Wood is ideal for cutting boards because it is antibacterial and resistant. Since wood is a natural product, it has different properties, which are sometimes better and sometimes worse for cutting boards. In this article, I explain which types of wood are particularly suitable for cutting boards, the differences between the different types of wood and list the respective advantages and disadvantages.
Wood must have certain properties to be suitable for cutting boards. This depends mainly on the hardness and porosity of the wood and also whether it is arranged as lengthwise wood or as end grain. Overall, hardwoods such as cherry, oak, walnut, maple, beech and teak are best suited because they have many advantages that are important for cutting boards. In addition, they are relatively easy to care for and also very chic.
Important properties for wooden cutting boards
Wood should have certain properties to make it suitable as a material for cutting boards. These include the hardness as well as the porosity of the wood:
The wood must not be too hard or too soft. If it is too hard, the knives that cut on it become blunt too quickly. If the wood is too soft, it is too susceptible to cut marks and other external influences. The hardness of the wood is measured in Janka. On a scale from 100 to 4500, wood suitable for cutting boards is usually between 900-1500 Janka.
The porosity, i.e. the nature of the wood, is another important factor for wooden cutting boards. Although a type of wood may have the right hardness, it is not very well suited as a cutting board due to the open pores, since woods with open pores are too absorbent and therefore easily absorb liquids. A low absorption capacity is particularly important for cutting boards made of end-grain wood.
You can see the effect of porosity from American and European oak. Both are hardwoods with a similar hardness.
However, American red oak is very porous and therefore not very suitable as wood for cutting boards. European oak has very fine pores and is therefore much more suitable as material for cutting boards.
Whoever buys cutting boards usually does not have to worry about the toxicity of the wood, because manufacturers only use suitable wood.
However, if you are a tinkerer and make your own cutting boards, you should pay attention to choosing the right wood. Especially exotic woods can be toxic during production as well as when the cutting board is used regularly and can lead to problems in the long run.
As a basic rule can be remembered:
Only use wood from trees with edible fruits/nuts.
Frequently used types of wood
The following wood types meet these criteria to a large extent and are therefore often used for cutting boards:
- Cherry wood
Hardwoods are most often used for cutting boards, because they are very cut resistant and at the same time protect the blade. However, not every hardwood is suitable.
Softwoods are generally not used as material for cutting boards because, as the name suggests, they are very soft and develop cutting marks after a short time. Moisture and bacteria then collect in these cut marks, so that softwood cutting boards quickly become unhygienic.
Common hardwoods include cherry, oak, walnut, birch, beech and maple. If the cutting board is made of one or more of these hardwoods, you will definitely have a good cutting board.
The maple tree is one of the most popular types of wood for cutting boards. On the one hand maple is very resistant, on the other hand maple is very common in our latitudes, which is why it is relatively cheap. The maple wood is relatively solid and gives the cutting board the necessary weight so that it does not slip back and forth during cutting.
It is quite resistant to cutting marks, but still gentle on the sound. Due to the fine pores, it also has very good antibacterial properties.
Properties of maple wood
- Hardness grade of approx. 1350 Janka
- Is very often used for cutting boards
- Very good antibacterial properties
- Very solid, gives the cutting board the necessary weight
Cherry wood as the only material is not so well suited for cutting boards, as it is relatively soft and thus develops cutting marks more quickly. As a mixture of two or more types of wood, as is often done for example with end-grain cutting boards, cherry wood is very well suited because its color gives the cutting board that certain something.
Properties of cherry wood
- Hardness grade of approx. 995 Janka (relatively soft)
- Very nice color
- Develops somewhat lighter cut marks than the other woods
The dark wood of the walnut tree makes furniture and chopping boards look particularly noble. For me personally, walnut is one of the most beautiful woods for cutting boards. Even the most beautiful wood is of no use if the wood does not have suitable properties for cutting boards in the end.
Fortunately this is not the case with walnut. Walnut is very hard and the hardness is between maple and cherry, i.e. it is neither too soft nor too hard. Moreover, walnut is very gentle to the knife blade, which is why knives do not become dull as quickly as some other woods, for example.
The walnut wood is also very dark, so it does not discolor as much as light wood types.
Properties of walnut wood
- Hardness of approx. 1100 Janka (very good medium hardness)
- Looks very noble
- Is one of the most popular woods due to its properties
- Discoloration hardly visible
- Also very gentle to the blade
As already mentioned, not all of the different types of calibration are suitable for the cutting board material.
Oak is very firm, robust and relatively easy to maintain. It has an even grain, which is appreciated by many people. It is also very weather-resistant, which makes oak a very good choice for cutting boards.
Properties of oak
- Hardness grade of approx. 1360 Janka
- Easy-care & robust
- Beautiful grain
Beech wood is another very popular wood for cutting boards. Beech is with 1300 Janka also one of the harder wood types. It is very light and has a very fine grain. Beech wood is very well suited as a material for cutting boards because it is very strong and fine-pored. Due to its fine pores, beech wood is neither susceptible to cutting marks nor to discoloration, although beech is very light.
It should also be noted that the above-mentioned properties mainly apply to light-colored beech wood. Dark and pink-brown beech is cheaper, but discolors more easily and contracts more when wet. Therefore, light beech should be preferred, if possible.
However, beech wood also has a disadvantage. It is relatively maintenance-intensive. For this reason, beech wood should be oiled regularly so that it does not warp.
