How to choose the best wood for cutting boards
The best woods for cutting boards are maple, walnut, and cherry. Other woods, such as teak and acacia, are also suitable choices. However, wood like pine and cedar are not recommended for cutting boards because they are softwoods, not as durable, and can easily crack and warp.
When you're shopping for a cutting board or a butcher block, it's important to know your priorities and what you plan to use it for. Suppose the cutting board will be strictly decorative; if you aren't using it for slicing but for serving cheese or finger foods, you may want to put aesthetic considerations first. Also when food safety is a concern, you need to look at what surface is antimicrobial.
If you're working within a limited budget, some woods will allow you to get more surface area for your dollar. And suppose you're trying to make a sustainable choice. In that case, you must see which material is renewable and how the lumber is sourced.
OUR EVALUATION PROCESS
1.Types of wood cutting boards - Not all boards are made the same.
First, you must decide what type of cutting board construction you need. Yes, wood-cutting boards are built differently, and it's essential. However, this will also impact the price you pay and the look and weight of the board.
There are 3 types of wooden cutting boards:
Face grain cutting boards are made from straight-cut wood planks glued together with the natural beauty of the wood facing up. These cutting boards are durable and easy to maintain, which makes them an excellent choice for any kitchen. In addition, the natural beauty of the wood grain adds a touch of elegance to any kitchen decor.
Edge Grain cutting boards are made by gluing together wood planks with their edges facing up. This results in a surface with parallel lines running along the length of the board, known as the edge grain. These cutting boards are known for their durability and resistance to knife marks, making them a good option for heavy kitchen use. They are also generally less expensive than end-grain cutting boards and have a unique look and texture that can add to the aesthetic of any kitchen.
End grain cutting boards, also known as butcher blocks, are a type of wooden cutting board made by gluing together small blocks of wood with their end grain facing up. The resulting surface of the cutting board is a unique checkerboard pattern created by the end of the wood. They are considered to be the most durable and gentle on knives among all cutting boards. This is because the end grain surface can absorb the knife's impact, which helps protect the blade and prolong its sharpness. They also have a natural self-healing property, which means that any knife marks will blend in over time. They are a beautiful and functional addition to any kitchen, making them a popular choice among professional chefs and home cooks.
2. Toxicity Of the Wood - are they all safe?
The topic of wood toxicity has been a popular topic of discussion recently. Still, it's important to note that the toxicity risk from cutting boards made from hardwood is generally minimal. However, as a manufacturer, we are responsible for informing customers of any potential risks associated with the wood used in our products. Certain types of hardwood, such as padauk and teak, can cause allergic reactions when inhaled in the form of sawdust during the manufacturing process. However, when using a finished cutting board in a kitchen setting, the risk of ingesting a significant amount of wood is low. In addition, Rosewood contains oils that can leach into food and may cause allergies in some individuals.
Ultimately, it is up to the individual to make an informed decision about the safety of the cutting board they choose to use.
Here's an easy tip to remember, trees, known for producing edible fruits and nuts, are considered safe for food use. Examples include walnut, maple, and cherry.
It's also important to ensure that any additional materials used in the construction of the cutting board, such as glue, conditioners, and finishes, are non-toxic. For example, our cutting boards are made using TiteBond 3 food-grade glue, which is waterproof, food-safe, and solvent-free, and are seasoned with food-grade mineral oil and natural beeswax.
3. Wood Grain Porosity Explained
When choosing a cutting board, it is good to understand the difference in the way that hardwood and softwood trees transport sap. Hardwoods have pores, which can be seen throughout the tree, while softwoods use structures called tracheids to transport sap.
The size of the pores in a particular type of wood can also affect its suitability for use as a cutting board. For example, woods with large pores, such as oak and ash, can absorb more moisture and may have a rougher texture. These large pores can also trap bacteria and food particles. On the other hand, woods with smaller pores or a closed grain, such as walnut, maple, and sycamore, make better cutting boards because they have a smoother finish and absorb less moisture.
Take a look at this image of Oak vs. Maple pores.
In addition, the type of cutting board you choose is important because if you go with an End grain board, the grain pores will be facing the knife and thus exposed to liquids and food, so an end grain cutting board made out of red oak may not be ideal, while if you go with a flat or edge grain board, the pores will be on the side, and if appropriately sealed with beeswax, that won't be such a big of an issue.
It is worth mentioning that while white oak has big pores, it is an open-grain wood with a special membrane that grows inside the pores, called tyloses. And this feature makes it technically suitable for cutting boards, and some artisans and manufacturers are using it.
