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Wooden cutting boards

post #1 of 17
Thread Starter 
In the market for a new one, just wanted opinions on the different woods - ie, maple, oak, bamboo, as to durability, care, etc.
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post #2 of 17
Maple is the standard among commercially made boards. But any hardwood can work. I make them with all sorts of exotic woods.

Bamboo is very hard. And some of them are drop-dead gorgeous. But bamboo boards haven't been around long enough to establish a viable track record.

In theory, oak isn't the best choice, as it tends to chip and dent. One of my everyday boards is oak. I built it about four years ago, and have had to refinish it several times in that short period. So there's something to the idea of it not being the best choice.

Whatever you choose, make sure it is either edge-grain or end-grain construction. End-grain is more expensive, and is most often used for chopping blocks rather than cutting boards.

Cheaper boards are flat grain (basically, the kind of wood you'd buy at the lumber yard), and flat grain tends to warp and twist.
They have taken the oath of the brother in blood, in leavened bread and salt. Rudyard Kipling
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They have taken the oath of the brother in blood, in leavened bread and salt. Rudyard Kipling
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post #3 of 17
When you maintain it, whatever the wood, use only USP Mineral Oil, which does not become rancid. (I'm not sure about bamboo maintenance, but it applioes to the hardwoods.) Get a small bottle at any drug store. You don't need any fancy-schmancy "special" board oils.

Follow the manufacturer's recommendations for frequency of application; and, of course, it does not go in the dishwasher.

Mike
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post #4 of 17
While the longterm functionality of bamboo is still in question, i love the renewable aspect of the material. I also like it a lot for cooking utensils.

And were I to do a new "hardwood floor", bamboo is a top contender for material.
Palace of the Brine -- "I hear the droning in the shrine of the sea monkeys." Saltair
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post #5 of 17
I've seen some really expensive bamboo boards in high end places plastered with instantly recognizable cooking world names - and big cracks. still in the shrink wrap.

I'm very leery of bamboo.
post #6 of 17
Interesting. Do you think the difference in humidity between PA and Salt Lake has anything to do with what you've seen and I've not seen?
Palace of the Brine -- "I hear the droning in the shrine of the sea monkeys." Saltair
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Palace of the Brine -- "I hear the droning in the shrine of the sea monkeys." Saltair
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post #7 of 17
when we tiled the worktops in the house kitchen, my husband sunk in an 18" by 18" peice of burma teak for a chopping board. May seem a little extravagant, but we got a shed load for free!!

Brotherinlaw used to work at the vet college in Edinburgh and when they were re-vamping one of the ancient labs, they threw the work benches out to the skips. Can you beleive it:eek:

It sits about an inch proud of the worktop and i love it. It just gets the usual antibac after use ( raw meat and sweet stuff have their own boards) And they get scrubbed with salt for a deep clean every couple of weeks (butchers tip)

I've never heard of bamboo boards. I'll reserve judgment till i do.
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"If we're not supposed to eat animals, why are they made of meat?" Jo Brand
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post #8 of 17
dunno. I got interested in bamboo as a green thing; then I heard it's so hard it'll do a number on your knives, then while perusing the selections I noticed about 50% of the bamboo stock was splitting.

humidity is present in our area - 10% to 110% . . . .

frankly, at that point I had to ask "Why would I pay money for that?" much less "Why would I pay more money for that?"

green is good. cracked/broken/splitting green is not my cup of T.
post #9 of 17
>i love the renewable aspect of the material<

I keep hearing comments like that, Phil, with the implication that wood is not a renewable resource---which is, of course, nonsense.

Petro-based and mineral-based products are made from non-renewable resources, as are practically all the man-made materials we use every day---like synthetic cutting boards.
They have taken the oath of the brother in blood, in leavened bread and salt. Rudyard Kipling
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They have taken the oath of the brother in blood, in leavened bread and salt. Rudyard Kipling
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post #10 of 17
Well, it's the speed aspect of it specifically. Cut a hardwood and plant a new one and you're looking at decades before harvest. Bamboo a few years.
Palace of the Brine -- "I hear the droning in the shrine of the sea monkeys." Saltair
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Palace of the Brine -- "I hear the droning in the shrine of the sea monkeys." Saltair
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post #11 of 17
Regarding the Original Post:

There are a number of hardwood choices which are more or less equal when it comes to cutting board performance, including maple, cherry, walnut, and mahogany. The most common, as already said here, is maple.

The best boards are made so the endgrain is oriented up, towards the knife -- rather than the "side grain" or "long grain." End grain boards look as though they were made from bricks of wood, rather than long strips. However, there are excellent quality boards made from endgrain.

You can't go wrong with a board made by John Boos and Co. It's among the most respected names in the industry, although their boards (not to mention their pieces of what may only be called cutting furniture are overpriced.

I prefer boards without feet -- or at least feet which can be easily removed without leaving obvious scars -- so both sides of the board can be used.

