Cutting Board Strategies with Bonus Clipboard Photo

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JonathanF1968

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Oct 7, 2018
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Happy new year everyone! I hope you are all staying safe and healthy.

I'm thinking about making cutting boards, per personal use, and have some questions.

I've mostly seen them created with strips of different wood types, or from blocks with the end grain showing on the surface. Are these different approaches functional, related to warping etc., or are they purely aesthetic?

I have some wide planks of spalted maple that I'm looking for projects for. Some are over a foot wide. Wondering if I could just simply cut them to size and finish them, preserving the natural spalting patterns, or if that's going to lead to a board that doesn't last long or serve the chef (i.e., my wife) well, in the kitchen.

I've attached a photo of a clipboard I made from this wood, which I created as a kind of test to see what the wood looks like when made into something. (I use it all the time.) Great test, I forgot what I used to finish it (and am not thrilled with the result, but it's good enough to know that I like this wood enough to continue with it. It's been maybe six months and this clipboard has stayed true, but the wear and tear and blood/guts/water/knives/heat/mayhem/etc. of a cutting board is a different story.

--Jonathan
 

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leehljp

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I read a cutting board article recently that the author said - there is one orientation of boards used in cutting boards that last longer - than boards made from the same wood but different orientation. I cannot find it now.

IMHO, Wood that wears quickly will be more likely to absorb microbes that can be dangerous. I am not an expert on this and look forward to hearing what others say.
 

EricRN

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I think it depends on the wood. End-grain cutting boards are usually more durable and harder. They are also more work to make (and a bear to sand). Face-grain cutting boards are the easiest, but also wear down the most quickly. It's not a problem if you're using a hard, dense wood like hard maple. Those will hold up just fine. Edge-grain cutting boards are a pretty happy medium. More durable and resistant to wear than the face-grain, but not as difficult to make and as time-intensive as edge-grain. The downside is that, because you're using the edge grain for the surface, the strips are usually very thin and you need to use many of them to make the board.

A few other tips--Avoid woods with porous grain, unless you're going to fill them and seal it off. (I'm guilty of using padauk for accents, but not too much.) The pores can trap bacteria. I like using maple, walnut, bloodwood, cherry, and sapele. I'd probably avoid the spalted maple, given that the spalting is caused by fungal growth. I have no idea whether it can leach out into the food when used in a cutting board--probably not--but knowing where it comes from is still enough to give me the heeby-jeebies for a piece that will contact food.

When you align the boards, make sure that you have the grain of each board aligned so that they are all running "uphill" in the same direction. If you alternate, you'll create a situation where no matter which direction you plane in, you'll get tear-out. Ask me how I know.

When you do a glue up, make sure there's not even a paper-width gap when you're done. Sometimes, I'll even wick thin CA into the joints to make sure any tiny gaps are plugged. If you don't do that, when you go to finish, the oil will seep into the crevice, cause the boards to swell and ultimately push apart, widening the gap. Again, ask me how I know.

For a finish, I use a mix of 50/50 fractionated coconut oil and food grade mineral oil. I fortify it with a few drops of Vitamin E and orange essential oil. I put them in a bin of that stuff to soak overnight. Then I buff them down with a power buffer and apply a wax mixture that I make from the oil, beeswax, and carnuba. Make sure you give them a regular soak with the oil after you begin using them. The goal is to keep the wood fibers saturated with oil so that water can't get in there. If water gets in there, the wood fibers will swell and strain the joints.
 

JonathanF1968

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For a finish, I use a mix of 50/50 fractionated coconut oil and food grade mineral oil. I fortify it with a few drops of Vitamin E and orange essential oil.

This sounds declicious. Add a bit of triple sec and some rum, and I'm pretty sure I had something like that once in New Orleans!
 

socdad

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Most non curing oils also have a tendency to go rancid over time, including coconut oil. I've been making cutting boards for a few years & it seems the standard way to finish a board is to soak in mineral oil then treat with a combination of mineral oil & bees wax.
 

Ray-CA

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Here is my first attempt at one. Turned it into a meat/cheese board since I under estimated my wood needs. It’s she-oak, teak and maple all edge grain. For a finish I used several coats of a butcher block oil that was allowed to sit for 20-minutes before wiping and applying the next coat.
 

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Curly

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Unless your Maple has soft spots I would use it with a mineral oil finish. Even if it starts too get beat up you can always plane off a little and re-oil it again. If it gets to the point where you think it is trashed, make another. Nothing in the rule books saying a board must last a few generations. The spalting isn't a health problem. Make it and enjoy.
 

EricRN

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Most non curing oils also have a tendency to go rancid over time, including coconut oil. I've been making cutting boards for a few years & it seems the standard way to finish a board is to soak in mineral oil then treat with a combination of mineral oil & bees wax.
That's a good point. If you're going to use coconut oil, make sure it is fractionated coconut oil. That stuff will last as long as mineral oil and has anti-bacterial properties, or so I'm told. Regular coconut oil will go rancid fast. Same with walnut oil.
 

sorcerertd

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North Carolina, USA
Coming from someone who cooked professionally for quite a few years, I can speak to the use and care of them. As much as I have been wanting to, I have not made one yet, so I have no advice on the making of. When I do make one, it will be an end grain board for personal use. The end grain boards will have a slightly less blunting effect on knives. We spend enough time sharpening chisels already, right?

As for wear, it depends on how you use it. Most casual home cooks won't notice much of a difference between grain orientation. Obviously, using a knife like a cleaver isn't going to extend the life of the board, and I cringe even more for the poor knife. Science keeps proving and disproving things all the time, but over the years, it's been pretty commonly accepted that wood has natural enzymes that help to prevent bacteria from growing (within limits, of course). That being said, a couple things others have said bear repeating for the sake of food safety.

1) Avoid wood with large pores. Obviously, Maple and Walnut are commonly used. Cherry works great, too. This would include those manmade gaps between boards. Thanks @EricRN for the CA wicking tip. I will use that one day!​
2) Keep it oiled. A well oiled board will not only repel water, but it won't absorb other oils or meat juices like a dry one. Also, a dry cutting board can split (see #1). I also second that fractionated coconut oil is not the same as regular coconut oil and vitamin E oil does work as a preservative. You will see it labeled as tocopherol in cosmetics, and sometimes in foods.​

As an aside, unrelated to wood cutting boards, I do like keeping some of these flexible cutting sheets around for the convenience factor. It's great to roll them up and dump the recently diced, chopped, minced ingredients into containers without too much mess.
 

mmayo

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I have found that beeswax and mineral oil (15 parts mineral oil to 1 part beeswax) to be ideal for me. Heat until smooth and homogeneous. It sells very well and now the small initial bottle gets replaced by a larger bottle on return visits. The wax makes all the difference.
 
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