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Cutting Board Thickness & Wood Choices


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#1 Shel_B

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Posted 14 March 2010 - 12:07 PM

A friend, who is a skilled woodworker, has offered to make an end grain cutting board for me. Wow! That's exciting.

How thick should the board be - I've seen good quality boards from 1 1/4-inch all the way to 2 1/4-inch? What factors enter ito deciding the thickness.

The board will have a pattern, and one thought is to use hard maple with purple heart. Besides purple heart, what other wood might work well? What about walnut?

Thanks!

Edited by Shel_B, 14 March 2010 - 12:20 PM.

.... Shel


#2 cmling

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Posted 14 March 2010 - 01:20 PM

This is not an answer, but I am happy you asked this question! I myself have wondered what the advantage of thicker cutting boards could be.
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#3 paulraphael

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Posted 14 March 2010 - 01:55 PM

Thicker = heavier (less likely to move around), less prone to warping, and longer lasting (eventually you'll have to sand out knife grooves). I think 1-1/2" is probably minimum for an endgrain board. But you don't want it to be too thick; it effects the height of your work surface and unless you're tall the added height can become a problem. You also want it light enough that you can move it to your sink easily for cleaning.

Rubber feet are important. Without them, the board will trap water underneath and warp. The Boardsmith can chime in on prefered woods, and also on how to align the grain to prevent warping. Maple is always a safe choice. People I've know who did this as a home woodworking project said that it's a LOT of work!

#4 Blether

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Posted 14 March 2010 - 03:32 PM

Thicker = heavier (less likely to move around), less prone to warping, and longer lasting (eventually you'll have to sand out knife grooves). I think 1-1/2" is probably minimum for an endgrain board. But you don't want it to be too thick; it effects the height of your work surface and unless you're tall the added height can become a problem. You also want it light enough that you can move it to your sink easily for cleaning.

Rubber feet are important. Without them, the board will trap water underneath and warp. The Boardsmith can chime in on prefered woods, and also on how to align the grain to prevent warping. Maple is always a safe choice. People I've know who did this as a home woodworking project said that it's a LOT of work!


This is good advice. My end-grain maple board (price was a consideration) is 1 1/4", and that's working out. Custom-made, my choice would be something like 1 1/2" to 2". These thicknesses are for my board size of 14" x 18". Required thickness will vary with size.

As an alternative perspective, I'll offer that rubber feet make it harder to use both sides. I like the fact that I've a groove on one side to catch liquid run-off, which is good both for wet raw stuff like tomatoes or certain meats, and (well washed, of course) also for carving roasts. It is a good idea not to have the board sitting in water. I keep mine stacked on end when not in use.

And yes, listen to the woodworker on wood choice. I think you'll want to have well-seasoned stock, whatever type it is, and what's available might even mean that that's a higher priority than free choice of types.

Edited by Blether, 14 March 2010 - 03:34 PM.

QUIET!  People are trying to pontificate.


#5 paulraphael

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Posted 14 March 2010 - 04:50 PM

Just to clarify, when I said ask the Boardsmith, I didn't mean ask your friend, I meant ask David Smith, who posts here from time to time. He's done his research on wood and glue and construction choices for cutting boards, and gets a lot of feedback from the chef and knife nut communities. He's also been generous with advice for masochists who want to make their own.

#6 C. sapidus

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Posted 14 March 2010 - 06:02 PM

I myself have wondered what the advantage of thicker cutting boards could be.

Besides durability, thicker cutting boards have another advantage. If you are tall, you can use a thicker cutting board to raise your work height to a more comfortable level. As Paulraphael pointed out, this can be a disadvantage, too, depending on your height.

Boardsmith (David Smith) does excellent work, by the way. We have been very happy with the beautiful board that he made for us.

#7 tme4tls

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Posted 15 March 2010 - 03:46 AM

Great question. Here is the reply I posted at Chef Talk.

There is a general rule for choosing the wood for a cutting board: Any wood from a tree with running sap, hard maple - maple syrup, or a tree with an edible nut, walnut, pecan oak, etc... Good woods - Hard maple, black cherry, black walnut, oak(?), pecan/hickory, alder, beech plus others.

Soft woods like pine, poplar, cedar or cypress should be avoided. Too soft and will not last long. Woods like cedar or cypress contain natural oils which keep the insects away. If the insects don't eat it, neither should you.

Some of the exotics do look terrific but should be avoided. Great for furniture but not necessarily great for a cutting surface. Some contain oils which can be toxic to humans. (Just because your friend down the street has a brother-in-law whos third cousins neighbor may have a board made from an exotic and hasn't had any ill effects doesn't mean that you won't. Some are downright dangerous.) I have seen boards made from black locust. Black locust will kill a mule if eaten. To be safe, stick with the rule of thumb as stated above.