Boards need care. I use "pharmaceutical grade" mineral oil which I buy (wait for it) at the pharmacy. This works for all of my kitchen wood. You can also mix it with beeswax at a ratio of about 4 oil to 1 wax, by heating the oil gently and melting the wax into it, to make a sort of super oil/sealer. Doesn't cost much to make, but they charge a lot for it in stores. The look of the oil/wax is somewhat better and longer lasting than plain oil. However, it requires renewing according to the same schedule.

Once the wood is well oiled, the oil should be renewed every two to three months to stay fresh.

Oiled boards won't warp quite as readily as dry boards but they still require care. Wipe your board often, keep it clean, don't leave it wet. Wipe the area under your board frequently. Don't put the board down on a damp counter. Some people lay towels or pads under the board to reduce noise and keep the board from sliding. If you have anything under your board, make sure it's dry and flat.

Wash your board often, both sides. Let it dry by wiping it the best you can, then finish air drying for several hours (preferably overnight) standing on its side and not laying flat. If the board is reversible, try and even out the use each side gets.


Regarding bamboo:

I bought a lagish bamboo board at Wal-Mart to see how it compared to my endgrain maple boards from here and there. It does give slightly harder feedback when I chop on it. But so far at least, I'm not seeing much difference in how my edges hold up. Remember though, I do a lot of steeling because of my particular knives (old French carbon) -- more than many.

FWIW, the buzz among knife nuts is that the problem is not so much the bamboo itself but the glue/resid which holds the strips together to make boards.

Because bamboo is a grass, not a tree; because it grows so fast, and doesn't require cutting "old growth; because a bamboo stand can be replaced in months, and not decades; many believe it's use for utilitarian items is "greener" than using hardwood, even though both are "renewable" each in its own way. FWIW, I agree.

BDL
post #12 of 17
Maple is probably your best bet. With cutting boards you need a close grained wood. Maple and fruit woods like cherry, apple or pear are great, but maple is the most common.

Oak is coarser grained and quite porous. You can do party tricks with oak, especially red oak, by inserting a piece of wood in a tub of water, end grain sticking up, and blowing into the end grain, bubbles will appear in the water. Mahogany is quite porous as well. Teak is fantastic stuff--for boats, but not for cutting boards. Teak is naturally oilly, great for boats, but not good for glueing pieces of teak together. Teak also contains small bits of silica, very hard on knives, and a lot of woodworkers hate it because working with teak is very hard on tools and cutting edges. Beautiful wood though....

Like others have said, mineral oil is best for treating boards, it's commonly sold as an aid for constipation in most drugstores, and this is what 99% of all the other "Butcher block oils" made of. Pastes made of mineral oil and beeswax are very good as well, but much more expensive.

Stay away from vegetable oils. Not only will they go rancid eventually, but also they get sticky and gooey as they dry.


Wood is a natural material, it will swell with humidity increases and shrink with humidity losses and direct heat. This is the bane of every furniture maker, and th only thing to do is to compensate for swelling and shrinking by desiging the piece for this movement. And people have been doing it for thousands of years. I've worked with salavaged lumber over a 100 yers old and it still moves with seasonal and humidty changes. Some species don't move as much as others, and a lot has to do with how the log was cut: flat sawn moves significantly more than quartersawn or rift sawn lumber. It's the nature of the beast.

Wood will alos absorb some odours, like garlic, and colours, like chopped herbs, beets, or berries. This can be bleached out with common Javex or the like.

Above all, keep the board free of deep scars and scratches. Take it to a woodworker with a thickness planer, or get a cabinet scraper and remove the damaged wood yourself.
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post #13 of 17
I believe that I might be able to shed a little light on this subject.

Maple is the traditional wood for cutting boards and butcher blocks. The tight, hard and dense grain pattern makes it ideal for use. Oak and other open pore woods are poor choices. The open grain and pores can trap water and food particles easily. Leave the oak for furniture. As well, some of the exotic woods used can contain toxic chemicals and the woods have developed as a defense to insects. Some domestic woods can be very toxic as well. Black locust can kill a mule. People who raise horses will not let black walnut shavings come into contact with their horses hooves. Cause some sort of a problem.

The general rule for choosing a wood for use, any wood with a running sap like maple which makes maple syrup or a tree with an edible nut. If the sap can make a food and the nuts are edible, then the tree is considered safe. Oak is an exception to this due to the open nature of the grain.

Bamboo is touted as a "green" alternative. Very hard and dense, harder and denser than maple in fact, and even harder when the small pieces are glued together and your knife edge is cutting against more glue that bamboo. The conditions the bamboo boards are made in are certainly not as clean as whet you will see here in the USA.

Also, some major American board manufacturers are adding hardening resins to their boards to make them last longer. Makes them very tough on the knife edges and may be the cause of chipping in the better knives.

Mineral oil is the best treatment to use. It is an inert oil that is super refined and unlike vegetable and other organic oils, will not turn rancid. Some people suggest linseed oil, used to make oil based paint, and tung oil. Neither of which will dry completely without the addition of heavy metal driers which are highly toxic.