In general, it is best to choose closed-grain boards for cutting because they have smaller pores and a smoother finish, which reduces the risk of bacteria and stains.
4. Janka hardness scale
The Janka Hardness Test, developed by Austrian-born American researcher Gabriel Janka, is used to determine the resistance of a wood sample to denting and wear. The test involves measuring the amount of force required to push a steel beam halfway through a piece of wood. In the United States, the results are
reported in pound-force (lbf). Harder woods are generally more durable, but this can be a disadvantage when it comes to cutting boards. A more complicated wood can cause more wear and tear on knives. Let's examine the performance of different types of wood commonly used for cutting boards.
Janka Hardness Rating for Hard-Wood
Hardness in lbf
Maple ( Hard Maple or Sugar Maple)
Is there an Ideal hardness
A rule of thumb is to choose a moderately hard type of wood; somewhere in the middle of this table is ideal. For example, maple, walnut, cherry, birch, beech, and acacia are a bit stiffer, but it's a beautiful wood.
5. Sustainability - Not All Lumber is harvested the same
When choosing a cutting board, it's important to consider the source of the wood and the environmental impact. Some companies may prioritize profit over sustainability when manufacturing products overseas, so it's essential to look for certifications such as FSC (Forest Stewardship Council) when purchasing products from countries like China or South America.
Here at Mevell, we only work with FSC-certified lumber mills to ensure that the hardwood we use is responsibly sourced and environmentally sustainable. Additionally, we plant a tree for each board we sell to positively impact the environment.
On top of that, we are planting a tree for each board we sell; this way, we make sure our offset covers more than we take and we have a positive impact on the environment.
5. Pricing - How Much They Cost?
It's important to note that cutting boards come in a range of prices, and it's up to the individual to decide what fits within their budget. One way to save money is by purchasing cutting boards made from locally grown hardwoods, as they tend to be less expensive than imported options due to availability. For example, in Canada, maple cutting boards are often more affordable than walnut, while in the US, the opposite is true, and maple boards can be more expensive.
Not all boards look the same; our favorite is black walnut when it comes to the best cutting board materials. This type of wood has a distinct character that adds a sense of elegance to any space. While other woods, such as maple and birch, may be considered less striking, the combination of walnut and maple can create beautiful results. Ultimately, the choice of wood is a matter of personal preference, and it's up to the reader to decide which one they prefer.
More in-depth on each wood
Janka Hardness: 1010 lbf
Wood Grain Porosity: Medium Closed Grain
Sustainability: Yes, Especially in US
Walnut is a stunning choice for a cutting board, a top choice for many culinary professionals. The shades run from dark brown to yellow depending on which section of the tree the wood is from (yellow ( usually called sapwood, in the outer rings and darker toward the center). Dark walnut is elegant and especially lovely in kitchens with contemporary décor. The hardness is medium-hard, 1010 lbf, solid enough to last for many years, particularly when appropriately conditioned, but without dulling knives. Like maple, walnut wood has a close grain that repels water and is naturally antimicrobial.
On the other hand, walnut cutting boards are more expensive than maple, but look, isn't it gorgeous? 🙂
Janka Hardness: 1450 lbf
Wood Grain Porosity: Small Closed Grain
Sustainability: Yes, Especially in Canada
Maple trees, more specifically sugar maples, are abundant in North American and European forests and have been used for centuries to construct a variety of products, including furniture, tools, floors, and wooden kitchen surfaces. If you visit antique stores, you'll see quite a few pieces of furniture made with maple that has held up to the test of time.
Maples are hardy as they have adapted to the frigid cold winters of the Canadian north and the ever-hotter summers in the United States. The wood's weight is impressive, 1450 lbf. This helps cutting boards last.
Maples have a tight grain which means cutting surfaces made from these trees don't soak up liquids as quickly as looser grains, a good quality for boards that get used and washed regularly. It also means the wood is less likely to stain over time.
Wood cutting boards made from maple are also naturally antimicrobial, meaning they are safe from bacteria that can cause food safety concerns.
Maples are plentiful in their native forests in North America and Europe. They take only 30 years to mature fully and can be harvested before maturity.
A maple board provides quality advantages at a price that won't break the bank. Although the cost varies depending on the make of the board and other factors, overall, the costs will be within the budgets of anyone shopping for a home or workplace.
Natural maple is a neutral tone that matches any kitchen color scheme. But you don't have to limit yourself: maple cutting boards come in many lovely shades and patterns.
