Cutting board from found wood

By Max

I found some planks that had been discarded on O’Farrell street (picture here), and decided to make a cutting board from them.  I’ve only got about 2′ x 3′ of counter area in my comically tiny San Francisco apartment anyway, so I’m essentially replacing all of the counter space.  That suits me because I feel like cutting boards are kind of a sub-optimal solution, in that you’d ideally want the entire workspace to be a cutting area.

My original idea for this was that I was going to stain specific pieces in a semi-random pattern as in this pre-visualization rendering I did:

But that ended up being impractical, first because you would have to stain the pieces before assembling, and after you assemble them there would have to be additional planing and sanding (as things turned out, a *lot* of planing and sanding).  Also important: I couldn’t find a stain or dye that I was sure wouldn’t leach into the food.  I could have achieved the effect by using two different types of wood, but the goal for this project was to use up the free wood I found.

Detail of three of the planks being glued together (in my vise, which I also made :) ). There are internal dowels that run the length of the board for strength and rigidity.

I still wanted that linear semi-random texture, so after some experimentation what I ended up doing was this: I left the top surface untreated except for mineral oil, and used a dye rather than a stain to lay the color all over the back.  Then I went over it with a few layers of water to raise the grain as much as possible.  When I sanded it down flat again, the parts that were raised were completely removed, and so I got a really strong zebra effect from the natural wood color versus the stained dark blue/black parts that weren’t removed.

The finish came out so well that it’s kind of a pity that it’s on the bottom and sides where it’s less visible.

You can see on the end there’s a raised section, so that the end of the board actually overhangs the sink slightly.  That’s great for cleanup because I just wipe everything into the sink– it’s too large and unwieldy to pick up and clean, otherwise.

I’m really happy with the way it all turned out, and it’s such a pleasure to use something every day that you’ve made.  I was a little worried about the durability of pine versus a hardwood for this application, but as long as I treat it with mineral oil it seems to hold up fine.  If I was going to do it all again, I would definitely use a powered industrial planer—it took me a lot of time to get everything flush and true by hand.

I'm a pretty terrible cook, actually.


2 Responses to “Cutting board from found wood”

  • Laura Says:

    Hi, we are looking at doing a countertop in this colour and LOVE what you have done with the blue/black wood stain. Would you be able to tell me what kind (company and stain name) of stain(s) you used to achieve that colour? that would be much appreciated.

  • Max Says:

    Hi Laura,
    I’m not sure of the brand, but it’s a mix of blue and black wood dye (not stain), and denatured alcohol to thin the color out–I’m using much less than per manufacturer instructions. So, you’d be mixing to taste anyway, but I didn’t find it difficult to get the color I had in mind with some experimentation.

    That being said: do note that I wouldn’t recommend that finish on a surface where you prepare food, unfortunately.

    Actually, I still have the leftover dye, and if you’re willing to come and pick it up locally it’s all yours.

Leave a Reply