Let's learn about cutting boards!
At Small Axe, we typically begin with rough lumber, cut them into pieces and glue them up to make cutting boards. The lumber we purchase is typically plain sawn but sometimes we buy quarter sawn as well. Learn about these terms and the different ways a tree is cut into rough lumber at advantage lumber.
Also, you may want to learn more about wood movement to understand why it is best to have certain grain directions for your cutting boards. Check out The Workshop Companion to learn more.
Ok let's get to it!
There are 3 main styles of cutting boards -
End grain, Edge Grain, and Face grain.
each of the cutting board styles refer to the direction the grain appears in relation to the cutting surface of board.
End Grain Cutting Boards
On an end grain cutting board, you are cutting on the end pieces of the wood. The wood blocks are turned upwards so that the end grain is your actual cutting surface. There are some great reasons to make a cutting board in this style. Because the grain runs perpendicular to the cutting surface, gaps and tracks are created for the knife blade to slightly penetrate the wood surface. This is much easier on your knife blades so they won't dull quickly. Picture a broom or a toothbrush and imagine a knife chopping down into the bristle; they separate and allow the blade to penetrate. When the blade exits, the bristles move back into place, leaving them unscathed. The same concept applies to end grain cutting boards. The grains of the wood aren't cut or damaged easily, they typically shift to allow the blade to penetrate the surface and return after the blade has exited. This is why the end grain cutting boards are very durable and of the highest quality. These are also the most expensive style of boards because they require the most time and work to make. They have to be glued as edge or face grain boards, cut up and glued again as end grain boards.
Edge Grain Cutting Boards
On an edge grain cutting board, you are cutting on the edge of the wood. This is the most common cutting board style that you will find in most professional kitchens as well as homes. Typically, you would use plain sawn lumber, cut them into strips, turn those strips on their side, and glue them together. At this point, if you were to look at the end grain of the cutting board you would see the grain running up and down, or vertical to the cutting surface. There are benefits to making cutting boards in this style as well. First, by having the grain run vertically, your cutting board will be more stable because the biggest movement of wood runs tangentially, or across the grain. Also, this style of cutting board are that it is relatively easier to make than end grain cutting boards and they are also very durable. This style is also easier on your knife blades than face grain cutting boards. You may notice the grain is not always perfectly 90 degrees in some of the strips of wood. That is OK, as long as it is no less than a 45 degree angle, we still consider it an edge grain cutting board.
Face Grain Cutting Boards
On a face grain cutting board, you are cutting on the face of the wood. This is the least common style of cutting board but can be very beautiful and is the most natural of the three styles of cutting boards. If you look at the end grain of the cutting board you would see the grain running left and right, or horizontal to your cutting surface. There are benefits to making cutting boards in this style as well. To start, this board is durable, has a hard cutting surface, usually requires the least gluing and offers some very visually appealing design options. It is economical as well in the sense that you can use plain sawn lumber and make fewer cuts or changes to it in comparison to the other styles of cutting boards. And although this style of is the least forgiving of the 3 styles on your knife blades, it is still a much better option than plastic or glass.
Choosing the right Cutting Board Size
The size of the cutting board really depends on your own personal needs, preference, and available space. Ideally, we would all be using the entire counter for food prep... but since that's not always possible, and would be kind of gross, we designate specific areas or prep stations. The bigger the cutting surface, the easier and more enjoyable your cooking experience will be, that's why we recommend going as big as you can while taking into account the following -
Where will you keep the board? Stashed away in a drawer or will you leave it on the counter top? It will have to fit nicely in the drawer or on the counter space you choose for it. So take measurements!
On what part of the counter will you predominantly be using the board? How much space is there and where will it be located? Close to a garbage, sink or stove? Measure the space you have!
What will you be using the cutting board for? Raw products? Produce? As a serving board? All of the above? You want to have as much surface area as possible to comfortably cut your food so that pieces are not falling off. You want as much weight as possible to limit the cutting board from moving around while you are cutting.
How big is your sink? How big of a board could you fit in your sink to wash? The bigger the board, the trickier it may be to wash. You can still get a big cutting board if you have a very small sink. Check out our cutting board washing instructions here.
Cutting board thickness - The Board thickness in important when dealing with wood. The thinner the board, the more suseptible it will be to changes in moisture, and as such; the chances for warping, splitting, cupping, cracking increase. That being said, if the board is proportionately smaller in size, it isn't totally necessary to be very thick. We have found that 1.5 inches and thicker is ideal for large cutting boards and 3/4 - 1 inch works just fine for smaller ones. We personally love thicker cutting boards. Besides character and visual appeal, they provide strength, durability, weight and stability when prepping your food.
Tip! If you find your board moving around during use, just put a dish towel or placemat underneath it. We send out all of our boards completely flat but because wood is a natural product slight movement may occur. Additionally, some countertops are just more slippery than others which can cause movement. Another solution is to put rubber feet on your board. We can do that for you here in our shop and it is a great solution to assist in drying the board properly as well because air will be able to circulate freely over all parts of the board. The only downside to using rubber feet is that it then limits you to using only one side of your cutting board.
Want to learn how all of these boards are made? We'd love to show you. Check it out here.
Wood cutting boards are more sanitary than plastic.
Check out this article from the Huffington Post.
It is important to visualize the cutting board in your home before purchasing it as it will be a sizable piece of wood in your living space. It should complement the color scheme of your kitchen, cabinets, appliances, floors, etc. Take into account colors that would work well in the space as well as your personal preference and personality.
Types of wood used for making cutting boards
There are many types of wood used to make cutting boards. First, there are softwoods and hardwoods. Softwoods are generally not used for cutting boards however some people use them to make serving boards and bread boards. At Small Axe, we only work with hardwoods because they are more durable and sanitary. There are so many different types of hardwoods to choose from, some are better than others when it comes to making a cutting board based on how "open" the grain is. For a cutting board, you want a more "closed" grain wood to limit moisture, bacteria, etc. from penetrating the board. The traditional woods used in cutting boards here in the U.S. are hard maple, walnut and cherry. These three woods are domestic and can come from sustainable forests.
Hard maple, sometimes called Rock Maple or Sugar Maple, is one of the most common types of wood used to make cutting boards. Grown in the US in sustainable forests. Very hard and durable, usually white or off white (cream) and light in color.
Walnut is another beautiful and durable wood used in making cutting boards. Grown in the US in sustainable forests. Walnut is very hard as well, but not as hard as Maple. Walnut is dark in color ranging from light brown or mocha to almost black and may even contain a grayish or purplish hue.
Cherry is another very common hardwood used to make cutting boards. Also grown in the US in sustainable forests. Cherry is the softer of the 3 hardwoods mentioned here. Hard enough for a lifetime of cutting but slightly more forgiving on your knives. Cherry ranges from strawberry blonde, pinkish (sherbet color) to an orange and sometimes a reddish color.
Other hardwoods used to make cutting boards are purple heart, yellow heart, padauk, bloodwood, wenge, canary wood, certain variations of traditional hard maple such as curly, ambrosia and spalted maple as well as many other hardwoods.