Cutting Board Thickness & Wood Choices

Discussion in 'Cooking Equipment Reviews' started by schmoozer, Mar 14, 2010.

  1. schmoozer

    schmoozer

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    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!
     
    Last edited: Mar 14, 2010
  2. kyheirloomer

    kyheirloomer

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    Maple and purpleheart go very well together. In fact, that's the combo I used for a wedding present for one of my kids. But any dark wood works as an accent to the maple.

    I'm in the process of building new countertops which will have matching cutting boards. For this project I'm pairing cypress and purpleheart---another handsome match.

    As to thickness. The thicker the board the less liklihood this is of it ever warping. Plus, if you ever need it planed down again, the more wood you start with the better. Balancing that is weight.

    End grain has a lot going for it. But if you intend using it as a chopping block, keep in mind how that works. The wood fibers actually separate when the cleaver stikes them, then self-heal when you remove the blade. But there is quite a bit of sidetorquing pressure. So, the more wood mass you have the better.

    Were it me, I'd go no less than 1 1/2 inches for a cutting board, and no less than 2 1/2 inches if you'll be chopping on it. But, again, if you don't mind the weight, the thicker the better.
     
    Last edited: Mar 14, 2010
  3. the boardsmith

    the boardsmith

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    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.
     
  4. schmoozer

    schmoozer

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    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: 
    http://www.finewoodworking.com/ProjectsAndDesign/ProjectsAndDesignArticle.aspx?id=28480   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!