Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Love at First Bite | Cheeseboard DIY

My first venture into wood-burning was a little more than a year ago when I decided to make a cheeseboard as a Christmas gift for my boyfriend. As tiring as it was to make, the joy and pride that came with knowing I made that with my own two hands was worth it. 

A few months ago I had the perfect opportunity to make another cheeseboard. This time as a wedding gift for my friends, Michelle and Frank. 

I chose to write/burn "love at first bite" because Michelle and Frank are foodies and had their first date at Shake Shack. It was my boyfriend who suggested I write it in the "Shake Shack font" as best as I could. That stressed me out because the curvy letters would be a challenge for me, but I knew it was worth a try! Here, I will share with you how I made my cheeseboard in the hopes that some of you will give it a try! 

  • Wood burning tool or soldering pen (they're similar and most soldering pens come with a wood burning tip). 
  • Piece of wood. A soft wood such as pine is easier to burn than hardwoods.
  • Ruler 
  • Pencil 
  • Good rubber eraser
  • Mineral oil
  • Soft rag 
You can get the wood-burning tool/soldering pen I'm using and others like it at hardware stores like Lowe's and Home Depot, or craft stores like Michael's. The pen also comes with a few different tips. I haven't tried any of the others yet, but hope to soon!

I purchased my wood from Michael's where they have wood slices in varying sizes, shapes, and thickness. 


1. Measure out size of the design. This required some basic math; be ready to work with fractions! Since I was using text, I wanted to make sure the letters were as evenly spaced as possible. First, I measured out my margins and drew them in lightly so that I had a visible rectangle. Second, I decided on the height of the letters for each line. I wanted the middle row to be a bit smaller in size, and for there to be some space in between the rows so I accounted for that in my calculations. I drew light lines where the tops and bottoms of the rows would be to indicate the height. Lastly, I decided on the width of my letters and the space between each letter. I made little tick marks along the top and bottom lines of each row to keep track of the width of each letter. Essentially, I'm creating individual boxes for each letter with lines and tick marks. 

I ended up with a sort of grid, and from there filling in the letters was easy!

2. Sketch the design. Since I had already outlined the height and width of the letters, it took little time to write in the letters. I just had my letters be the maximum height and width they could be. After writing the letters I was dissatisfied with some of the spacing, so I had to go in and do that over. It was key to write as lightly as possible, and have a very good eraser on hand.

3. Start wood burning! Be very careful when using a wood burning tool/soldering pen because they get very, very hot. The tip turns blue, that's how hot it is! Of the available tips to choose from, I used the one pictured because to me it was the one that seemed easiest and most natural to use. 

I had to apply a considerable amount of pressure to achieve the level of darkness and thickness shown below. It's was difficult to maintain the same pressure throughout an entire stroke. It's best to practice a few strokes on any spare wood. 

I found it made things easier by going over the letters at half-pressure to do a "light" outline of the letters. This created a shallow "path" for the pen to follow, making the thickening and deepening of the letter easier on my second time around. For curves, it was best to make little strokes at a time before going over the curve with one smooth line. Again, practicing is a good idea. 

4. Treat the wood. I looked over the letters and erased any visible pencil marks. Then, I treated the wood with mineral oil so that it is protected and food-ready. Food-grade mineral oil is most commonly used, and most of you probably already have it home to maintain your wooden cutting boards. You can certainly use other oils, but the problem is that most of them will turn rancid (ex. olive oil). You want to avoid using a nut oil in case you serve someone with a nut allergy. Plus, they also go bad after awhile. The oils aren't dangerous when rancid, but will make your food taste nasty. Yuck! Thus, the odor-less and food-safe mineral oil is still the best option. It's quite affordable and can be found at most grocery stores and hardware stores. 

To treat the wood, I poured mineral oil onto a soft towel and rubbed it into the front and back. The mineral oil darkens the wood a bit (it lightens again when it's dried), so I can tell when I've sufficiently covered the board. Any oil that sat on the surface indicated that the board was over-saturated, so it was important to wipe that off. Then I propped the board up on a drying rack to let it dry. 

I repeated this process every 12 hours until I had done about 4-5 coats. After that, it was ready to gift and eat off of! For the first few months of usage, it is important to continue to treat the board once a week. After that, treat it once a month or more depending on how much you use it. The mineral oil will keep the cheese board protected from absorbing too much moisture, but keep the wood from drying out and cracking, too. 

I am really happy with how the cheeseboard turned out! Revisiting these pictures has me itching to make another cheeseboard! I wonder what I'll think of next... Perhaps using a food-grade wood stain to darken future cheeseboards. 

Thanks for reading! I hope you enjoyed this recap and semi-tutorial! 

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