About “Procrastination Corner”: Anything in the “Procrastination Corner” series can be made in 24 hours or less, assuming you have a few basic tools and raw materials which are outlined in the article. Josh writes here to offer tips on what you can do if you want to give something handmade and awesome but only have a short while to do it, as he’s absolutely notorious for waiting until the last possible minute to start working on people’s gifts. Perhaps someone else will write in this series from time to time, too!
You’ve got an event tomorrow, whatever it might be. Wedding, birthday, Christmas, who knows! The point is, you’ve got something to go to tomorrow and you have no gift to bring for someone who’s supposed to get one. What do? Panic? Go buy something chintzy and obviously cheap that they’ll use once and then never use again, except as a lesson to others of what not to buy them? Heck no! You’ve got standards, thank you very much! So what can you do, when time is short? You can make something that they’ll use over and over again, and that’ll be the talk of the party when it’s unwrapped! Today’s lesson: Cheese boards!
Easy-Peasey Cheese Board
Everyone loves cheese. This is a known scientific fact. Even my lactose intolerant friends love cheese, despite the fact that eating it makes them hate life, the universe, and themselves. So having a cheese board in your kitchen is a handy thing when company comes over. The thing is, cheese boards can be expensive little buggers. That’s where you, procrastinatory (that’s a word, right?) craftsperson, come in! I’m about to show you how to make a cheese board in under 24 hours that your recipient will love, and at a surprisingly low cost! Let’s get started.
While I think this normally goes without saying, it also goes without saying that some people take shortcuts in the name of expediency. Don’t do that with safety. We’re working with sharp stuff in this project, so be cautious. Make sure your tools are actually sharp. There are a lot of great resources online on how to sharpen tools. A dull tool takes more work to use, and if it catches it stands a higher chance of cutting you. Also, if you’re using power tools a dust mask and safety glasses are required. Especially with some exotic wood species, their dust can be a powerful respiratory irritant. Dust masks are cheap. Lung transplants are expensive. Wear a mask!
1. Gather Your Tools
For this project, you’re going to need some fairly standard woodworking tools. Well, really you only need two: A handsaw and a tape measure or ruler. Any good handsaw will do in a pinch, but a crosscut saw is what we really want. If you have a powered saw that’s even better, but a handsaw is required. Tools that are helpful, but not required include the following: block plane, sanding block or random orbit/power sander. You’ll also need sandpaper in 3 grits: 80, 120, and 220 (or discs/paper to fit your sander, if you have one). Once you’ve got your tools together (remember, saw, measuring implement, and sandpaper at minimum, other stuff if you have access to it), it’s time to…
2. Gather your material(s)
The fanciest of cheese boards are always made of wood, usually exotic species glued up in strips, polished to a fine luster and finished with the finest of oils. Some of them might even have pretty carvings in them. We don’t have time for any of that. We’re going to make these 1 piece, and it’ll be wood that you can probably find without too much effort (assuming you live somewhere in the US like I do. Other countries will have their own species you can find without difficulty). When I’ve made these in the past, I go to my local Woodcraft and pick up a board that’s 3/4 of an inch thick (~18mm) by 6 inches wide (15cm) and 36 inches long (91.4cm). I usually use either marblewood or purpleheart, whichever they have in stock. You can also use cherry, maple, or walnut (though walnut can present allergy issues for some people, so proceed with caution). Oak is also an option, but only white oak. Red oak is too porous, and you risk food getting stuck in the grain and festering. Once you’ve got your board of the species you like in the right size, you’ll need something to finish the cheese board with. The absolute easiest thing is plain mineral oil, available from any pharmacy (look near the laxatives). It’s odorless, tasteless, and food-safe. It also doesn’t go bad, so you can use it for many other projects. Now that we have our tools and materials…
3. Make it!
So you’ve got your board, saw, measuring device, sandpaper, and mineral oil. Let’s get down to brass tacks. On your 6″x36″ board, measure a piece 9″ long. 6″x9″ is a great cheese board size, and that way you can get 4 of them out of one piece of wood. Mark off where 9″ is on each edge of the board. Then draw a line between those two marks:
That line we just drew? That’s where we saw. Cut the 9″ piece of the end of the board:
Okay! Guess what? No more measuring. No more sawing. But now comes the tedious part. Starting with the 80 grit sandpaper, sand the entire board smooth. All the saw marks on the end, all the rough patches on the faces and edges, and all the sharp corners? Gone. This will take awhile if you’re doing it by hand. This is also the time to sand a nice bevel along the top face edges, if you want to add that little flair. If you happen to have a small hand plane (a block plane works great), you can cut a chamfer on the four top edges if you so choose. I usually do just to add visual interest, but you can do it with sandpaper if you’re patient enough (Don’t cut the chamfer before you sand with 80-grit, if you’re going to cut one. A plane usually leaves a nice smooth finish, so you shouldn’t need the rough grit to smooth it).
Done with the 80 grit? Got the whole surface somewhat smoothed out so there’s no splinters? Excellent. Now do it again with the 120 grit, and then with the 220 grit. Between grits, rub the board all over with a slightly damp cloth to get the sanding dust off of it.
Finished sanding? Completely? Great! Wipe it down with a slightly damp cloth again to get the last of the sanding dust off and sand it again with the 220 grit paper. Why? Because when you get the board wet the grain of the wood raises up a bit and doesn’t go back down completely. Ever. So sand it off (gently) and wipe the dust off once more. Dry off any damp spots. Now, pour about a half-dollar sized amount of mineral oil onto one face of the cheese board.
Using a lint-free cloth (a piece of an old t-shirt works just fine, or even paper towels in a pinch), rub the oil into the entire surface and the edges. Once it’s worked in, do the same thing on the other face, making sure you’ve got good and even coverage over the whole board, including all edges.
Let it sit for a half hour so that the oil can soak into the wood, and oil it all over again. You want at least 2 coats of mineral oil to ensure it stays protected from water and oils in the cheese.
And just like that, we’re done! That’s all there is to it. You even still have time to wrap it up before you leave. Not only that, you’ve got enough wood left to make 3 more of these. You’ll amaze people at what you can do. You don’t even have to tell them how easy it really was.
4. Final Notes
I always make sure to tell people how to take care of the items I give them. I want my work to last them as long as possible. These cheese boards are very easy to care for. Just wash them with warm soapy water after each use, and give them a rubdown with mineral oil about once a season. That’s all there is to it. If you have any questions, please feel free to submit them, or ask in the comments!
#hotglueandhope(Huge, huge, HUGE thanks to my good friend Evan (evan-snyder.com) for the photography work for this post. He’s a damn fine photographer, and also a big help in getting rid of excess cheese.) Josh has his own blog, Two Ravens Brewing, where he drunkenly rambles about life, the universe, and pretty much anything. He also occasionally posts useful things, like recipes for beers he’s brewed. You can find him there, and on Twitter, on a semi-regular basis.