Thursday, April 13, 2017

Mining Scraps in the Shop

Sometimes I just need a fix.

You know how it is.

Got to have that whine-of-saw in my head.

That smell of fresh-cut wood in my nostrils.

The slimy slick of glue on my fingers. (OK, maybe I could do without that one, but sometimes it's unavoidable. . .)

So I started grabbing wood scraps from my rack and giving them a quick swipe with a damp rag to create a temporary window into the grain.

After some messing around accompanied by a little contemplation I decided to keep the Walnut (bottom) and the Red Oak (second from top) but leave the yellowish Poplar (second from bottom) for some other project and, because the idea forming in my head only required a single strip of it too narrow to show off the figuring, swap out the highly figured Maple (top) for some less precious straight-grained Maple instead.

Then I sliced up a little of all but the Maple into some random-width strips roughly 15 inches long. (There was no tape measure use whatsoever for this project. It was a free-form project.)

I also sliced a single long narrow strip off the Maple. (All the way over on the left in this photo.

Setting the Maple aside for now I shuffled the Oak and Walnut around until I had a pattern that I didn't hate then used a pencil to mark a V across what I had created.

The V ensures that if I trip and scatter the strips around the shop like pickup-sticks I can still get them back in the order I had without having to start all over again.

And yes, this would have been slightly easier if I had planed the Walnut down to the same thickness at the Red Oak first, but there will be plenty of planing later so I didn't bother.

Next step was to start spreading glue between all the various scraps.

I start by rotating the furthest stick  90 degrees away from me so it's laying on it's side, then the next stick and so on, all except for the stick closest to me. Now all the sticks are still in order with the glue-side facing up.

Then starting with the second closest stick I spread the glue, tilt the stick 90 degrees towards me and pull it against the growing stack, working from stick to stick until I've got them all glued.

Then it's time to start clamping, lightly at first,

making sure each stick is lined up properly with the stick beside it and all are pushed tightly against the bench which has been protected with some waxed paper. (Take my experienced word for it, it's disheartening, to say the least, to find you've glued your project to the bench!!)

Then gradually, a little at a time across all the clamps, they are pulled up snug enough to ensure full contact across all the joints but not gorilla'ed since this can squeeze out too much glue. Then all that's left to do is wipe off the worst of the squeeze-out and walk away.

That's right, just drop the tools and walk away, because a glue-up like this needs to cure at least overnight.

Next morning I remove the clamps, run the glued up block through the planer to flatten both sides, then trim the ends. That last step isn't necessary yet since there will be some more trimming of the ends later, but having them straight and square at this point will help make things easier in a few more steps.

Despite what the girls, at least the 'good' girls, in school said, or would have said if I was a 'player' (And boy! I was anything but a player. . . Come to think of it, always was and still am anything but a player. . . No wonder they won't let me into the good-old-boys club!) I didn't evolved with enough hands so I set up some clamps to help me bend the Maple strip into an arc I like then strike a pencil line

which I use as a guide over on the bandsaw.

This is a pretty scary step since any screwups pretty much turn everything back into scrap.

The trick is to keep the block moving at a steady pace during the entire cut, otherwise I'll end up with a bobble on the cut surface that will show, badly, later on. I also need to steer the block through the blade smooth and even to get a clean arc.

I pretend I'm driving a car with a salad bowl bolted to the hood and I need to negotiate a slalom course without flinging out the loose tennis ball riding in the bowl, (An actual technique used by my brother when teaching precision driving courses.) no sudden moves, just smooth and easy does it.

If I had a brand-new, low-offset blade in a perfectly tuned and balanced bandsaw the sides of the cut would be silky smooth, but I don't so they're not.

For me the best way to get rid of the kerf-marks while keeping the surface square and even is with an old-fashioned card scraper.

Card scrapers are thin sheets of tool-steel with the edge rolled over with an even harder steel burnishing tool to form a very tiny little hook all the way down the edge.

This hook takes off very fine shavings and I find the scraper easier to keep square and even than sandpaper on a block.

Card scrapers have fallen out of favor over the past 50 years but I think anyone that gives them a chance will become a fan.

Two or three minutes and a couple dozen careful and deliberate swipes with the card scraper (It takes two hands to handle so no action photos.) and the cut surface is ready to go. (Compare this scraped edge with the un-scraped one two photos ago.)

And ready to go means it's time for the next glue-up.

And no, I wasn't using my shop time to play poker with the guys! Plastic coated playing cards make consistent, stable and cheap shims. In this case I used four stacks of three cards to lift the two pieces of the glued-up block just shy of 1/16th inch above the bench's surface. That way the Maple strip, which by design is thicker than the block, can be pushed down to the surface of the bench and will extend beyond the bottom of the block as well as the top.

