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Best Wood for Cutting-Board Countertop?

I'm very lucky to have a hubby who is a handy builder. We're putting a 9 foot island in our kitchen, and I requested he make a 3 to 3 1/2 foot section out of wood (the rest is marble), so I can have a built in cutting board/kneading/rolling board. I also asked him to drop it about four to six inches lower than the rest of the countertop, so I can get more leverage when I knead dough.

So, my question is...what is the best wood to make this out of? Butcher block? Maple? Something else?

Anyone out there have any ideas?

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  1. Hi QueenB,
    I would recommend not installing a wood section of countertop to use as a cutting board. It will be difficult to keep clean (you can't hold it under the faucet!) and will quickly become a sliced-up mess that you will need to re-sand constantly.

    I do enjoy the lowered marble counter that I installed in my kitchen about 28 years ago. It is my baking and stirring center, as I am fairly short, and I get great leverage. Pick a height that works well for you. The marble is great for rolling dough and kneading, and is easily cleaned with a wooden scraper.

    For cutting boards, I recommend a separate board for raw meat, and another for veggies & cheese. I keep a kosher kitchen, and I actually have multiple boards in different colors for meat, dairy (cheese), and pareve (veggies). I especially like my small veggie board, which is great for a single onion, a lemon--a quick job. These boards can be picked up and their contents can be dumped into a pot, they can be washed and even put in the dishwasher (most are plastic). You can't do that with a stationary countertop!

    That's my 2 cents worth: stay away from wooden counters!
    Good luck, p.j.

    4 Replies
    1. re: p.j.

      Also, the cutting board flush with the counter is hard on the knuckles. Better is a separate piece that sits on top of the counter.

      1. re: yayadave

        This may be a dumb question, but "hard on the knuckles" how?

        1. re: QueenB

          When I'm slicing or cutting with anything other than a chef's knife, my knuckles get in the way and I end up having to cut with only the curved part of the blade because I have the handle end raised.
          I hope it's not a dumb question, because it looked like such a good idea to ME when I did it - put a flush cutting board in the middle of the counter.
          Look, if your heart's set on it, don't let me talk you out of it. We still manage to eat around here. I just don't think it worked out as well as it seemed it would.
          Hang in there for a couple of days and maybe you'll get some more positive responses.

          1. re: yayadave

            Maybe it helps that I have small hands, because I've never run into my knuckles getting in the way before.
            Thanks for the response! I wasn't really sure what you were talking about, so I'm glad you explained it.

    2. I worked at a Pizza place about 30 years ago and they had maple butcher block tables. They have been cutting pizza on those tables for more than 30 years and when I go there they still look good. We washed them down with bleach and water every day. Make sure that your using Rock maple, seem to be harder than other maple, the owner built the tables and used maple toung and groved flooring mounted on 1" plywood. Take a knife with you when you are shopping for wood and pick the hardest.

      1 Reply
      1. re: ibew292

        I'm in agreement - I use a slice of tree (about 7" high and 18" wide) as a veggie and bread cutting board, picked up in a Chinese store about ten years ago that keeps going strong. Yes it has darkened and yes there are very shallow knife marks on it but that's just a sign that it has been used as intended. I keep it clean with vinegar or salt/lemon and the occasional scrub with a copper scrubber. I've never sanded it once.

        Not everybody will agree, but for me a kitchen that looks new after years of use is a kitchen without a soul. I like aged things that show signs of loving use.

      2. Totally Bamboo has begun a custom countertop business. You might want to check out their website.

        With use, any true butcher block will become marred and scratched over time. This can, however, be an attractive centerpiece to a working kitchen. A hot water and bleach solution combined with regular oiling would keep the wood safe and fuctional.