Odors can be removes with the application of a baking soda paste. Stains can be removed with peroxide. But nothing can compare to regular maintenance; cleaning, sanitizing and oiling.

All of the boards I make use the rubber tipped feet for several reasons. They absorb shocks from chopping and general use, they keep the board rock steady and stop it from slipping on the counter top during use, they provide a convenient hand hold for moving and lastly they give the board an air space underneath which helps to keep it dry, even out the moisture absorption which helps to prevent splitting and cracking. A well made board will last for a long time and a double sided board will last just as long but will be more prone to splitting and cracking from moisture that could pool underneath.

David
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post #14 of 17
I believe that I might be able to shed a little light on this subject.
Maple is the traditional wood for cutting boards and butcher blocks. The tight, hard and dense grain pattern makes it ideal for use. Oak and other open pore woods are poor choices. The open grain and pores can trap water and food particles easily. Leave the oak for furniture. As well, some of the exotic woods used can contain toxic chemicals which the trees have developed as a defense to insects. Some domestic woods can be very toxic as well. Black locust can kill a mule. People who raise horses will not let black walnut shavings come into contact with their horses hooves. Cause some sort of a problem.
The general rule for choosing a wood for use, any wood with a running sap like maple which makes maple syrup or a tree with an edible nut. If the sap can make a food and the nuts are edible, then the tree is considered safe. Oak is an exception to this due to the open nature of the grain.
Bamboo is touted as a "green" alternative. Very hard and dense, harder and denser than maple in fact, and even harder when the small pieces are glued together and your knife edge is cutting against more glue than bamboo. The conditions the bamboo boards are made in are certainly not as clean as what you will see here in the USA.
Also, some major American board manufacturers are adding hardening resins to their boards to make them last longer. Makes them very tough on the knife edges and may be the cause of chipping in the better knives.
Mineral oil is the best treatment to use. It is an inert oil that is super refined and unlike vegetable and other organic oils, will not turn rancid. Some people suggest linseed oil, used to make oil based paint, and tung oil. Neither of which will dry completely without the addition of heavy metal driers which are highly toxic.
Odors can be removed with the application of a baking soda paste. Stains can be removed with peroxide. But nothing can compare to regular maintenance; cleaning, sanitizing and oiling.
All of the boards I make use the rubber tipped feet for several reasons. They absorb shocks from chopping and general use, they keep the board rock steady and stop it from slipping on the counter top during use, they provide a convenient hand hold for moving and lastly they give the board an air space underneath which helps to keep it dry, even out the moisture absorption which helps to prevent splitting and cracking. A well made board will last for a long time and a double sided board will last just as long but will be more prone to splitting and cracking from moisture that could pool underneath.

End grain will dull a set of planer blades in a matter or moments and the resulting mess will make an enemy fast. And an oily or well used board with a coating of fats will clog sanding belts instantly. Either live with the scratches or scrape the board to a new surface with a cabinet scraper.

David
David The BoardSMITH
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post #15 of 17
>The best boards are made so the endgrain is oriented up, towards the knife -- rather than the "side grain" or "long grain."<

Depends on the intended use.

End-grain is the primary choice for chopping (as with a cleaver) because it creates a self-sealing surface. That's why butcher blocks are constructed that way.

Most cutting boards, as such, are edge-grain rather than end grain. This provides a hard, warp-free board that is easy to clean while still being easy on knives.

While you certainly can use an end-grain board as a cutting board, it's a very expensive way to go, with no real benefit.
They have taken the oath of the brother in blood, in leavened bread and salt. Rudyard Kipling
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They have taken the oath of the brother in blood, in leavened bread and salt. Rudyard Kipling
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post #16 of 17
Respectfully, I will have to disagree. The only reason to buy a edge or long grain board is for price and disposability. End grain is far more durable, easier on the edges and is much less prone to splinter when the edges contact the cutting surface which are the main benefits of investing in one. Of the 500+ boards I make a year and sell, only 10 or less are long grain boards.

While all boards will warp or split, end grain boards are much less likely to do so. At least the better made ones.
David The BoardSMITH
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post #17 of 17
The cutting board question always elicits this sort of discussion...

When my son started his cabinet shop, he bought for a song a semi-trailer load of hard-rock maple cutoffs from an installer of bowling alleys. He made a lot of cutting boards - as well as some nice furniture from the longer pieces - and researched the board material for suitability.

The University of Wisconsin has been especially active in the cutting-board sanitation question, and they came down very favorably of the side of wooden boards...

University of Wisconsin cutting board papers - Google Search

To make your own boards, you need some significant equipment - tablesaw, thickness planer, belt or drum sander, and LOTS & LOTS of clamps - and you can use Titebond III glue - available at any hardware/home improvement store - which is FDA-approved for foodservice use.

I like to set mine (footless) on a piece of a non-skid shelf liner like "Life-Liner" brand to keep them from moving around.

Like I said above, you don't put them in the dishwasher. ;) Like BDL said, rinse, wipe, dry, and set on edge to finish drying.

Mike
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