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Cutting Board Warping

This week’s question comes from Tony, he’s experiencing a rather common phenomenon with his cutting board. Let’s see what he has to say:

I recently made one of your cutting boards as described in Episode 7 – A Cut Above. No problems with the manufacturing or finishing process. I gave this as a present to somebody and about a week later they returned it to me. The board had bowed & buckled in the center, about 5/16″ (big central high spot on one side, and depression on the other. The board was made from Jatoba and Beech, using a water proof PVA glue. OK I thought, maybe the dissimilarity in the woods was too great (beech SG64 & Jatoba about SG80), so I have just made another board this time using Beech and Walnut and using a polyurethane glue. Whilst belt sanding I noticed that this board is also starting to buckle the same way the first board did (1/8″). It is now being clamped and flattened again. I was wondering if you had ever come across this type of problem before? All the timber is kiln dried and between 6-8% , the only common factor between the two boards is the use of Beech, but I have been using this batch of lumber for other projects without any problems.

And here was my reply:
Hey Tony. It should ease your mind to know that this happens all the time. There are many reasons for it. Moisture, jointing inaccuracy, and of course, the X factor just to name a few. In many cases, these boards cup for no logical reason. The good thing is they can be straightened out to some degree. If you have a cup, you can overclamp it slightly the other way to straighten it out. Also keep in mind these boards will move a lot over the coarse of time depending on their usage and the way they are cleaned and dried (be sure the user is drying the board on its side). In fact, last week my board had a 1/8″ cup to it after cutting a hot piece of meat. I just checked it today and its nearly flat again. Now with any luck, when your board develops a cup, it will face down (looks like a frown). This way the board remains nice and stable on the counter top. If it goes the other way it will spin. So you may want to put the boards in the reverse clamp for a week or so. Don’t be afraid to spray the board down with a little water before you throw it into the clamps. That will help to “reset the memory” of the board. Then hope for the best. As long as the board is sitting with the cup down, 1/8″ is really nothing to worry about. Wood generally does not want to stay perfectly flat all the time. And from what I understand, most pro chefs put their boards on towels to stop them from moving around. So it’s pretty much the nature of the beast. If your recipient wants something perfectly flat, I recommend plastic. :) Good luck!

Category: Techniques

Comments

  1. I’m not sure how the ones on Marc were made, but I have done all mine by turning the endgrain up, and I haven’t notice any warping at all and it will take knife cuts better.

  2. Casey (http://) January 14, 2008

    A friend of mine had made a door to a sink unit out of birch. The doors were glued together much like the cutting board, end grain out. When he hung the doors, and coated them with polyurethane the doors arched out almost 2 inches over a 2 foot length. Once the other side was treated it settled back to being perfectly flat. It appears that certain woods can absorb wood and expand part way through, “cupping” the part.

    If anything, try wetting the other side, they probably used one side and washed one side more then the other which caused it to expand at a greater rate then the other.

  3. Germain January 14, 2008

    “…I recommend plastic”. Blaspheme!

  4. Steve January 14, 2008

    I can’t imagine how anyone could receive such a wonderful gift, obviously made with love, and then return it for any reason. Personally I don’t think I could do anything like that.

    Sure those of us who work with wood strive for perfection and strive to improve our skills. But I’m not sure that excuses this appalling lack of courtesy. When I was a child my parents taught me that when I was a guest in someone’s home and they served something that I didn’t like, I should take a small portion and under no circumstances make an announcement that I didn’t like the _____.

    In this case I think plastic is too good for them.

    Time to get off my soap box.

  5. Waid January 15, 2008

    I have also made the Spagnuolo special. I have not had any bowing but it so pretty that my wife refuses to use it. I use it when I cook and have no problems. I did find that when I was applying the salad bowl finish that I had to switch from a thinned with mineral spirits mix to a full strength mix or else the finish seemed to fade out as it dried.

  6. Germain January 15, 2008

    I’m using a Watco salad bowl finish on my cutting boards. The instructions specifically say, “Do not thin”. Therefore, I didn’t thin it. Perhaps the finish Marc uses requires thinning or works OK when thinned while others do not.