        Don't be too paranoid about the whole sanitation issue with wood. Most recent studies (University of Wisconsin) strongly suggest that wood holds any bacteria and does not release it back onto the knife as does plastic. That being said, I still have a couple of plastic cutting boards to complement my butcher block when necessary (i.e. having to cut vegetables after cutting raw chicken or just too lazy to clean/disinfect the butcher block when all I needed was a little crushed garlic for a dipping sauce). I've been doing 90% of my cutting--including raw chicken--on a well cleaned, well maintained butcher block for five years (complemented with two plastic boards) and have NEVER experienced a cross contamination issue coming out of my kitchen. Let's be honest, the world survived just fine for centuries using wood butcher blocks.

        1 Reply
        1. re: Sam Harmon

          Bamboo is a nice choice for the environment and aesthetic with numerous choices in grain. Personally the built-in cutting space hasn't been great because of the look, cleaning (if it's recessed you'll end up with crumbs in crevices) and non-congrous counter. If you have an option, you may choose a cutting board overlay to your sink and then a under cupboard that fits it easily!

        2. I have a wood countertop and have no problems. It is kept well-oiled, is easy to clean and sanitize and wood has natural anti-bacterial agents. Plastic is a germ farm!
          For a lot of info on all types of cutting surfaces, with pros and cons, try http://www.cookingforengineers.com/ar...

          1. First of all, the dough processing surface is never to be used a cutting board in my domicile. My surface to cut directly on is actually a textured glass sheet, or at least a plate, never a sanitation issue.

            Wood, in my honest opinion, needs some rethinking on. It isn't something I would want to keep after cutting up some fish, from past my experiences on.

            3 Replies
            1. re: RShea78

              Totally agree with the dough processing surface not to be used as a cutting board. But cutting on glass will destroy your knives over time. All cutting surfaces need to be softer than the cutting medium and glass doesn't fit that bill.
              Wood is ideal for cutting boards for several reasons. It naturally inhibits bacterial growth, making it safer than plastic. It is kind to your knifes and it can be refinished over time.

              1. re: andreas

                >>> But cutting on glass will destroy your knives over time.

                I used to think that way till I was proven wrong.

                Glass doesn't grab the edge of the knife like wood does. Wood also has the tendency to pick up fragments of foreign material and allow them to become embedded into the surface. That in turn is either abrasive to the edge or causes the edge to deflect (curl). This is why the blade needs more frequent dressing of the edge. In many cases wood is like another form of sandpaper, when we get down to the nitty gritty facts.

                1. re: RShea78

                  I think I have to... err... respectfully disagree here. First, how were you "proven" wrong, through your own experiences? Have you preformed experiments testing edge retention on wood vs. glass cutting surfaces? How does a well-maintained wooden board (which is smooth) grab knife-edges?

                  Part of the reason wood is a good cutting surface is that is gives slightly to the edge of your knife, not deflecting it like glass would -- I'd be curious to see whether your glass cutting surface has either 1) gray lines (as I've seen on ceramic and tile cutting surfaces); and 2) scratches. If it has lines, it is actively removing metal from your edge -- not good, at least from that angle, and two if it is not scratched, then it's harder than your knife blade -- thus with every stroke you're deflecting your edge.

                  Also, if you're practicing proper care of your wooden board, using a bench scraper in particular, there should not be any particles to become "embedded" in the surface. And where are these particles being embedded into? What are you cutting that, when dried out, becomes as hard as sand (i.e. silica, aka glass)?

            2. Why not make the sunken kneading surface out of marble, too? Make it at the edge of the island and either seal the sides and back or make it so it can slide out for cleanup.

              If the marble is thick enough to make a good base, you could also inset a second area with butcher block. With a marble foundation, you could even get a thin piece of end-grain board, provided you always dry it off immediately to keep it from warping. Alternatively, cut a square out of the marble and mount a 4" thick piece of end-grain butcher's block flush with the marble top.

              2 Replies
              1. re: KRS

                I'll clarify a few things here.

                First, perhaps calling the wooden area a "cutting board" was a mistake. I have separate cutting boards for my meats and veggies, and would use those, as opposed to cutting raw meats on my built-in countertop. However, it may get used as a quick cutting surface at times for sticks of butter, or blocks of cheese.

