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Thread: Restoring an Olive Wood Cutting Board

  1. #1
    Join Date
    Jul 2009
    Sandwich, MA

    Restoring an Olive Wood Cutting Board

    Happy post-Thanksgiving. I enjoyed a nice family dinner at my sister Denise's house yesterday. While chatting she was lamenting the sad state of her 40+ year old olive wood cutting board which she brought back from Tunisia after a stint there with the Peace Corps. She wants to continue using the board, but it also has sentimental value. This board has had a hard life and is badly dished from years of use. There is also some warp, but not so bad. There are some significant cracks/splits, but nothing seems loose or wobbly. I've posted some photos, below. Currently the board is difficult to use because the dishing is so pronounced.

    I suggested to Denise that maybe I could flatten the board to make it functional and try to stabilize the cracks/splits with epoxy. She reluctantly gave it to me with a look on her face showing fear she was seeing a best friend for the last time.

    Here's my evaluation and initial thoughts on restoring this cutting board. The board varies in thickness from 15/16" to 1 1/16". The maximum depth of the dishing is about 3/8". My initial thoughts are to slightly flatten the backside of the board (the side with the black patches in the photos) with a hand plane. I've taken a few passes with a plane which you can see in the bottom left section of the 2nd photo. The wood is sound (not punky). Next, I'd plane the top with my 4-post Delta planer. To remove the dish will probably reduce the thickness of the board to somewhere between 1/2 to 5/8". I suspect this will be too thin to be stable over time. So, I'm thinking about using epoxy to laminate one or more layers of another solid wood to the back of the board. I'm thinking a final thickness of something like 1 1/4 to 1 1/2" would be good. I'd use epoxy thickened with silica for this lamination to allow it to fill the imperfections on the back of the cutting board. Then I'd fill the cracks/splits in the olive wood with epoxy without a filler.

    I would appreciate critiques of my plan and also proposals for better plans for restoring the board.

    For my plan what type of wood would you suggest? I looked at olive wood online and it's about $50/bf. So, I'm considering using what I have on hand, which is Honduras mahogany, walnut, and maple. I'm leaning towards mahogany since it's a good boat-building wood and the cutting board will be getting wet. I'm also concerned about potential differential expansion between the olive wood and the backing laminate wood, potentially causing splits in the olive wood. I could put the laminate wood so the grain is 90 degrees off from the grain of the olive wood. I'm guessing that would minimize the potential for splitting of either the laminate or the olive wood. I could also use multiple layers of laminate wood, essentially making my own plywood with, say, 1/4" thick layers. I'm not sure I'd gain much doing this compared to a single thickness of laminate at 90 degrees to the olive wood grain.

    What do you guys think?




  2. #2
    Join Date
    Jan 2008
    Whidbey Island, WA
    I would not try to flatten the bottom side, but instead install 4 feet that can be adjusted in height to control rocking. Make them out of wood or get cutting board feet online and trim their height. You want to maintain that thickness! If she gets it back at half the thickness she gave it to you with, well, she'd be much happier to see it left as original as possible.

    For the cracks you'll have to use slow set epoxy so there's fewer bubbles. For small cracks and voids, use flexible black CA glue. Stickfast is what I use.

    If she doesn't mind the topside being dished, then I wouldn't flatten it either. Basically I would do everything possible to avoid overflattening.

    For finish, I would use Osmo 3054 or 3041. It's food safe and doesn't require maintenance like mineral oil. We have used it for years on all cutting / food surfaces and will never go back to cutting board oil.
    Timberlight Designs

  3. #3
    I would use the maple. Love mahogany but some of it has some white chalky stuff in it that can actually roll around ,and to
    me using mahogany for a cutting board would be like using a leather jacket for a WELCOME mat. Friends are sometimes
    suspicious of non-white cutting boards, and they are always sure that your cutting board is not as clean as their cutting

  4. #4
    Join Date
    Mar 2003
    SE PA - Central Bucks County
    With that much dishing and the risk of it getting very thin, I'd leave it as-is and make it a decorative element rather than restoring it to a user. That's honestly what I would do here.

    The most expensive tool is the one you buy "cheaply" and often...

  5. #5
    Join Date
    Aug 2005
    I would not laminate it and would not thin down the board. Not being able to see the pics because I'm not a member, I'd flip it over to the side less dished and add shims as needed o keep it from rocking.