  7. I build cuttingboards and i must say i have seen this issue! End-grain, face-grain, flat0grain, they all move. The trick is to make the board single sided (meaning one side has rubber feet). That way as long as the board does not have too much excessive bow, the feet can be adjusted to compensate.

    http://uniquecuttingboards.com

    ALexander

  8. Jeremy (Bama5150) February 5, 2008

    Mine have the rubber feet which is probably why i have never notice any warpage. I think Alexander is right on.

  9. One thing I notice when I make cutting boards professionally is that when I run them thru my drum sander I have to make sure that I flip the board EACH pass thru the sander to prevent one side warming up and warping while it’s being sanded.

    Because I like the idea of having a reversable boards don’t bore holes into my boards. Instead I recommend people add the peel and stick type of rubber feet to their boards that come in a pack of 16 at your favorite hardware store.

    The professional chefs that use my boards at our local fancy grocery test kitchen put a wet cloth beneath the board while they use the boards. This helps keep the boards from moving around while in use and promote even expansion.

    I always recommend people dry their boards on end and avoid direct exposure to sunlight.

    The other biggie is that I only get calls in March regarding boards cracking. This happens because people forget to season their boards. If you use a Beeswax/Mineral Oil Conditioners it will help to keep too much moisture from soaking into boards. The beeswax causes water to bead up on the surface of the board and the mineral oil soaks in, forming a protective barrier.

    The problem is that when the furnace is running the boards will shrink when not seasoned regularly. So, when the board gets exposed to water it expands rapidly like an overdry sponge causing the bowing, warping and cracking.

  10. Hello,
    I use birch plywood for my paintings, and I seal all my wood with JW Sealer before painting with acrylics. I am having bowing problems and wondered how to keep the wood flat?

    Thank You!

  11.  

    Hey Jody. Certainly plywood just has a tendency to bow. The cheaper it is, the more likely this is to happen. If you can, get ahold of baltic birch ply. This material has a bunch of plys, which helps keep things stable. Then make sure you seal both sides of the board. That should great increase your chances of keeping it flat.

  12. Rick September 13, 2008

    Your butcher block video was very clear, thank you. I am about to make 52″ x 60″ counter top for an island in my kitchen is one large butcher block. The cabients are oak and I will be staining them I believe in a cherry walnut. What do you recommand for wood on the butcherblock? Also, can I stain the wood or will that effect it’s use as a cutting board. Lastly, do you believe that end grain as you did will stay together as a 52″ x 60″ x 1.5″ piece.

  13.  

    Hey Rick. I will always recommend hard maple as the primary wood for butcher blocks. It is really perfect for the task. Its easy to obtain, its tight grained, its dense, and its very durable. Other woods will work, but I think maple really does the best job.

    I would not recommend staining it. The board is going to be used and abused, and you really don’t want to ingest any stain pigments or particles. So I would absolutely forgo the coloring agents. Keep in mind that maple endgrain is quite a bit darker than face grain, so you might not find the color variation to be all that dramatic from the cabinets.

    And yes, it should stay together. But I will admit that I haven’t done anything of that size, and there may be concerns about wood movement. Some butcher blocks have metal rods going through them that support the structure and can be tightened if need be. You should also pay close attention to grain direction. Try to keep the grain in alignment so that expansion and contraction occurs in the same direction. Lastly, just do a little homework on larger butcher blocks. There may be some tricks of the trade out there that I am not aware of, and its good to be completely prepared.

    Good luck.

    • Hope December 17, 2008

      I recently purchased an antique butcher block which needs some restoration. The first thing I need to do is tighten the metal rods. Can you tell me how to do this?

      •  

        Hello Hope. Unfortunately, without seeing what you are working with, its hard to tell you how to tighten the rods. My guess is there must be some hex head or nut of some kind that you can turn. But again, without seeing it its hard to tell for sure.

        • Hope December 17, 2008

          There are some wood plugs that cover the rods. If I can remove them would I just need to tighten the nuts and put the plugs back in?

        •  

          You got it Hope. Just don’t use glue or anything on the plugs because you’ll need to get back in there some day.