Janka Hardness: 995 lbf
Wood Grain Porosity: Medium Closed Grain
Another one of the best woods for cutting boards is cherry. Like walnut wood, cherry is medium hard, 995 lbf, which makes a solid board that holds up over time without dulling knives. Cherry wood is particularly lovely, with warm, rich tones, and there are many different and beautiful designs available to enhance the aesthetics of any kitchen. Cherry also has a tight grain that prevents water absorption and warping and is antimicrobial, like maple and walnut.
Prices for cherry cutting boards are higher than maple, like walnut. Cherry wood can also darken over time, which may only be aesthetically appealing to some consumers.
Janka Hardness:1,220 lbf
Wood Grain Porosity: Ring Poros
There are two types of oak, red and white. The looks are different, with white oak having a paler tone and a striped pattern and the red a pinkish-brownish color and a unique swirling pattern. Oak, like maple, walnut, and cherry, is a hardwood, but unlike the top three performers, red oak has wide pores that retain water, swell, and warp. Unfortunately, this quality also means that an oak cutting board is not antimicrobial, with food particles getting lodged in the grains, which encourages the growth of bacteria.
White Oak is sometimes used in cutting boards, though.
Janka Hardness -1155 lbf
Wood Grain Porosity - Medium open grain
Sustainability: Imported, questionable
Teak, a tropical hardwood found in Southeast Asia, has recently become quite popular for cutting boards. Teak isn't very hard on the scale, 1,155 lbf. But the wood contains silica, an element found in glass, which enhances its hardness and durability but gets a bit harder on knife blades.
Because the wood contains a high oil content, it is naturally waterproof; this makes teak popular in outdoor furniture and boat construction. For the same reason, teak is a good choice for cutting boards. Teak is also stunning, with a natural look with brown, warm yellow, and gold shades.
However, because teak is found overseas, the sourcing isn't as sustainable for North American consumers. Teak boards also tend to have a hefty price tag. Some people complained of wearing down knives because of the teak's hardness.
Janka Hardness -1,300 lbf
Wood Grain Porosity - Close tight grain
Sustainability: Imported, unknown
Beech is another hardwood, 1300 lbf, and quite popular in Europe. Like maple, walnut, and cherry, the grain is close or tight, which means there's no water absorption problem, no stains, and the wood is antimicrobial. In addition, beech boards are affordable and, therefore, practical.
Because beech boards tend to have light tones, some complain about staining; however, this feature is common in light-colored woods like maple and cherry. Some have also found that beech boards shrink over time, and it can also become brittle if it's not conditioned properly. Also, for North Americans, there's an issue with sustainable sourcing.
Janka Hardness -1,500 lbf
Wood Grain Porosity - Diffuse-porous, Close Tight Grain
Sustainability: Imported, unknown
Sapele has a vivid look with a lovely graining pattern. Some refer to Sapele as the "inexpensive mahogany," which means an affordable price tag for Sapele cutting boards. It's a tough wood, 1,410 lbf.
Sapele wood has an open grain, which translates into boards susceptible to surface damage with a shorter lifespan. One elegant solution is a cutting board made of maple or walnut with Sapele accents.
Lesser-known exotic woods
Exquisitely beautiful cutting boards on the market today are made from woods like padauk, yellowheart, zebrawood, and rosewood. Some of these boards are the top choices of famous chefs and are priced accordingly. However, because of the cost, performance issues, and potential sensitivity to oils, one can think of exotic wood cutting boards as works of art best suited for display or food service rather than traditionally functional ones.
Frequently Asked Questions
Can you put a wood cutting board in the dishwasher?
Putting a wooden cutting board in the dishwasher is not recommended as extreme heat and moisture can cause the wood to warp or crack. Instead, it is best to wash wooden cutting boards by hand with warm soapy water and then dry them thoroughly.
Conditioning - How to Care for a Wooden Cutting Board?
Clean the board thoroughly with warm soapy water and a sponge or brush after each use.
Rinse the board and dry it thoroughly with a towel or air dry it.
Avoid exposing the board to extreme temperatures or leaving it in standing water, as this can cause the wood to crack or warp.
Condition the board regularly with mineral oil, beeswax, or food-grade mineral oil to keep it moisturized and prevent cracking.
Following these guidelines can keep your wooden cutting board in good condition for many years. Read this article for an in-depth care guide
How long will a wood cutting board last?
A wooden cutting board can last many years with proper care and maintenance. How long a cutting board will last depends on the type of wood, how often it is used, and how well it is cared for. Hardwoods such as maple, walnut, and cherry tend to be more durable and can last for decades with proper care.