Thickness; the thicker the better. Thin boards tend to warp, crack and split. Thicker boards are more stable although a little harder to wash in the sink. Be careful of how you pair the woods together. Softer woods wear quicker than harder woods and the resulting cutting surface can be uneven making it tough to cut on. That "handsome" match today might look like a wavy surface in the near future. Also, soft and hard woods absorb moisture at different rates which might cause some cracking in the future. You can research the hardness rating of woods using the Janka scale available on line. Look for woods that closely match each other in hardness.

David The BoardSMITH

Edited by tme4tls, 15 March 2010 - 03:47 AM.


#8 Shel_B

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Posted 15 March 2010 - 07:02 AM

Hi, I'll post these questions here as well:

Hello, David ...

Thanks for jumping in. Your post was very helpful but it does give me a few more questions.

How much difference in hardness is there between hard maple at 1450 and purpler heart at 2000-something? How close on the scale is considered similar hardness, or, how close is close enough.

Based on your comments, I may not want to use the "interwoven" pattern similar to the one I first saw in this clip:
Cutting Board Video but I do want something more than just a broad expanse of solid maple. My current thinking would be to use a darker wood as a border around the main work surface. Would that eliminate the warping/waviness you described? How would such a design effect the longevity of the board?

If the dark wood border was not done in end grain, but the long way (I forget what that's called) and framed the working space of the cutting board, would that result in a strogner or less strong board?

I once had a dark walnut block and liked the way it flt to the knife and also liked the dark color. However, it seems that walnut is softer than hard maple. Would walnut be a good material choice fo a board? What about using it as the border material? Considering that the border would see very little use, if any, does it matter much what the border material would be?

I think that's it for now. Thanks!






Great question. Here is the reply I posted at Chef Talk.

There is a general rule for choosing the wood for a cutting board: Any wood from a tree with running sap, hard maple - maple syrup, or a tree with an edible nut, walnut, pecan oak, etc... Good woods - Hard maple, black cherry, black walnut, oak(?), pecan/hickory, alder, beech plus others.

Soft woods like pine, poplar, cedar or cypress should be avoided. Too soft and will not last long. Woods like cedar or cypress contain natural oils which keep the insects away. If the insects don't eat it, neither should you.

Some of the exotics do look terrific but should be avoided. Great for furniture but not necessarily great for a cutting surface. Some contain oils which can be toxic to humans. (Just because your friend down the street has a brother-in-law whos third cousins neighbor may have a board made from an exotic and hasn't had any ill effects doesn't mean that you won't. Some are downright dangerous.) I have seen boards made from black locust. Black locust will kill a mule if eaten. To be safe, stick with the rule of thumb as stated above.

Thickness; the thicker the better. Thin boards tend to warp, crack and split. Thicker boards are more stable although a little harder to wash in the sink. Be careful of how you pair the woods together. Softer woods wear quicker than harder woods and the resulting cutting surface can be uneven making it tough to cut on. That "handsome" match today might look like a wavy surface in the near future. Also, soft and hard woods absorb moisture at different rates which might cause some cracking in the future. You can research the hardness rating of woods using the Janka scale available on line. Look for woods that closely match each other in hardness.

David The BoardSMITH


.... Shel


#9 tme4tls

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Posted 15 March 2010 - 08:10 AM

For choosing woods, look for something closer in hardness. I use maple and walnut on a few of the boards I make and sell, 1450 and 1010 on the Janka scale. A good light to dark contrast and fairly even for hardness. Walnut tends to be a little more open grained than maple so it is better in this use for a border. For a solid color board, walnut makes a striking looking board all by itself.

If you are using the good super sharp Japanese knives, the harder wood is less forgiving to the edges and will dull them quicker and can cause chipping. Even if you are using the less hard European knives, there will still be a greater chance of quicker dulling and chipping. If you are using Cutco, just get a brick to cut on.

The board shown in the video has a small defect, the block pattern. All the glue joints line up along the length and width which makes it weaker. If you look at all the major manufacturers, their block pattern may line up along the length but not the width or along the width and not the length. The better boards have a running bond pattern, like the bricks on your house. (By necessity, the board pictured below has to have two joints running across the board as well.) Another defect, the wrong glue. TiteBond II is water resistant and may cone apart with prolonged exposure to moisture. TiteBond III is water proof and will not come apart even with prolonged exposure to moisture.

If you try to combine end grain and long grain, you are inviting a disaster. When wood absorbs moisture, it expands along its width and thickness, not along its length. With a long grain border, the blocks in the center will expand and contract in different directions than the border and something will have to give. I have seen and heard first hand what happens. Sounds like an explosion. And I have had to replace others boards that were made this way.

Hope this helps.

David The BoardSMITH

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Edited by tme4tls, 15 March 2010 - 08:15 AM.


#10 cbread

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Posted 15 March 2010 - 11:47 PM

A couple of quick responses in no particular order....

