe it away with a lint-free cloth. Continue to glue and fit the pieces together side by side until you have all your wood pieces glued together.
Using two wood clamps, clamp the pieces of wood together. Do not clamp too tightly or you may leave an impression on your wood from the ends of the clamp. Leave the clamps on for 12 to 24 hours. Read and follow the directions on the glue you used, as it may take longer.
Remove the clamps when the glue has dried. If any boards have risen up, making the surface of the butcher block uneven, do not worry. Then, using a belt or palm sander, smooth and level the surfaces of the board. Do not forget the sides of your butcher block.
Apply mineral oil onto the wood's surface using fine steel wool. Make sure you cover both sides and ends of the butcher block with mineral oil. Do not worry about having excess mineral oil anywhere on your board. Leave the butcher block to dry overnight so the mineral oil has a chance to soak into the wood to protect it.
Wipe the excess mineral oil off the next day. Mineral oil helps protect the wood and keeps it from drying out. Your board is now ready to use.
- Saw or chainsaw
- Table saw
- Tape measure
- Waterproof, food-safe wood glue
- Wood clamps
- Belt or palm sander
- Mineral oil
- Fine steel wool
Once a month, apply mineral oil to your cutting board to keep it in good condition.
Thoroughly wash your butcher block with soapy hot water after each use. Rise with clean hot water and dry your board right after.
Store your board in a cool, dry place, away from heat and sunlight.
Chainsaws are dangerous. Use caution when using one.
Be careful when using a table saw and remember to wear eye protection.