                Secondly, the reason we won't be making that area out of marble is because my countertops are 1 ft square marble tiles. There are small grout lines between the tiles, which makes rolling, kneading and scraping a bit of an issue. This is why I wanted to to strictly with the wood.

                I've also noticed while making doughs, if I use the back of my wooden cuttingboard for kneading, it is much easier to evenly distribute the flour than my marble surface. The issue I have is the board moves around the countertop while kneading the dough.

                I hope this clears up some issues. I still do think I'll be going with the wood, I'm just trying to figure out which type is best.

                Thank you all for your opinions and responses.

                1. re: QueenB

                  >> The issue I have is the board moves around the countertop while kneading the dough. <<

                  I have some heavy duty drawer -n- shelf liner material that is a rubber-like netting, that I place under my dumpling board to prevent it from scooting around. A damp towel works as well, for home use. (In restaurants it is frowned on)

                  >> I still do think I'll be going with the wood, I'm just trying to figure out which type is best. <<

                  As far as your wood selection, any hardwood should be fine. It is the color scheme that would normally concern most people.

              2. i would go with the wood idea because i think wood looks nicer and is more homey and also because ur hubby can get pride from doing it. Also, it is easy to replace if u dont like it. And cheaper, too.

                the best woods r maple, oak, or elm (hard to get), or ironwood (hornbeam) - very hard to get. There may be some "foreign" woods that r good - but the 1's I recommended I am familiar with , because the yare native.

                5 Replies
                1. re: dibob817

                  I have to correct you about a couple things. First oak is a horrible wood to use for a cuttingboard. Although it is hard enough it its a very porus wood. I make custom cutting boards for a living. Most of the wood i use are exotic foriegn woods, but a few good domestics do exist. Hard, Rock, or sugar maple are all the same thing but if it doesnt have one of those names on it dont use it because it is to soft. Hickory (Pecan) Is a great choice very hard with beautiful endgrain. walnut although not quite as hard as i would like gives you a nice contrast with its chocolate brown color. Some exotics (which are your best choices are ginko, purpleheart, jobilla, yellowheart, paduak, bloodwood, and many more. If you want your husband to build it i would go with walnut and hickory. If your in the US he should be able to get a hold of them without to much trouble. Also make sure he makes you an endgrain board. There are a million how to sites on how to build one but the benifit on your knife opposed to a long grain board is ridiculous. You sharpen your knives 10x less on endgrain and it is also imposible to chip out wood on theboard. Hope this helps

                  1. re: cjc5151

                    I agree with the use of oak as a cutting board. Please read some of the techniques in making an end-grain board especially running your end-grain board through the planer. http://thewoodwhisperer.com/episode-7...
                    Meeasure twice and cut once. Be safe.

                    1. re: cjc5151


                      You sound really knowlegeble,,what is your opinion on the real thick Bamboo cutting boards...I am reading that Bamboo is the new great cutting board wood??.also I am a woodworker but have never made a butcher block,,,what is the best glue specifically for end grain cutting boards,,,and if you dont mind how much do you charge for a (approx) 24" by 18" by 2" board...thanks

                      1. re: NAVSAR1

                        Bamboo is still hard on knife edges, much more so than an end grain hard wood as was mentioned above. The very best wood is hard maple for an end grain cutting board, it has very tight grain and is very hard. Cherry is also a good alternative along with the other woods mentioned above. The very best glue is Tightbond III wood glue, it's food safe and when fully cured very water resistant.

                        I've made a lot of end grain cutting boards, but don't sell them commercially. The prices are all over the place and much depends on if it's a regular board or one with a pattern like the one in the attached picture. One might expect to pay in the $200 vacinity for such a board, more if it has exotic hardwoods such as the bloodwood mentioned above. The board in the picture has a Paduak border on the edges, then some hard maple, then walnut and finally more hard maple, some of which has some random brown grain, and finally a paduak stripe down the middle. Hope this helps.