It's a heck of a lot easier to come back later and trim the little strip down even with the surface of the block than cut the whole block down to the surface of the little strip!!

Then it's time to glue the block, which admittedly used to be all one perfectly good piece before I went and cut it in two, back into one piece,

only this time with the Maple strip in-between.

I've got five clamps pulling all the parts back together but I also need one more clamp to keep things aligned lengthwise, or from end to end.

For one thing, because of the angle of the cut, as I tighten the clamps the left side of the block wants to keep sliding towards the top of the photo, For another, unless the strip I'm adding is exactly the width of the saw's kerf, (the gap the saw removes when making the cut) which would be pretty narrow and visually hardly worth the effort, I need to shift the two parts of the original block lengthwise to exactly the right spot in order to keep all the joint-lines aligned properly.

Here, even though I once squared up the ends of the block, you can see that the two ends don't align with each other anymore yet the joint-line between the lighter Red Oak on the left and the darker Walnut on the right looks pretty much straight, right through the Maple strip. (The alignment is eyeballed since the eye is a remarkably sensitive instrument.)

OK, now I've got to wait overnight again. . .

Two more times I struck an arc, cut the block, scraped the edges and then glued it all back together again.

After that final glue-up had cured I trimmed the edges, eased all the corners, and flattened the surfaces.

When I started this project I really didn't have a clear idea of where I was going with it, but along the way it gradually became clear that The Van's high-tech plastic and rubber cutting board, as convenient and faithful as it's been for many years, should perhaps step aside for something a little more traditional.

So after a final hand-sanding to 150 grit I wiped the entire board down with a really damp cloth and let it dry before lightly going over the board one last time with 400 grit paper. The damp raised the grain and the 400 grit knocked it back it down smooth which prepared it for the final step.

Which is a good oiling. While from a worry-free ingestion standpoint any kitchen cooking oil will be OK for this step, over time they will all oxidize and turn sticky, some will also turn dark and cloudy. But a food-grade mineral oil (If it says something on the container about use as a laxative you know it's food-grade.) worked into the grain and wiped back off will never darken, oxidize or sticky-fy.

The trick with raw wood is to wipe on a good heavy coat with a lint-free cloth (Not paper towel!!) then walk away for a half hour to let it soak into the grain. Come back with the same cloth, which will be plenty oily enough, and thoroughly wipe the board down again, both sides and all the edges and walk away for another half hour.

Repeat this process until you no longer see dull splotches when sighting across the board at a sharp angle with a strong light on the other side.

Then take a clean cloth and scrub off all the oil you can. (Again, unless the effect you are going for is fuzzy and linty, no paper towels please!)

At this point the project is ready for use or display or whatever you had in mind, but I like to let it sit overnight and then give it one final clean-cloth polishing first.

I should note that in some cases you could back up a few steps and eliminate the raise-the-grain-with-water-and-sand-it-off step, letting the first application of oil raise the grain instead then wet-sand it back off. Using 400 grit into fresh oil gives a really rich and deep sheen to the surface, but in this case the dark micro-dust from the Walnut would muddy up the lighter woods so it's not a good idea here.

Once a countertop or cutting board is oiled like this it's ready for some moderate abuse.

Like a finely crafted wood-bodied hand-plane I consider a cutting board a tool, and as such I'm not going to sweat normal wear and tear, though I will wipe up standing water (the worst enemy) and try to avoid setting a sizzling cast iron pan directly on it, though anything less than sizzling is fine which will be a definite improvement over my plastic cutting board.

Once the wood has been treated once it only takes a sparing amount of oil quickly wiped on every couple months to a year, depending on use and abuse, to brighten it back up again. And if it gets rough enough looking, I can always give it a good sanding back down to fresh wood and start over again. Given the thickness of this board I can probably get away with that several times before the board starts getting thin and fragile.

As far as daily care, I keep a spray-bottle of white vinegar in my kitchen and use it as a the final step in cleaning up (One hell of a lot less expensive than those other disinfectants and sanitizers and there's evidence to indicate vinegar is healthier and more eco-friendly in both the short and long term.) and will be using it on this cutting board too.

One final thing I could have done, and may still do yet, but later since I'm about to head out the door on a trip, is to inset a small circle of dyed Maple in the corner of the board. Red on one side and green on the other. The red side will then be for meats and fish and the green side is for veggies.

(Note that I for security reasons I never blog live when I'm on a trip and I also use the scheduler for many posts, including this one, so even though in real time and I write this I will be heading out in a day or so, by the time this post actually - well - posts I may or may not be back home again.)


  1. Again, good work, a good post and great photos for someone to follow the build.

    1. Thanks Steve. In real time, I just got back from a three week trip during which I used the new cutting board daily. It has a few cuts and scars but performed well and still looks good. In fact today as I was cleaning up I officially retired the old plastic cutting board from The Van.