  14. Beth November 18, 2008

    I want to make a cutting board out of one solid piece of wood. Most of the patterns I have looked at are at least 3 pieces glued together. Is it impossible to do this type of cutting board. I realize that warping is the issue….just wondering if it can be done.

    Thanks,
    Beth

  15.  

    Hi beth. It can definitely be done. But your instincts are dead on. The issue is potential movement. To stack the cards in your favor, you may want to try using rift-sawn or quartersaw boards, as they tend to be more stable.

    Good luck.

  16. fixer February 22, 2009

    Love your videos, I myself have made a few boards, I do not make them for one side use, if one starts to dish I put that side down. I find that if I run the slices after cuting the glued boards through the drum sander on each glued side I can get a much flatter and better jointed board after glueing up the final board, I also try not to make any joints less then a half inch minimum brick pattern for a stronger board :>)

  17. Cliff Bramlett August 8, 2010

    Excellent! Heh, and now this has been moved to the top of my honey-do list. It’s nice to see all these comments to get a head start on potential problems. Marc, thanks for the how-to and everyone else, thanks for the tips!

  18. Rod DeBord October 22, 2011

    Great plan for the end grain cutting board. I have now made several of these and really love them. Great and appreciated gifts.

    I, too, had some problems with warping, especially on purpleheart boards. I believe now that much of this was caused by heat buildup from the drum sanding exercise anf my admittedly aggressive tendancy. When I carefully take my time and let the sander work as it should…little problem….but, if I try to speed through or get to agressive with the bite….lots of heat buildup in the board!

    Thanks for the plan!

  19. Kris Canty January 30, 2012

    Hi, just wanted to say I enjoyed the video as well as this (troubleshooting I suppose you could call it) post? I’ve been thinking about making myself some end-grain boards of my own for some time but figured it would be a lot more work than this.

    Also in response to Anne up above the damp cloth below the board actually serves a different purpose (most of the time, though I suppose in this case it’s a dual purpose) and is something we were taught in culinary school to always do.

    Basically the cloth acts the same as it would if you had rubber feet beneath the board and prevents it from slipping around. Especially in commercial kitchens with all stainless steel counter-tops it’s a vital safety step. Just thought I’d give a little culinary input on it. (Plus it allows you to use the board on either side since you aren’t fiddling with rubber feet)

    As far as restaurant boards go we’re required to use plastic here. Though in bakeries you can use approved wood work-boards/counter-tops…you have to get them approved though.

  20. James September 22, 2012

    Okay, I am really happy I found this because I was going crazy last night trying figure out why my boards have cupped. I still crazy but at least I know mine isn’t the board doing this. I am still really new to woodworking and as of yet haven’t joined the guild. I think it is time to make I leap. Mark…great website and I can’t wait to be a member of guild!!!!

  21. Rob March 3, 2014

    Ok, I realize this is an old post. But,
    I recently started to make an end grain cutting board. It’s made from Maple, Walnt, and Sepelle. It’s dimensions are W18″xL30″xT2″. I am in the final stages of the build. It’s completely sanded, and ready for routing a nice edge, and then finally applying a finish (I purchased GF Salad Bowl Finish). I’ve been extremely busy at work lately, so the board has sat in my shop untouched for about a week, and when I picked it up and laid it flat, I noticed it completely warped on me. It definatley has cupped, and even slightly twisted a little. So I really want to try and remedy this before I continue with routing and applying finish.
    I recently built a jig for my router to be used as a planer/surface planer, and was wondering if you would suggest taking this route. Or should I just try and clamp it back to its original form? I’m not all that worried in losing a little material bc again, it is 2″ thick, so it’s a monster in my kitchen as is.

    *Side note*
    I do not own a planer, but after extensive research in the matter, it seems that more people than not, believe that surfacing/flattening with a router gives more desireable results in most cases than an actual thickness planer. A thickness planer can;
    A) Almost flatten out by the rollers as it’s passing through the planer, thus the deformity springs right back as it comes out the other side
    B) End grain + Planer = NOT SAFE, and can also ruin your project

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