                        1. re: mikie

                          Thank for the response....I must agree and after about four hous of reading everything I could find,,,I went with hard maple,,,I got what I believe to be a good deal on a John Boos 24" by 18" by 21/4" counter top cutting board,,it should go real nice with the new porcelin tile counter top I am building......I will post pics....wow I believe folks are being sold a bill of goods on the bamboo board issue......I will keep my second board (Bamboo) for a nice cheese board and serving tray.....

                  2. QueenB, since you won't be doing day to day chopping on it, get something beautiful.
                    You can find places through the internet that sell salvaged wood from old buildings that are drop-dead elegant. Some from trees that no longer grow in America.
                    My sister has a heart pine island in her kitchen that is her main workspace. I have a Victorian Oak tabletop as an island and we eat crabs and clean fish on it. As long as you keep them well-oiled, they are practical for what you want.
                    Re-purposed wood that it part of America's past will be a distinctive touch in your kitchen. It costs more than a lot of wood but is less than granite or marble. Your husband will enjoy working with it.
                    Try this company that can provide countertops in antique elm, hickory, cherry and walnut among other hardwoods http://www.elmwoodreclaimedtimber.com...

                    1. Maple is the best overall for kitchen cutting boards. However there are varying grades of maple. The common name for what you want is "Hard Maple" which is harder and tougher than some maples. Also it is harder than oaks, and has the very tight smooth grain. (There are no other woods, foreign or domestic with better kitchen cutting qualities).

                      You can get hard maple in 1 inch planks from 6 to 12 inches in width. Therefore you will need to be familiar with gluing planks (using biscuits, or tongue and grove). The cost of good clear hard maple runs around $6 to $1o a board foot. You can pay more, but chances are it is a place that does not sell much maple and other quality woods.

                      You may consider spending a little more if you do not have access to surfacing tools such as a planner and or joiner. Biscuit joining on smooth edges is easy if you have a biscuit cutter; Freud makes one for $99 at Lowes.

                      2 Replies
                      1. re: hudel

                        Yes, thank you. I do believe we will be using hard maple.

                        1. re: QueenB

                          You can get butcher block made from hard maple. It is made of pieces glued together with the end grain up. It is easier on knives and will not warp - this will be especially important since you are insetting it into the marble counter top.

                      2. I have an island in my kitchen that is laminated maple which I use for everything - cutting, kneading, serving, you name it. I am careful to scrub with bleach frequently and, yes, over time it has become covered with knife marks and some stains. Doesn't bother me one single bit. Funny thing is that when the guy who made the maple top delivered it to the house to install it, he had actually put a urethane finish on it. When I told him that I planned to use it as a CUTTING BOARD and that I wanted a natural wood finish he freaked out that I was going to destroy his beautiful creation by cutting on it. I told him I didn't care and that either he could remove the finish or I would do it myself. He sulked and sanded it down. I've been using it for 25 years and have never - NEVER - had a cross-contamination issue in my kitchen. Not once. If I am cutting up chicken, I use a small wooden board that I can wash in the sink. But for most other stuff I use the island and it is beautiful and functional and I'm sure it will last another 25 years and still look fine.

                        3 Replies
                        1. re: Nyleve

                          Rosewood is awful pretty and durable as a butchers block. There's a kind called Cocobolo that is out of this world Hard. The grain is often light orange and coal black. It can be a little pricey but its awful cool!

                          1. re: compression67

                            I rarely get vehement about a subject, but this has a health importance about it:


                            Many people have moderate to severe reactions to the oil in these hardwoods and you don't have to put it in your mouth to have an effect as mild as skin reddening or as severe as anaphylactic shock. Search: 'tropical wood skin reactions.' Rosewood is the most common report, but cocobolo, purple heart, padauk, all get mentioned when this comes up.

