Live Edge Bread Board – Walnut and Cottonwood

I made this two-tone live edge bread board from an off-cut of cottonwood and some American walnut I had leftover from other projects.

That is the great thing about woodworking, there are an infinite amount of small to medium items you can create from pieces of wood you have lying around your workshop. So it’s always a good idea to have an ‘off-cuts’ box to store all those little bits you thought you didn’t need.

Choose your woods carefully

Now I wouldn’t really recommend cottonwood when making chopping boards because it is a relatively soft wood and may not stand up to regular use like a hardwood will.

Anything that is closed or tight grained and has low toxicity is suitable. Ideally you want to choose something like teak, cherry, maple, beech or walnut. Or a combination of any or all of these. 

These woods are the most common for chopping boards because they meet all the criteria I’ve just mentioned. And they vary quite considerably in colour which allows for some beautiful and complex creations once you have gained some experience with a more basic design.

However, as this board was to be used as a bread board I figured the ‘soft’ cottonwood would be okay in this instance.

Basic design with Walnut and Cottonwood

The design was very basic just to see how the woods would bond together and how it would look with the two contrasting wood colours; the dark walnut and the light cottonwood. I didn’t have much walnut to work with anyway so I went with the 3-stripe design. And as this was my first attempt at a mixed wood and live edge cutting board I didn’t want to over complicate things.

It might sound obvious but that is something to keep in mind when you either first start out woodworking or make something you’ve never made before. There is absolutely nothing wrong with ‘keeping it simple’ and ‘taking your time’ to get a feel for what you are doing and to learn a few tips or tricks along the way. The system is just the same as if you were learning a musical instrument. You play the part slowly but correctly so that with practice you will get faster. I think we can all agree that slow and correct is way better than fast and wrong!

Live Edge Bread Board from above

3 Stripes and you’re done!

With the basic design decided and the two woods ready for action it was time to get busy.

I planed the walnut on opposite sides then cut it into 3 equal lengths. I then squared the live edge board on both ends and cut it into 4 sections of equal width. Actually, the section with the live edge was slightly wider due to the natural wave of the edge but the other three sections were the same.

The bark on the live edge was scrubbed clean with a plastic brush as a wire brush would have damaged the bark and ruined the whole effect. I was also concerned that the bark wasn’t going to stand up to the daily use the board would be subjected to so decided to gently remove it and glue it back in place during final assembly. I carefully prized it off taking care not to crack or chip it, cleaned up the surfaces and laid all the pieces out ready for final assembly.

Prior to applying glue I realised that the angles of the live edge were going to be a bit of an irritation when putting on the clamps. So I cut a few angled pieces of scrap wood to fit against the bark and allow the clamps to line up square and even.

At this point it’s probably worth mentioning that the glue used needed to be both safe for cutting boards and of course, waterproof. You can do a quick search on Google to find a product locally that is certified LOW VOC (Volatile Organic Compound) and suitable for ‘indirect food contact’. I used Alcolin Ultra Wood Glue which is made here in South Africa.

Final finishing

Once the glue had dried and the clamps were removed it was starting to look like a cutting board. However, a small crack had developed in one of the sections of cottonwood and although this was annoying it was a relatively easy fix.

I carefully cleaned out the crack with a sharp chisel then mixed some glue with the cottonwood sander dust to make a paste. The crack was filled with this ‘colour matched’ paste and it was onto the next stage.

Both faces needed to be planed to a nice flat surface but it was too wide to run through my planer thicknesser. Luckily my local wood shop came to the rescue and ran it through their drum sander and it was ready for final finishing.

I ran a palm router with a small corner-round bit around the edges to remove all the sharp edges taking care to leave the live edge untouched.

It was then thoroughly sanded with 120 then 240 grit paper and because this board was not reversible I drilled 4 recesses on the underside and fitted some non-slip rubber feet.

Finally, it was ready for some oil. I know some people like to use olive oil for this but I used a local food-grade cutting board oil called ‘My Butchers Block.

I spread it on quite liberally then allowed it to soak in overnight before applying a lighter second coat. A final buff with a clean lint free cloth and my live edge cutting board was ready for use.


The end game

The finished live edge bread board was exactly as I envisioned apart from that annoying little crack I mentioned before. Contrasting wood colours really stand out and the live edge bark looks pretty cool, even if I do say so myself. As a first attempt it turned out pretty good so I would definitely like to try a nice 3D design in the future, maybe one of those ‘tumbling blocks’ that have become so popular.

I would love to hear your comments on this article and please let me know if you have any questions or suggestions.

Live Edge Bread Board from the front

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