Should you choose the hardest wood for a cutting board? Wood hardness is measured using the Janka hardness test. This test compares various types of wood for their relative hardness. On the high end of Janka hardness ranking is Austrailian Buloke at 5060. Balsa comes in at the low end at a mere 70. A wood that is too hard will cause your cutting edge to dull quickly. Too soft will make a board easily mar and absorb liquid. The hardness for an optimal cutting board is in the Janka range of 900 to 1500. As a reference point, Hard Maple has a hardness of 1450, which makes it an ideal cutting board for the top end. Black Walnut falls in the middle at 1010 and Cherry on the lower range at 995.
In addition to the wood hardness, you should consider the porosity of the wood. The pores in wood are the pipelines within the trunk of a tree that transport sap within the tree. Some species of trees have more closed pores making them better suited for cutting boards. This is of great consideration for chopping blocks that are constructed using end-grain. Wood such as Red Oak has a high rating when it comes to hardness, but has a very porous grain. Woods with high porosity should be avoided as they are more apt to absorb liquid and food into the pores.
Note open pores in Red Oak
Finally, not all woods are safe to use for food contact. Some woods are naturally toxic and some even have oils that repel insects. Most of the time the toxicity and irritation is caused by the dust created in working with the wood. However, some of the more toxic and exotic woods should be avoided altogether. If bugs don’t like it, we probably should avoid it as well.
Firstly, Hard Maple, also known as Rock Maple or Sugar Maple has by far been the most widely used wood. Maple is widely available, has a low porosity, it is non-toxic, hard and very durable. For a chopping block, it is hard to beat (no pun intended) the age tested classic.
If aesthetics would not factor into this, Hard Maple would probably be the “go to” wood of choice. However, many are drawn to the luxurious look of Black Walnut and the rich luster of Cherry. Various species of wood add color and grain variation to cutting boards resulting in an elegant and distinctive work of art. You will not go wrong if you stay clear of all softwoods and pick moderately hard and dense hardwoods. At Chosen Stones, we use Maple, Walnut and Cherry to craft beautiful and functional cutting boards. All these woods meet the criteria for durable, safe and beautiful cutting boards and chopping blocks.
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