Cutting boards are in constant contact with your food and kitchen knives, making it important to choose just the best wood for the job.
The history of the wood cutting board is the history of our ancestors using an unpolished tree stump or log to chop up their catch of the day. For as long as people have been cutting their food, they have needed surfaces to cut on. And the wood was perfect for the job. A cutting board acts at any given moment as a chopping block, food preparation surface, or serving station—sometimes all three. So it’s essential that this can’t-live-without kitchen accessory be made of durable material.
Pro chefs swear by wood because it’s more impact resistant and sanitary than plastic, gentler on knife blades than bamboo, and cheaper than marble or granite. But not all types of wood are superior options.
The choice of wood for your cutting board dictates how it fares against knives, stains, and moisture.
- When choosing a good cutting board, you should consider dimensions, wood hardness, type of wood grain, and toxicity.
- All wood cutting boards are made from one of three types of grains: face grain, edge grain, or end grain.
- The main types of wood for cutting boards are maple, walnut, cherry, beech, teak, and bamboo (which is actually a hard grass).
What to Look For in a Good Cutting Board Wood
Consider the following key attributes of a wood species before deciding on the best woods for cutting boards or butcher blocks:
1. Janka Hardness Rating
The higher the hardness rating of wood, the harder and more resistant it is to scratches, dents, or dings from knives. Opt for hardwoods like maple over softwoods like pine; the former usually have a higher hardness rating and are less damage-prone than lower-rated softwoods.
Numbers at the low end of the spectrum indicate a softer wood (balsa takes the lowest spot at 22), while highs of 4,000-5,000 denote a harder wood (the Australian buloke is 5,060). A wood that is too soft will be easily scratched and damaged.
Too hard may cause a knife to come down hard on the surface and possibly dull with repeated use. For one that is just right, a good number is anywhere between 900-1,500. That includes cherry (995), walnut (1,010), bamboo (1,180), and maple (1,450).
2. Wood Grain (Porosity)
Choose closed-grain woods (pores invisible to the naked eye) to keep liquid or bacteria from entering the cutting surface and cause mold growth, wood warping, or stains.
The smaller pores are better than large pores. Open-grained woods (large pores visible) such as oak and ash are a poor choice because they soak up moisture like a sponge and quickly become a breeding ground for bacteria.
Stick to woods that produce edible fruits, nuts, leaves, or sap; these are considered to be food-safe. Exotic woods like Purpleheart, while attractive, should be avoided as they often contain toxins that may leach out of the wood and into food placed on the cutting surface.
Food-grade mineral oil should be applied to wood cutting boards and butcher blocks to suppress wood’s natural tendency to shrink and warp or split as surrounding humidity decreases. Typically, you should condition quarterly after cleaning wooden cutting boards, but some woods shrink more than others, so you’d need to oil these woods more frequently.
The prices of store-bought cutting surfaces vary widely depending on the wood used to make them. Some cutting boards are made from bamboo which take relatively short time to grow and usually the cheapest materials to make cutting boards.
If you want to save money more and got some DIY wood work tools at home, you can buy quality hardwoods and make some impressive cutting boards for home use.
The Best Choices for Cutting Board Wood
Based on the above criteria, this is the winning combination for a cutting board that’s durable, scratch-resistant, and won’t get grimy. The best wood species for this can be whittled down to the following few:
Maple is the industry standard when it comes to wooden cutting boards — specifically hard maple or sugar maple wood. At 1,450 lbf on the Janka scale, it provides an excellent cutting surface that wears well against daily chopping but doesn’t ruin a good cutting edge. Its dense closed grain and small pores are also effective for blocking bacteria.
While maple’s neutral color and subtle grain are a natural match for every kitchen, it’s hard to hide stains on its lighter-toned surface — we wouldn’t recommend leaving freshly sliced beets or turmeric roots on a maple cutting board.
Also, you'll need to condition your maple wood cutting board at least once per month. You can find quality mineral oils to apply on the cutting board.
- It's among the most durable woods you can get
- Dense and heavy, to handle all forms of cutting in the kitchen
- Known for being scratch resistant
- Known to have very subtle grain
- Measures 1,450 lbf on the Janka hardness scale.