Properties of beech wood
- Hardness degree of approx. 1300 Janka
- Good resistance to cut marks and discoloration (only applies to light beech)
- Needs regular maintenance
- Other types of wood
Teak cutting boards are very trendy at the moment. This has mainly to do with the fact that teak is very resistant and easy to maintain. Since teak grows in the tropics, it has a high proportion of natural oils. These oils protect the wood from drying out and prevent it from warping when exposed to moisture. In addition, teak hardly absorbs any moisture, which also prevents the wood from warping.
Therefore, teak is ideal for people who invest very little time in caring for their cutting board and sometimes do not want to oil it for several months.
Even though teak is very easy to care for, it also has negative characteristics. Although it is relatively soft, teak has a high content of silicate. Silicate is very hard and causes knives to become dull a little faster.
It is not a big disadvantage, but I still wanted to mention it. In the end it is an individual decision. If you just want to have an easy-care cutting board without having to take great care of it, you should definitely go for teak.
If you regularly maintain your chopping board and value optimal performance and long lasting cut, you should choose one of the hardwoods mentioned above.
Properties of teak wood
- Hardness grade of approx. 1100 Janka (good medium hardness)
- Due to the silicates occurring in the wood, not as gentle to the sound as the above woods
- But very easy to clean and insensitive to moisture
- Can be used for several months without oiling
Bamboo is in the true sense of the word not wood, but grass. Of all the types of wood mentioned, bamboo wood is most unsuitable for cutting boards. This has several reasons:
Just like teak, bamboo contains a relatively high proportion of silicate, which is why knives become dull relatively quickly when cut regularly on bamboo wood. In addition, bamboo belongs to the grasses. For the production of bamboo cutting boards, a relatively large amount of glue is needed to hold the bamboo fibers together.
The high proportion of glue also ensures that the knives that cut on them become duller more quickly.
Furthermore, very cheap glue is often used for bamboo cutting boards. In contrast to high quality waterproof glue, the cheap glue is washed away over time, so that a bamboo cutting board has a lower durability and the wood will eventually warp or crack.
It is also possible that the (cheap) glue used has ingredients that are not food safe and therefore can be a potential danger.
However, bamboo cutting boards have two advantages:
First, they are relatively inexpensive. For those who have a very limited budget, bamboo cutting boards can still be an option. Secondly, they are quite suitable as chopping blocks. With chopping blocks, the material can be harder because you don't cut with sharp knives.
To all others I recommend: If you don't want to sharpen your knives all the time and want to have something from your chopping board for a long time, you should definitely use one of the other materials mentioned.
Properties of bamboo wood
- Hardness grade of approx. 1400 Janka (relatively hard)
- Makes knife dull quickly
- Lower durability compared to the other woods
- Relatively favorable in the production
Hinoki cutting boards are mainly used in Japan. This type of wood is very different from the other mentioned cutting boards. Firstly, the wood is very soft with 500-800 Janka and also very porous. Quasi the exact opposite of what makes a suitable wood cutting board.
Nevertheless, Japanese people like to use this wood very much because it is very gentle to the sound. Because Japanese knives (with a high hardness) are very brittle, parts of the blade can break off. The soft, yielding wood reduces the risk of splintering during cutting and allows you to make very precise cuts.
Traces of cuts on such soft wood will of course appear very quickly if you cut on it incorrectly.
An advantage of Hinoki wood is that it has very little or no warping. Therefore, Japanese people often soak their Hinoki wood cutting boards in water before cutting. Soaking the cutting board has two advantages:
1. Hinoki wood has a very low density due to its high porosity and weighs very little compared to other cutting boards. Hinoki wood may be too light, as cutting boards should be stable and non-slip. The additional weight of the water makes the cutting board more stable and non-slip.
2. By soaking, Hinoki wood absorbs water and stores it inside. The water saturates the absorbent wood (as long as it is moist), which makes Hinoki wood less susceptible to discoloration and stains.
In addition, the wood should be oiled regularly with food grade mineral oil.
Should the wood still warp, it can be soaked in water and dried overnight with a heavy object on the cutting board. Afterwards it should be straight again.
If you have expensive Japanese knives with a high Rockwell hardness at home or if you want to buy some, Hinoki wood can be a good option.
Properties of Hinoki wood
- Hardness grade from 500-800 Janka (very soft)
- Very porous and absorbent
- Very light compared to other wood species
- Should be soaked in water before use
- Needs regular maintenance
- Hardly warped
- Basically only suitable for Japanese knives, with a high hardness
- Relatively expensive compared to the other woods
Cutting boards made of olive wood are also relatively popular. However, olive wood is not suitable at all as a material for cutting boards. This has two reasons:
First, olive wood is much too hard. As already mentioned, the hardness suitable for cutting boards is between 900-1500 Janka. Olive wood has a hardness of about 3000 Janka. This means that chef's knives become dull quite quickly when regularly cut on olive wood.
Secondly, olive wood cutting boards are often made from a whole piece of olive wood. However, this is bad because the wood warps very quickly when it is made of one piece.
As beautiful as the grain may be, olive wood is not at all suitable as a material for cutting boards. Therefore I can only advise against buying olive wood cutting boards. If you still don't want to do without olive wood, you can buy olive wood as a chic serving board.
Properties of olive wood
- With approx. 3000 Janka too hard as cutting board
- Warps quickly if it is made from one piece
- Better suited as serving platter
Which wood is the best?
This cannot be answered clearly and depends on the individual needs.
For most knives cherry wood, oak, walnut, beech and maple are very well suited. These woods are robust, resistant, protect the blade and are probably the most popular woods among experts.
If you want an easy-care cutting board and low maintenance, you should go for teak.
Someone who owns expensive Japanese knives, which are very brittle, should consider a cutting board made of Hinoki wood.