    If the cracks were at original seems, you might consider ripping through the crack after letting the board dry for a while. Then reassemble the board while losing the 1/8" kerf.

    Mahogany and walnut are not a good choice for cutting boards imo because of its semi-open grain structure.

  6. #6
    Join Date
    Feb 2017
    Northern Illinois
    I'm no expert on cutting boards, but I plan to make a couple for family gifts. I have this beautiful piece of olive wood that really can't be used for anything large since it can't be flattened over longer lengths without cutting its thickness significantly. I thought about using it for a cutting board though, so I did a little research. In many ways, it would appear that olive wood is ideal for cutting boards; hard, dense, etc. However, its hardness is about twice that of maple which, based on my research, dulls knives easily requiring frequent sharpening. Given that, if the piece has special meaning, I'd agree with Jim Becker, make it into an art piece in some way to keep it for posterity and create a new, more knife friendly, cutting board.

  7. #7
    Join Date
    Apr 2017
    The 'fix it' gene is strong in us woodworkers. In this case my suggestion is to fight that instinct and return it as is, patina intact. Show her that you can be trusted with a treasure.

  8. #8
    Join Date
    Feb 2003
    Griswold Connecticut
    I would not modify that at all. What a beautiful piece it is.
    The cracks can be sealed with epoxy for sure. Don’t try to hide it, just tint it black.
    For the “dishing”. Make a steam chamber , steam the wood and gently bring it back into shape. It may take a few weeks.
    Many years ago I was tasked with repairing two large wooden bowls, with thick sides. They had split down the sides, and the sides had warped requiring them to be pulled back into alignment.It took a few weeks to pull them into alignment, and another month to relieve the stress. Our friend was beside herself that they were fixed, and could be used again.
    That will be a slow repair. Just let her know upfront that it will take time, but that it will come back to her as is.

    One safety tip. Wear a respirator when you do any sanding. The years of use and cleaning, with soaps, will go airborne, and it can be a big issue with regard to getting an upper respiratory infection.
    Last edited by Mike Cutler; 11-28-2022 at 11:43 AM.

  9. #9
    If you have to repair it for use, you would have less flattening if you ripped it on a bandsaw down the deepest dished point, flattened the two pieces separately, joined the bandsawed edges, then glued it back together. Epoxy the cracks, then finish with 50/50 mixed coats of Pure Tung oil & food grade citrus degreaser (to thin).

  10. #10
    I've had poor results re-gluing cutting boards. Even with careful prep- surfacing, cleaning, etc., the glued joints don't last. Too much oil in the wood, I think.

    Feet, to get the board up out of the wet, is good. I've used champagne- type wine corks, and faucet washers.

  11. #11
    Join Date
    Mar 2019
    Los Angeles, California
    Man, that is in bad shape, and has lived a long but strenuous life, and it might be time to say its life is over.

    But if you honestly want to save it, but modify so much that it loses its character, I would understand. Then, it that case, I'd flatten the bad side in a planer or a stationary belt sander. The bottom is so jacked up, that using a planer might result in a lot of tear out, so I think I would use a wide belt sander.

    Buy some similar olive wood, make a tracing, and glue it up with epoxy. Dowel it from the back side if you want. Now you have a nice thick cutting board that is flat on the bottom. Go to work on the top which is also jacked up, but not as bad. I think I'd hand plane to take off some of the high spots on the edges and then gently run it through a stationary wide belt sander to take out the dishes. Fill any cracks on the top side with epoxy.

    Stain both to match if necessary. Rubber feet for the bottom are a good idea. Cone washers or toilette lid bumpers are what I use.

    Buy some extra wood and with that tracing, make a duplicate about an inch thick, and give your sister a nice Christmas gift of both boards, although it may be New Years by the time you get it done.


  12. #12
    Join Date
    Apr 2018
    Cambridge Vermont
    I would make a clone of it so she has her original to hang up on the wall and a copy for cutting board use.

  13. #13
    Join Date
    Sep 2016
    Modesto, CA, USA
    Instead of steam bending I would soak it in water for a week or two then slowly apply pressure to bend it flat. I do not think steam is any different in final affects it is just faster. Maybe after it is flat steam it good to set the flatness.
    Bill D

  14. #14
    I would like to order a container full of that stuff (olive wood) from Europe. It's so cheap there and it's such a beautiful species that costs an unreasonable amount here in the states.

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