I've seen some tutorials online about how to create a cutting board, and all of them suggests using a power router to round the edges and create the pockets for the handles. It looks so easy to do with the router, but I was wondering if those steps can be done using hand tools and get a satisfying result?

What tools can replace a router in this case?

What I am after is something similar to whats in the image below, but the handles are at the bottom instead of being in the middle of the sides:

cutting board

  • Rasps, files, sandpaper, planes, chisels and gouged for carving, a combination of these..."Breaking the edges" is part if the finishing process for many projects.
    – keshlam
    Commented Sep 13, 2015 at 21:47
  • @keshlam I'm sure you could elaborate a little in an answer!
    – Matt
    Commented Sep 13, 2015 at 22:52
  • What do you mean by pockets? It is possible you are asking two different questions.
    – Matt
    Commented Sep 13, 2015 at 22:53
  • @Matt I've added more information
    – OKAN
    Commented Sep 13, 2015 at 23:11

2 Answers 2


Rounded Edges

Oodles of tools and techniques at your disposal. I would be surprised if you didn't own one of these tools already.


  • Chisels
  • Gouges
  • Planes
  • Rasp
  • Spoke shaves
  • Moulding planes

You have a few options here depending on what you have available/ are willing to acquire. You could use a chisels, rasps, planes or spokeshaves to form your edges. A gouge would help for going around the corners. There are some moulding planes I am sure that would be perfect for this job. Most of the rasps that you will see at big box stores are more for removing rougher stock but you can find finer rasps (sometimes called cabinet maker rasps). Following example is of an Asian hollowing plane.

Hollow Plane

Image from Lee Valley Tools

Recess for handle (pocket)

That looks a lot like a mortise I would look into techniques similar to those. The one issue with making mortises is that you don't usually care what the surface inside looks like but you can in this case.


  • Auger bits (Spade, forstner would also work)
  • Brace and bit (or some other tools for working the bits.)
  • Chisels
  • Router plane

Use your bits to clear out the waste wood from the recess and clean the edges with a chisel. Assuming it is not to deep you can use a router plane or a poor man's router to clean the "bottom" of the recess. Using a regular chisel bevel down would also help with cleaning the bottom as well. Below is a picture of using the drill bits to remove most of the waste wood from the mortise.

Starting a mortise

Image from startwoodworking.com


Rounding edges

Without using any power tools these are the tools you could use to do this:

  • plane
  • scratch stock
  • rasp and/or file
  • spokeshave
  • card scraper
  • chisel or gouge

Note that sometimes a combination would be used, rather than the entire job being done using the one tool. Also note these are in rough order of preference.

I haven't listed sandpaper here but the entire operation can be done quite well using just sandpaper, particularly if a modest rounding (small radius) is desired. It is also routine to use some sanding to refine and smooth a rounded edge produced using hand tools.

A moulding plane with a suitable bit would be hands-down the best tool for this job but as they're a specialist piece of kit I'll discount them. So, in general the simplest and easiest handtool method to round an edge is to first create a 45° chamfer (often done with a block plane but in theory nearly any hand plane can be used) and then to knock the corners off the chamfer with one or two light passes of the plane, in essence creating a triple chamfer.

Rounding over with a block plane

[Source: Choosing & Using Hand Tools by Andy Rae]

This 'faceted' edge can then easily be made smoothly round with minimal scraping or sanding.

Note that for this project because of the grain orientation you're probably better off if you confine yourself to doing this with sandpaper. Start with 80 or 100 grit, then 150, then finish off using 220 (or whatever the final grit is that you used on the face of the board).

Rounded corners

Traditionally this would be done with a chisel, although in theory hand planing using the above method could also be used if the workpiece can be secured at a suitable angle.

The usual chiselling technique would be to have the workpiece flat on the bench and to pare downward with the chisel:

Rounding a corner with a chisel

Note the grip used and the position of the head so the user can sight down the length of the chisel, this is the textbook stance and hold for vertical paring and it allows very precise, controlled shaving to be done.

Finger grip cutouts

There are a few different methods that can be used here. I think your simplest option would be to drill two holes* for the rounded corners followed by sawing the 'shoulders' and then chopping back to your marked line with a chisel. Final flattening/smoothing of the bottom of the groove (what will be the top with the board flipped over in use) would be done by careful horizontal paring using the chisel, or with a hand router of one kind or another.

*If only hand tools were available here as well, this would usually mean using a swing brace and suitable bit; a wheel brace is not usually powerful enough to drill holes of a greater diameter than approximately 6mm / 1/4".

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