                            Hard maple end grain is the traditional American butcher block, and all butcher block is end grain up. Any other construction is just a laminated top. European beech has good density and is very serviceable; most imported cabinetmaker's benches are beech. Check out some kitchen shops, see how thick their real butcher block tops are. This could be one of your kitchen highlights; have fun! Post pics!

                            1. re: toomanypots

                              Whats yoru opinion on a thick end grain Bamboo cutting board??

                        2. after reading through all these opinions, i felt i had to throw my two cents in. after spending many years in and out of the various elements of kitchen work, i find wood is far preferable for baking. i have a very large 3" thick maple butcher block. a damp cotton dish towel on the marble under the butcher block works perfectly for kneading. i use one side for baking and one side for cutting, marked in the corner with nail polish. i am 235 lbs. and have a fair amount of leverage when kneading and the board does not move at all. good luck ps. end grain is better

                          1. The most traditional Maple. It is the densest wood you can find for the money. However if you are looking for wood with character density is not you main concern. I have made boards out of many types of wood, maple, oak, cherry, walnut,......etc. I make wood countertops for a living. Whenever a customer has a sink cut-out I usually use the piece and make a cutting board that fits perfectly in the sink hole and finishes flush with the counter surface. It is a pretty cool effect. The wood grain runs continous from one side of the sink right across to the other. It also allows you to hide your sink and make more counterspace if necessary.
                            Back to the issue though, I like Walnut the best for a board. It is not quite as dense as maple (very close) but it has a higher level of naturally inherant anti-bacterial and microbial properties and it is a darker richer looking wood.
                            However you can get the same properties in maple if you oil it with Walnut oil.
                            I would still go with Walnut just to be different though, break tradition.
                            If you have any questions on this subject I would be happy to answer them.
                            P.S. Buy solid wood countertops.

                            1. End Grain Maple is what you need to use, for a couple of reasons. Wood like anything living (wood never really dies after being cut) has a grain pattern that runs length wise, to actually use the strength of the board you have to go against the grain or stand it on end. That's why butcher block is made of laminated pieces of end grain wood. Maple is a very dense wood or tight grained and give you longevity and less absorption of bacteria. While other woods might be pretty and well figured very few have grain as dense as maple and it's the traditional wood of butcher blocks and has proven over time to be able to stand up to the task.

                              I will caution you and your hubby, that even if he is a "handy builder", unless he has a very well equipped shop, a butcher block is not a project to be taken lightly, The precision required to make one well is way past the "handy builder" stage and well into craftsman status. I've got 25 years of professional trim carpentry and cabinet building skills, and it's not a project that I would tackle lightly. You have to be a very skilled wood "machinist" to get a butcher block looking right and need a fully equipped shop of really quality tools, something out of the realm of most homeowners. Precision and time involved are very heavy demands of a project like this.

                              You might be better served by finding a butcher block in a size that you want and having your opening built to that size, rather than having your guy build you one. It should sure save a bunch of time, and your hubby can devote his time to other aspects of the remodel and to make sure that you are happy.

                              6 Replies
                              1. re: Grillncook

                                I have had a thick piece of Maple,1 1/2 thick, installed in my counter top over thirty years ago, and it is still going strong. It was installed by a carpenter, who bought it, cut it down and put it in!!! How talented do you have to be?? I Would not be without it!

                                1. re: Grillncook

                                  "...wood never really dies after being cut..."

                                  I was just curious what you meant by this, Grillncook? Was it meant to read "..wood never really dies until after being cut..."? Just curiuos :)

                                  1. re: mateo21

                                    Wood still maintains many of the properties that it has when it's alive after it's cut. It will still pass fluids through it's grain pattern, but more importantly it still expands and contracts with moisture and temperature change. The only type of wood that is vaguely stable is plywood because of it's construction with alternating grain patterns. If you work with woods you realize that you have to make allowances for expansion and contractions of the materials because if you don't, that expansion will literally destroy things like cabinet doors, hardwood floors, any large solid wood surface as it expands. It's the reason behind buckles in your hardwood floors, cracks in the back of your furniture, cabinet doors coming apart. We say that the wood will "move on you" meaning that it's not a stable material and it's still "alive". If I'm building a custom furniture piece, I try to get the customer to let me store the wood in the room where the piece will reside for at least 6 months so it has time to acclimate to the environment where it will be permanently. I can build it a little tighter that way. Wood is a fascinating natural product to work with but you have to understand it and how it acts like it's still alive, like when it had roots and still metabolized, only on a lessor scale.