- Maple tends to show stains easily, thus can be limiting
- Requires regular conditioning, to maintain it and ensure it lasts longer
Walnut is another heavy favorite and is almost the exact opposite of maple. It’s one of the softest closed-grain hardwoods, at 1,010 lbf, which is great on knives but also more prone to scratches.
Walnut is prized for its rich, dark hue that can effectively mask everyday stains, as well as lend a chic look to your countertop.
So, if you are a style lover and would love to reflect your personality even on cutting boards, then walnut should be your best wood. It's chocolate hue will definitely appeal to you.
While being soft is a great thing, as it ensures the knives stay sharp, it also has its downside. For people who are rough in the kitchen, the cutting board will show dents and cuts, reducing its durability. But for soft-handed and gentle people, it's still a great option.
- Does not stain too easily like others such as maple cutting boards
- Offers you a chic and stylish look
- Gentle on knives because of it's softness
- Makes an impressionable and nice presentation board
- Works greatly as a chopping block
- Needs regular conditioning
- It's longevity may reduce with rough kitchen cutting
If going by color alone, cherry is the pick of the bunch. A thick slab of deep redwood looks amazing no matter what you do with it.
This is the softest wood for cutting board. Of all types of wood this one is most susceptible to cut and dents but stands out when it comes to looks. But since you might want to keep cherry wood for style and look, you can combine with other hardwoods like maple for durability. After all, isn't two always better than one?
With this you can have a cutting board of maple wood combined with a cherry wood edge for a striking look and to add style to your kitchen.
- Cherry requires little maintenance
- It will not dull your knives
- Gives an impressionable look in your kitchen
- Not very durable, because of the softness
- Can get stains easily
- This wood is rather soft for hard kitchen cutting
Beech is a tree that hails from Europe and has many similarities to maple. It’s almost equally hard (at 1,300 lbf), just as hard-wearing, and effective at warding off the dirt. Beech has a creamier, soft-pink tone, which slowly stains to a beautiful red with time.
These types of wood are food safe, thanks to the tightly arranged grains that prevent water absorption that can result in wood warping.
What most people love about beech is the durability and hardness of chopping boards and their resistance to impacts and scratches. Besides that, they do not damage knife blades that easily.
With the darkening as time goes by, it means beech is good at hiding deep marks and stains.
Though beech wood has awesome attributes, it's also susceptible to shrinking over time. But you can reduce the shrinking by cleaning it after use, conditioning once per month and also you can add an extra stain-resistant layer for more protection and increased durability.
If you are not sure of the right cutting board conditioning oil, you cannot go wrong with John Boos products.
- Gets more attractive and beautiful with age
- Features small pores and tight grains
- Known to keep bacteria away
- Drains water effectively
- A measure of 1,300 lbf on the Janka hardness scale.
- Needs regular maintenance and conditioning
- This wood type is prone to shrinking over a long time
Teak cutting boards rose to popularity a few years ago. Tropical orange-brown hardwood is grown in Southeast Asia, teak’s resistance to mold and warping — even in wet environments — makes it the best wood for boat fixtures, outdoor furniture, and recently, kitchen tools such as cutting boards.
Thanks to teak’s closed face grain and rich natural oils, water is unable to seep in. And as compared to other types of wood, there’s much less need for any added mineral oil or conditioning.
Teak prides itself in its dark brown hue, which is excellent in masking common kitchen stains. This makes teak the best wood for cutting boards used often to chop things like beetroot or turmeric, that stain quite easily.
Teak is high in silica content (the same substance found in sand and glass) and has a hardness of 1,070 lbf. This makes it a relatively sturdy and scratch-resistant surface but may also dull your knife blade with frequent use, because of its high silica content. But if sharpening knives is a sport for you, then this shouldn't be a problem for you.
- Teak retains oil well.
- Requires minimal upkeep or maintenance
- It's scratch and dent resistant
- Masks stains rather well
- Features a tight and dense grain.
- One of the most sturdy wood for cutting board.
- Will dull your knives quickly
- Teak is among the most expensive wood for cutting board
Bamboo is the environmentalist’s choice. Technically not a wood but a hard grass, it is sustainable, renewable, and needs no chemicals to grow or harvest. (A bamboo sprout reaches full maturity in 3-6 years, while maple trees take over 30 years.)
