Wood cutting boards are beautiful accent pieces in a kitchen but are purposeful to any chef. Whether you are a professional or an at-home chef, you rely on this kitchen essential for all of your fruit and vegetable chopping, slicing and dicing, preparing raw meat or fish, and presenting your finished meal. It serves so many practical uses.
There are very important physical attributes to take into consideration before landing on the ideal cutting board for your needs. The various woods and grains can guide you, depending on if you are using your wood cutting board for food, or if it will serve as décor only. Most woodworkers will insist on building wood cutting boards with non-toxic, tight end grain hardwood such as sugar (or hard) maple, walnut, cherry, and bamboo. This article will dive into the types of tree species that you should avoid when making, or buying a wood cutting board. These include softer woods such as oak, pine, cypress, cedar, poplar, balsa, and some tropical trees, and you will learn about each one.
But first, the grain side of wood is important to understand.
The Grain Sides
There are three types of grains known in each piece of wood: face, edge, and end. Each grain pattern provides a different level of strength to your cutting board.
Face (also known as plain)
Face grain is easy to spot. It features a wide facealong the length of the board. You will spot multiple layers of grain in letter patterns of U, V, or O. Face Grain, while certainly the prettier side of the board, doesn’t hold up well to cuts and dents from knife use.
Edge (or stave grain)
Stronger than face, the edge grain is noted by the long, thin edge of the board. You’ll see long and parallel line patterns. While it does provide the kitchen with a substantial cutting surface, end grain is used most often for cutting boards.
Typically, woodworkers prefer to use the end grain side of the wood because it is the strongest side. Check out the end grain – you’ll find it on the shortest side of the board. You will see the wood fibers facing up. It tends to be the hardest and most durable side resisting cuts and dents from knife use. End grain also favors your knife blades.
Taking into account the durability, porosity, and toxicity of softwoods you will learn that these are ones to avoid when seeking out your wood cutting board.
You can gauge durability by the type of wood. Softwoods have an open and wide grain. This means the wood has larger pores and may even feel rougher. Food and liquid can get trapped in the open fibers of the wood cutting board potentially creating bacteria and affecting your food’s sterility.
Porous softwoods retain liquid. This allows for liquids to penetrate the wood cutting board growing bacteria and mold. And, when you don’t immediately wash and dry your cutting board, the liquid or water will easily warp, split and stain your board.
When the wood species bears edible fruit like cherry trees, nuts, leaves, and sap, you can bet that your wood is non-toxic. This makes all the difference for wood cutting boards, where the priority should be. The goal is to have a food-safe workspace. There are exceptions, however. Hardwood tropical trees should be avoided for their production of natural toxins that prevent insects and microbes.
Avoid These Woods for Cutting Boards
Although technically hardwood, oak is also an open grain or porous wood. Oak rates high for its strength it is a wood that will absorb liquid (i.e. water, oils, and other juicy foods) into its pores. Oak is also prone to staining, due to its porosity.
One of the softer woods, pine may be a cheaper option for your cutting board, but it isn’t durable or sustainable. Since you’ll be using your best knives to cut on this wood, most woodworkers say that theblades can quickly damage the board, literally, they can chop up the piece of wood.
Another soft and porous wood, cypress wood naturally absorbs water, liquids, and oils. Cut an onion or garlic clove on it and you may find green spots appear. However, cypress works well for outdoor projects.
Fundamentally cedar wood is not best for cutting boards. In addition to Its softwood properties, cedarwood is weak and unable to absorb the impact of sharp knives. Cedarwood also features an aromatic scent. This isn’t great when you are preparing fruits and vegetables, and other foods. Who wants their food to taste like cedar? Except when you are grilling meats and fish on the BBQ.
Homes often utilize cedar for clothing storage, furniture, and roofing shingles and siding. Traditionally the top or tonewood of an acoustic guitar’s soundboard is made of cedar.
This lightweight wood species is just too soft for all of the slicing and dicing you do to meal prep. Poplar’s porous nature makes it difficult to cut juicy foods. The liquid is absorbed easily creating an environment ripe for bacteria and mold.
A great fire starter though, checkout poplar wood for a campfire.
One of the least hardy woods, Balsa is best used for design templates and model building. Not a suitable choice for kitchen cutting boards.
Exotic hardwood is unique and beautiful for the home. While it can be used for cutting boards, it’s not always a preferred choice. This includes purpleheart, which isn’t nearly as stable as maple, cherry, and bamboo woods. These types of wood tend to produce lignin (or a large group of aromatic biopolymers), which doesn’t bond well with construction essentials such as glue.
While purpleheart is considered a hardwood, its distinct coloring may tend to fade from light exposure. Exotic woods are best used for interior flooring, outdoor furniture, and arts and crafts. Chefs have a difficult time depending on softwood cutting boards. In general softwood trees such as pine, cedar and poplar grow fast, but their wood grain is soft and porous. Unreliable in the kitchen softwood cutting boards are less friendly to your knives, are less sanitary, and are easily destructible. A wood cutting board should last many years as long as you properly care for it.