Rubber feet - yes - wouldn't have a board without them, since they keep the bottom of a board dry.

The grooves on the boards in the fancy kitchen stores seem to just waste expensive acreage to me. I've never wanted them. I just want the flat side with no grooves. And I like a very large board; I send bits of whatever I am cutting great distances. I want a board that has room for my sloppiness.

I don't care about the second side since I take good care of the first.

I never soak a cutting board. I scrape the board clean down to utterly fresh wood. No waxes, "preservatives" or other gop on cutting boards. A corollary of that is that I am very careful not to get water into the board.

#11 SavinHillBill

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Posted 16 March 2010 - 12:45 PM

I tried rubber feet but using them means you have to pick up the board every time you want to move it. A nuisance my GF would not put up with.

I'm now using the self stick felt pads, available everywhere. They keep the board dry, they are easy to replace, the board slides easily and you can put them on either side of the board.

#12 David A. Goldfarb

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Posted 16 March 2010 - 01:21 PM

I have a large flat board (25" square) without rubber feet, too big to wash in the sink, and our old counters aren't level, so my solution to both the problem of having a level cutting surface and keeping water from collecting under the board is to use a slice of cork from a wine or Belgian-style beer bottle under the board in one corner.

#13 ethermion

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Posted 16 March 2010 - 02:43 PM

Wow. That Boardsmith board looks pretty sweet. I am impressed.
-e
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#14 IowaDee

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Posted 16 March 2010 - 05:35 PM

A question of the usage of walnut as a material for cutting boards. Last year
we hauled a walnut log to a local Amish sawmill and asked the owner to saw it
into boards. He was willing to but not so happy about it. He told us that he
used the sawdust from the sawmill as bedding for his horses. Sawdust from walnut
wood would make the horses sick and was never used. He didn't supply any details.

Before sawing our log, he swept an area clean so our "bad" sawdust could be
isolated and disposed of. That makes me wonder what the sawdust has that would
harm horses. I assume that the finished cutting boards no longer contain any of
that mysterous substance.

Edited by IowaDee, 16 March 2010 - 05:36 PM.


#15 ethermion

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Posted 16 March 2010 - 06:09 PM

Wikipedia says that walnut is bad for horses. I knew about chocolate and dogs, and parsley and parrots (maybe all birds?), but this is new. No suggestion that it is bad for people.
-e
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#16 C. sapidus

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Posted 16 March 2010 - 06:40 PM

Black walnut (Juglans nigra) produces an allelopathic chemical called juglone, which is most prevalent in the roots but also found at lower concentrations in leaves, bark, and wood. Juglone is poorly soluble in water, but may kill or damage tomatoes, rhododendrons, and other plants growing near black walnut trees.

Personally, I would not hesitate to use a cutting board made from black walnut. The woodworker (not the cook or diners) has far greater potential for exposure. Absent severe allergies, the risk of adverse health effects from using a black walnut chopping block is likely to be insignificant. If one is concerned, however, there are many other beautiful and functional woods from which to choose.

More information from Ohio State (clicky)

#17 ray goud

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Posted 17 March 2010 - 05:49 PM

OK. I am a professional wood furniture designer and maker. I have seen the previous posts and must add my two cents. First, walnut has no place in any cutting board because of its potential toxicity. "The Boardsmith"'s use of walnut is problematic also because he mixes sapwood with the heartwood, in addition to using walnut at all. Walnut provides a dubious attractive appearance and no more, often less (especially because of its open grain). Oak is acceptable if it is white oak, because the otherwise open pores are filled with a natural substance called tyloses which the tree provides. That is why white oak barrels are waterproof to a great degree, but not red oak. Black cherry is an ideal, if a little softer, species of wood for cutting boards; in addition it can withstand tremendous heat, which is why glassblowers use it. The absolute best cutting board wood is hard maple, whether end grain or not. It has extremely tight grain, is very hard, and is completely nontoxic after fabrication. It won't win any prizes for stunning beauty, though. If one wants an expression of art, look elsewhere from a cutting board, which is a tool.
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#18 Dakki

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Posted 17 March 2010 - 06:47 PM

Ray: Does the warning against toxicity in walnut extend to other nut woods? After reading this thread I was thinking of getting a local carpenter to make one up with pecan which is in relatively ample supply here.
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#19 tme4tls

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Posted 18 March 2010 - 04:14 AM

Walnut is as toxic to humans as any other nut wood; oak, pecan, hickory, etc... The use of sap wood in an end grain board is permissible because it is nearly as hard as the heart wood and provides a high degree of contrast in the finished product. If it wasn't okay to use walnut sap and heart wood, why would large national companies like John Boos take a chance? I'm sure their research department did a very comprehensive study about walnut before using it in the boards they put their name on.

