The Wooden Cutting Board Conundrum – End Grain vs Edge Grain (Updated)

Original Post: February 19, 2013, Updated on 8/8/2016

Half a year back, I decided to make the switch from a plastic cutting board to a wooden one.  I think wooden boards add a subtle touch of class to the kitchen and figured I would also use it as a small platform for taking pictures of food to add some versatility to an everyday kitchen staple.  My expectation was to go to Bed Bath & Beyond with my 20% discount coupon that “expired” eight months ago, pick up a wooden cutting board, and be back home cutting up a storm in no time.  It turns out, I was wrong.

The selection of wooden cutting boards wasn’t plenty, but there were enough varieties to throw my head into a cloud of confusion.  Maple, walnut, and teak kept me guessing which type of wood was better.   I grew up with the assumption that all wooden cutting boards were the same.  Nope.  To complicate the decision-making process, some wooden boards were constructed of fused long strips of wood and others had checkerboard patterns.  It was then and there that I learned wooden boards also have to be regularly maintained with mineral oil to prevent cracking and to extend longevity.  All of a sudden, owning a wooden cutting board seemed to be more of a chore than anything.  Lost in a sea of kitchen tools, I had no idea what I was doing and left returned home somewhat disappointed.

In early January,  I reconsidered purchasing a wooden cutting board, but this time,  I was going to arm myself with a bit of cutting board knowledge.  The magical Internet taught me that cutting boards are primarily classified as edge grain (long  strips of wood fused together) and end grain (the checkerboard pattern).   What’s the difference?

The image above shows the areas of wood that are used to make the two types of common cutting boards.

Edge Grain – The cutting surface is made from parallel fused pieces of wood from the edge.  This is the most familiar pattern to many people and is usually how we envision a wooden cutting board looks like.  Maple and walnut are the most typical, but there are other woods that are used.  Edge grain cutting boards are known to be more durable, easier to maintain, and more affordable.  However, this type of board can dull knives faster than end-grain types an more susceptible to nicks and cuts.  To give a clearer picture of how the wood fibers of an edge grain board are affected, I used a bunch of dry spaghetti to help you visualize.

After prolonged use, the cutting board will show more marks and cuts because once the fibers (dry spaghetti as an example)  are cut, they are permanently damaged.  That is why it is important to keep the board oiled and protected with beeswax.

End Grain – The cutting surface is made from end pieces of wood.  The easiest way to recognize an end grain board is by the checkerboard pattern.  This type of board is more expensive than the edge grain type, but is known to be more forgiving on knives.  The end grain boards  are“self-healing” since the fibers close back up after the knife strikes to board.

In the visualization above,knife edge sinks into the fibers, so some of the shock is absorbed.  When the knife edge is lifted off, the fibers close back up, so in a sense, “self-healing.”

Armed with a bit more knowledge the second time around, I still couldn’t decide on whether I wanted to purchase an edge grain or an end grain cutting board.  I came across an article from Cook’s Illustrated that helped make my decision easier.

The durability of the wood and bamboo models mostly depended on how the boards were constructed: end-grain or edge-grain. The former is made by gluing together blocks of wood or bamboo with the grain running perpendicular to the surface of the board, the latter by gluing together longer strips with the grain running parallel to the surface. End-grain models showed fewer scars than the edge-grain boards because their wood fibers faced the surface, and as a result, the knife marks actually closed up within minutes. Unfortunately, those exposed wood fibers also soaked up liquid and stains like a sponge, making them prone to warping. The end-grain models in our lineup began to warp—and eventually split—after just a few rinses in the sink. The edge-grain boards, on the other hand, showed no evidence of warping.  Cooks Illustrated

In the end, I chose a maple edge grain cutting board, but the state of the board upon arrival was rather poor.  Such is the risk of ordering an item online without being able to scrutinize it in person. I ordered my cutting board  from a reputable manufacturer and it arrived in a questionable state.  First, as I brushed my hand across the cutting surface, it felt gritty, as if someone wiped it with a steel wool pad.  The board also looked dry.  It was supposed to come pre-oiled and ready-to-go out of the box.  When I flipped the board over, I noticed splitting at one of the wood seams on the short end.  It was a disappointing first purchase and I will be returning it.  I’m still sticking with an edge grain cutting board, but will be purchasing from another manufacturer.

8/8/2016 Update

Five months ago, I switched to a maple end-grain cutting board. As excited as I was to update this post, I wanted to put the board through several months of use before reporting in. I purchased a round 15-inch diameter, 2-inch thick butcher block for about $48.00. It’s a bit heavy , but the round shape makes it easy to wash in the sink.

Yes, it does self-heal, but…
The self-healing ability of an end grain block is dependent on a few factors. First, if you do heavy chopping, there will be noticeable marks, and nothing is coming back from that. Everyday light to moderate chopping also leaves marks, but, on a properly oiled and conditioned board, they are not noticeable and do seem to heal up. Especially after a new coat of board cream or oil is applied. I’ve been using Boos board cream since the first day I received the board. On one occasion, I neglected to condition the edges and one small area started to warp outwards, but after a night with the cream, it went back in place overnight.  The board will get scuffed up and there’s no way around it unless you place something over it to chop food.

Is it easier on knives?
Yes, it feels “softer” when the knife edge makes contact with the board, compared to an edge-grain board. But guess what, for us everyday kitchen warriors, a decent knife is going to hold up on either type.

How does it look on the countertop?
It looks fantastic.  I think it adds an element of style to the kitchen.

Other thoughts
I wish I purchased a board with feet.  Trapping moisture between the countertop and board is not good.  After washing,  I place it on a wire rack to dry out.


9 thoughts on “The Wooden Cutting Board Conundrum – End Grain vs Edge Grain (Updated)

  1. That’s the problem with most big manufactures, everything is mass produced and no one checks them.
    You would be better to find a local woodworker and get him to make one for you. Just make sure they use food safe glue.

  2. Thank you for the detailed post. Although i loved my end grained board, it was expensive even after a 30% duscount. I wished i had read it before my purchased.

  3. great post,

    if you have a friend who does a bit of woodwork he can easilly resurface your board with a planner from time to time by trimming 1/4 of an inch of the top and resanding it making it a life long board

    you should be able to add fee very easily they can be purchase for under 10$ in any hardware store and only need screwing (i would not put the sticker type as i doubt it will resist water)

  4. Great article! My brother and I are woodworkers in Colorado and make cutting boards and butcher blocks. Can I borrow the link to put on our facebook page? Always good to educate people.

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