Regular cleaning, conditioning, and avoiding excessive moisture and heat will help prolong the life of a wooden cutting board. But it's also important to remember that all cutting boards will eventually show signs of wear and need to be refinished. The key is to pay attention to the condition of your cutting board before it starts to split, crack or become too thin or rough to use effectively.
What cutting boards are used in Professional Kitchens?
In professional kitchens, the needs for cutting boards are quite different from those in a regular household. Chefs in commercial kitchens often prefer to use specially made rubber-coated cutting boards because they are gentle on knives and do not harbor bacteria. These cutting boards are easy to clean and maintain, which is crucial in a busy kitchen environment. Additionally, they are durable enough to withstand heavy use. However, one downside to these cutting boards is that they may not be as visually appealing as wooden boards, which are often used in home kitchens.
What cutting boards do professional chefs use?
Contrary to their professional kitchen preferences, when professional chefs cook at home for pleasure, they often prefer to use beautiful wooden cutting boards. These cutting boards are gentle on expensive knives and add a visually appealing touch to any kitchen. In particular, end-grain butcher blocks made of hardwoods like walnut are a favorite among professional chefs for their durability and aesthetic appeal.
Are plastic cutting boards better than wood?
While plastic cutting boards may be less expensive and easier to maintain than wooden cutting boards, they also have some downsides.
One downside is that plastic cutting boards are less durable than wood and must be replaced more frequently. In addition, the surface of plastic cutting boards can become scarred with knife marks, and over time, parts of the board may chip or degrade. Investing in a high-end wooden cutting board may be more cost-effective in the long run.
Another downside is that plastic cutting boards are less sanitary than wood if are not cleaned properly. We advice to clean the plastic cutting board in the dishwasher at high temp or sanitary cycle to avoid bacteria and disinfect them regularly.
Here's the thing, when knives slash through plastic, they leave cuts that can trap bacteria. Because plastic is not porous like wood, moisture can become trapped in these cuts and promote bacterial growth.
Worth mentioning that plastic cutting boards are not that bad, and they can be handy in any kitchen, especially if you keep them for small messy jobs like cutting meats or when you need a quick handy lightweight board.
Are Bamboo cutting boards better than wood?
Bamboo cutting boards may appeal to some consumers due to their perceived natural and eco-friendly qualities and affordable price. However, it is essential to note that many bamboo cutting boards are made in China under questionable practices, and the resin compounds used in the curing process may be toxic.
Here is an example of a bamboo board poor quality and lots of glue residue.
On the other hand, our wooden cutting boards are always made with high-quality, food-grade glue called TiteBond 3.
Read out detailed guide on bamboo vs wood cutting boards.
Can you cut meat on a wood cutting board?
It is perfectly fine to cut meat on a wooden cutting board as long as it is properly sanitized afterward. A good practice is to use a separate board specifically for raw meat and fish to avoid cross-contamination. See our article on how to sanitize a wood board.
Are all hardwoods suitable for cutting boards?
Not all hardwoods are good for cutting boards. Hardwoods commonly used for cutting boards include maple, cherry, and walnut. These woods are dense, durable, and have a tight grain structure which helps to resist knife marks and bacteria. They're also less likely to warp or crack over time. Other hardwoods like acacia and teak are also suitable.
Woods not to use for cutting boards
1. Softwoods like pine, cedar, and redwood are not recommended for cutting boards as they are too soft and can absorb bacteria and cause knife marks. They can also be more prone to warping and cracking over time. Boards made out of softwood will loose their shape and structure in a few months of use. It's always best to go with recommended woods that have been tested to be suitable for cutting boards.
2. Open grain woods - We would advice against using red oak or ash as they huge pores visible with the naked eye and they are wide open. These pores can easily trap liquids and food, providing a breeding ground for bacteria over time.
3. Toxic hardwoods like Rosewood are probably better to avoid, please do your research and see if the specific wood is dangerous for your or your family. As we stated before, many sources are exaggerating wood toxicity in cutting boards. We believe this is more of a problem when the wood workers are inhaling the dust while making the board.
4. Hardwoods that are way to hard - This is not a huge problem if you are ok with your knifes wearing down faster then on a cutting board made from walnut for example.
Worth mentioning that often extremely tough woods are pretty beautiful, and are very popular among artisans that make beautiful custom boards.
Wood cutting boards are a beautiful and functional addition to any kitchen. But knowing what is the best wood for cutting boards before you buy is important, so your decision is the best for your particular circumstances. Check out our collection of handcrafted cutting boards here; whether your priorities are aesthetics, food safety, or high functionality, our stock has top-quality choices that will perform and delight for years to come.