Walnut does indeed cause a problem with horses, particularly their hooves. Horse breeders I know will not allow even a speck of walnut dust or shavings in their bedding. I have been told something in the walnut gets into the quick of the hooves and causes a horse to go lame.

Most furniture makers, I grew up in a furniture plant here in furniture country so I know what their reasoning's are, hate sap wood so they heavily dye and stain the sap wood and heart wood until it looks nothing like what it started out as. In a lot of cases, the sap wood is unavoidable, unless you can afford to throw large chunks away. To compare furniture use and cutting board use in not apples to apples.

Cherry is indeed a terrific wood to use. Somewhat soft as compared to other woods like maple, beautifully shaded when oiled and will naturally darken over time as the color oxidizes. Red oak and white oak are good for furniture and wine barrels because of the straight grain pores and their tannins but the open pores in end grain construction makes either to difficult to seal or clean properly. Hickory and pecan are somewhat interchangeable in their uses and border on to hard for a cutting board. Both are harder than maple and may cause chipping in the better knives.

Hard maple is still the best.

#20 weinoo

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Posted 18 March 2010 - 05:02 AM

I just don't understand this whole "sitting in water" thing that seems to happen to cutting boards. How, exactly? Are you bathing on it?

I have never owned cutting boards with feet, as I like to use both sides of my cutting boards. One side is for things that don't stink, and the other is for things that do - for example, onions, garlic, leeks, shallots, scallions, etc.

But I put whatever cutting board I'm using on a small, ratty kitchen towel during use...like I was taught to do in cooking school to keep the board steady. That also absorbs any liquid that might end up running off the board. At the end of that use, the board is cleaned up, and stored on its side.
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#21 ray goud

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Posted 18 March 2010 - 05:18 AM

Toxicity info about pecan is not known because so little of it is used as lumber. Usually when a pecan tree is brought down it has ended its useful life in producing the nuts. While it was growing it was shaped to be more easily harvested (the nuts) by machinery (shaking) and that in itself makes the lumber less useful and worthwhile. It is sparsely available as veneer, and as lumber in its growing region but I don't know of tests for its toxicity. Perhaps the most direct route would be to contact horse enthusiasts "down South" and ask if they use its chips and dust for bedding. I myself would not trust it, there being so many other choices available.
One should not assume that a company of any size or reputation would test its raw materials for any given reason, unless it was looking for characteristics which make that material either more or less difficult to use in manufacture and later durability. I won't assume that any cutting board maker really cares about toxicity, regardless of how large or old the company is. Industry is permeated (usually rightly so) with the attitude that "if it was good enough before, it still is". If the wood species makes it more attractive and sells better, they'll use it. They aren't making anything for ingestion, so no regulatory agency is going to test their products. And they are under more pressure to maintain their market after mandates were made to use non-wood boards in commercial settings. I doubt that any board maker did any comprehensive toxicity tests. They are likely much more concerned about dependable adhesives, tooling, shipping, etc.
As tme4tls says, hard maple is till the best. White oak does not have open pores; the pores are filled with tyloses. Sap wood is not acceptable, especially in cutting boards, unless that sap wood is maple (!). In other woods the sap wood is softer and more porous than the heartwood. The heartwood of maple is very small and not attractive. Cutting boards are much more trying on the wood characteristics than is furniture in general. Sapwood showing on a cherry desk may or may not be attractive, depending on the customer (I personally don't like the sapwood, so few of my customers ever see it), while that same cherry sapwood is unacceptable in a cutting board.
Ray

#22 tme4tls

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Posted 18 March 2010 - 06:24 AM

One should not assume that a company of any size or reputation would test its raw materials for any given reason, unless it was looking for characteristics which make that material either more or less difficult to use in manufacture and later durability. I won't assume that any cutting board maker really cares about toxicity, regardless of how large or old the company is. Industry is permeated (usually rightly so) with the attitude that "if it was good enough before, it still is". If the wood species makes it more attractive and sells better, they'll use it.


I guess Mr Goud has never heard of NSF! Maybe he needs to render his findings about acceptable wood to Boos and the other large, old and respectable manufacturers.

I guess General Motors, Ford, Chrysler, Mercedes, Audi, BMW, etc... never test their products! How about General Mills, Hershey, Coke, Pepsi, etc...?

As for the "Down South" comment, :(

#23 ray goud

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Posted 18 March 2010 - 03:35 PM

To put Boos anywhere near the category of the other large corporations cited is preposterous. They have a long history but that does not imply they have a research department (as previously speculated) which analyzes the woods they use for any type of toxicity exposure to the end user. The very fact that they offer walnut which is a known toxin-bearing material (juglone) shows that they are unaware of possible liability on their part. Walnut is offered because it is pretty, not because it has any material advantages which negate its problems.
Since pecan is the state tree of Texas, which is "down South" on my map, speaks for itself.
Ray