After years of hard work, your cutting boards deserve a makeover! Not only will this improve the look, but it’s more sanitary as the years of cut marks are more likely to retain bacteria. Follow this simple tutorial to learn how to Refinish your kitchen cutting board.
I’m going to show you two ways that you can refinish your cutting boards, depending on the tools you have, and the type of cutting board. I have a thickness planer that is wide enough to accommodate my cutting boards, but with a little extra elbow grease this job can be accomplished with a hand scraper and sand paper, or even sand paper alone.
Tools of the job
This is similar to the thickness planer that I have. It is a 12″ Makita model. Dewalt also makes a very popular planer that has a 13″ capacity – 13″ Dewalt Planer. This is an easy tool for even a beginner woodworker to use. It requires a little knowledge but it is relatively safe and easy to get good results.
Card Scrapers are a great tool for even a novice to learn to use. They actually cut like a hand plane but at a fraction of the cost and without the risk of gouging the surface. They will work on tough grain as well. There are some great videos on youtube of how to sharpen and maintain them. Here is one by my favorite local craftsman, BJ Mac.
Sand Paper is essential for most woodworking jobs. Most everyone has used sand paper on some project or another. It can be purchased at any home center or hardware store. But most people don’t appreciate how much quality really matters, but quality will significantly affect how long the paper last, how quickly it removes material and how often it clogs. The best sand paper I have used (And I’ve used a lot) is Norton ProSand. Another good option is 3M Pro Grade. Either way, it is worth investing in quality sand paper, and if you’ve ever sanded until your hands are numb, you can attest to this!
If you are using a thickness planer, the first step is going to be to make sure your cutting board fits through it. Most bench-top thickness planers are 12″ or 13″ capacity. I have built a few cutting boards and I have used this dimension as a width limitation to ensure I can use my thickness planer to refinish it in the future.
Most cutting boards are made “butcher block” style, which means the board is made up of narrow strips glued together. This is also means that the grain can be going in alternating directions. This can make using the thickness planer a little tricky, as running board against the grain can result in tear out. One way to deal with this is to wet the surface. The surface should be damp. Give the surface a minute to absorb the water and make sure the surface is damp but not wet to the touch. take light cuts and if you see a bit of tear out try alternating the feed direction of the board. Continue feeding the cutting board through until the surface finish becomes uniform and all the cut marks are gone.
A word of caution: – A thickness planer should not be used on an end grain cutting board. There is a risk of it catching and breaking up inside the planer, or ejecting chunks of wood at high speed. It could also damage the planer.
If you don’t have a thickness planer, don’t worry. You can use a card scraper or even just more sanding. It you want to sand, I recommend starting with 60 grit to do the heavy removal. Once the cut marks are all removed then continue on through the grits as described below. If your tool of choice is a card scraper, you can make pretty quick work of cleaning up the surface. A card scraper is a great tool for working on tough or alternating grain. For a great video on using and maintaining a card scraper check out this video from BJ Mac: Card Scraper Video
Once you have a nice clean surface, it’s time to sand. A nice smooth surface will be easier to clean and maintain so it’s worth going through the grits. If your board has a juice groove, then start with this. You can sand the groove using the paper wrapped around your fingertips, or you can use an appropriately shaped object like a piece of dowel. A small piece of rubber also works well. Try to avoid using anything too soft because you want to avoid rounding over the edges of the groove.
I recommend starting with 150 grit, moving through to 220 grit, and finishing up with 320 grit. Each grit is finished when the surface has a uniform finish and scratch pattern. If you’re not sure, wet the surface with water or mineral spirits and this will highlight any remaining scratches or blemished in the finish. As always, remember to sand in long even strokes with the grain. To maintain a nice flat surface it is good to wrap the sand paper around a flat sanding block. You can use a scrap of flat wood (MDF is perfect) or you can buy a Sanding block.
Now that you have a nice smooth surface, it’s time to finish. For my cutting boards I have used a home made finish that consists of Bees Wax and Raw Linseed Oil. The process is pretty simple. I followed some easy directions I found on google: Make your own Bees Wax Finish. If you don’t have easy access to these materials you can order them online. The process of applying the finish is really easy. Just use a soft cloth and wipe the finish on in an even coat. You can let it soak in for a few minutes, or you can just keep working it in with the cloth like I do. If your wax is too hard to spread evenly you can warm it up in the microwave, or a simple double boiler. This will also help it penetrate the surface.
And Voila! Congratulations, your cutting board is like new again!
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Greg Harper is a father, husband, homeowner and all around swell guy. Raised by a frugal, self-sufficient jack-of-all-trades, he has been using tools to build, repair and create since shortly following his birth. He was educated as a millwright, mechanic and a technician and grew professionally into an accomplished design engineer in the automotive fuel systems sector. He also moonlights as a part-time builder/fixer of things - from kitchens, furniture and cutting boards, to plumbing, electrical and heating, to fences, decks and landscaping.
I was just thinking of refinishing my very old cutting board. Now I can just get you to do it