Bamboo has a hardness rating of 1,380 lbf — greater than many varieties of wood. It is high in silica and resistant to water and scratches, but it’s also relatively hard on knives.
- Boasts a hardness rating of 1,380 lbf
- Bamboo cutting boards are water and scratch resistant
- Among the best wood for cutting boards
- Most affordable wood for cutting board
- Food safe cutting board or butcher board wood
- High in silica - likely to dull your knives
Choosing Between Wood Grain Patterns
Within the category of wooden cutting boards come, you’ll find three design varieties: face-grain, end-grain, and edge-grain. These cuts aren’t just for show; each pattern boasts a different level of durability.
Face grain is considered the most attractive because it shows the full wood fibers. Long, narrow slats are glued together at their shorter ends, with the grain running horizontally along with the board (similar to a wood tabletop or cupboard door).
Face grain is the most affordable of all the grains. However, it’s also the most susceptible to scratches from a knife’s blade. Since cutting is done across the grain, any damage on the board is also very easy to see.
2. End Grain Cutting Boards
Four to fifteen times more expensive than edge-grain surfaces, end-grain cutting boards and butcher blocks are made by fusing together cut wooden boards so that the short ends of the boards form a level surface that faces up.
The cutting surface of the end grain boards looks like a checkerboard comprising the ends of a 2×4. Because the short ends of wooden boards are more fibrous and have an open wood-cell structure, the cutting surface of an end-grain board is softer, more gentle on your knife, and also gives your knife a better grip during cutting. Minor dents are usually only temporary as the open wood-cell structure of the cutting surface allows it to self-heal i.e., spring back into shape after minor impressions have been formed.
3. Edge-grain cutting surfaces
Edge grain cutting boards are made by fusing cut wooden boards so that the side edges of the boards form a level surface that faces up. The pattern on the surface resembles a series of long, lean strips like the sides of a 2×4.
While these cutting boards and butcher blocks are heavier and hence offer more stability while cutting than end-grain surfaces, they’re significantly cheaper than end-grain boards because of their simpler construction.
However, the edge grain boards form harder surfaces and has less give, so is more likely to dull your knives over time. It also has less ability to self-heal, so it’s more likely to show cutting marks.
How It all Stacks Up
There’s so much more to a cutting board than just providing a flat surface. From board size to pore size, it’s all the tiny features that will make or break a seemingly good cutting board.
Start with your ideal cutting board in mind and answer the following questions.
- What will you be cutting?
- How often will you use it?
- Do you want your board to double as a serving platter?
- How long do you plan to be using the cutting board?
- What tools and skills do I have with respect to making cutting boards?
- What best wood is readily available?
- How do reputable cutting board makers do it?
- Do you want to purchase a cutting board or buy a ready made one?
From there, you’re sure to find the perfect wood cutting board.
How to Clean and Maintain Your Cutting Board
Now that you've known the best wood for cutting boards and butcher blocks, it helps to know the recommended cleaning and maintenance routines to ensure optimal functionality and longevity.
Even with a rather durable type of wood with poor maintenance will be short lived.
1. Wooden cutting boards are not water friendly.
As such, you should clean your butcher block or cutting block immediately after use and let it drain all the water. The use of regular cleaning products is alright, especially after cutting raw meat.
2. Use the right type of wood that suits your butcher block or chopping board needs.
Before buying wood boards ensure they can withstand the kind of kitchen use they'll be subjected to. For example, if you use your board regularly and are a rough chef, choosing the soft woods is not a good idea. But something like hard maple will do.
Also, heavy kitchen cutting work requires closed grain cutting boards, if longevity is to be realized.
3. A dishwasher is not a good idea
Kitchen boards made from wood should not be cleaned in a dishwasher. The high temperatures and fast cooling causes stress on the wood surfaces. This can cause warping and shrinking, reducing durability significantly.
4. Consider Conditioning as a Regular Routine
Conditioning is the process of applying cutting board mineral oil on the board to reduce drying and shrinking. Some quality conditioning products have antibacterial properties, increasing the hygiene standards in your kitchen.