                                  2. re: Grillncook

                                    Only basic woodworking skills required to build a butcher block.
                                    Simply the ability to:
                                    True and square a face and a edge.
                                    Glue and clamp.
                                    To flatten a surface, and square an end.

                                    And this requires patience, basic woodworking tools, and time.
                                    You don't need to have "craftsman" skills nor do you "need a fully equipped shop of really quality tools".

                                    1. re: mikehaack

                                      You are correct, basic skills are needed. You need good tools and basic lightweight homeowner cheap-o tools won't fill the bill. From here on out you know nothing of what you are speaking about.

                                      Basic skills are where you start from and progress on to advanced skills. Advanced skills and the ability to properly use a tool is what seperates the weekend hack from those who know what they are doing. I have encountered a lot of retired experts who take $100 worth of wood to make a $10 project and smile from ear to ear as they show it off. Only took them six months and it is full of filler and putty.

                                      So you don't need quality tools or a craftsmans skills to build a block. You build one and I will pull one of mine off the shelf and we can make a comparrison.

                                    2. re: Grillncook

                                      Sound advice for most folks: find a butcher block and set it in place. That said, If I had a couple more feet in our kitchen, I would love to install a low counter section, maybe on the end of the island, with a nice thick butcher block of dense small pore hardwood. With access to a shop with a 3HP router table, a planer and a well tuned table saw, I'd love to tackle sliding dovetails pinning well oriented short blocks. Wallow in the patience of a well-timed glue up. Relish truing the top with my low angle planes. And it would be one of the shining spots in the kitchen. Ah, well...

                                    3. A previous poster mentioned the Totally Bamboo countertops (but that was at least a year ago). Any update on those? I am wanting to purchase their vertical grain board for my island and am hungry for any further info. thanks!

                                      1. Hard woods like maple, oak, beech and teak are best for this type of wood countertops. The grain orientation or the way the countertop is made will also affect the looks and the utility of the countertop.

                                        End grain counters are made by using wooden planks in a vertical position so that the evenly cut ends of these boards, when fitted together, form the work surface. This method provides for durable heavy duty countertops and is best for cutting and chopping work.

                                        Here is a link that might be useful:

                                        1. I know this post is really old, but I've been out of the loop for over a year and wanted to update. We ended up with a 30 x 36 maple cutting board inset into our island with a food-grade mineral oil/beeswax finish. I must say that I am so very happy with it. It's extremely durable, easy to clean and maintain and the perfect size for anything I want to roll out on it.

                                          The following pictures show the construction and the board in use (sort of).

                                          1 Reply
                                          1. re: QueenB

                                            So glad you didn't listen to all the hype on here! Glad to hear you went with maple (hardRock maple is the wood of choice for counters/cutting boards) Wood, has a bad rap, but is is far superior. Studies confirm the inability of wood to encourage bacterial growth (unlike plastics), they are supremely easier on your knifes (especially important if they are of any quality)...and just a handy little tip for you just in case you were worried about ANY sort of contamination: Salt is among one of the very few things in the world that kills bacteria..ALL bacteria...without fail. Not 99.9%...but 100%. Butchers for centuries, when done cutting meat spread their soapy or simply water moistened butcher blocks with coarse salt and let it set... Salt causes the membranes of all critters large and small to explode and die. so do it periodically, and especially after chicken and you'll never have a problem.

                                          2. Maple, walnut and cherry are all good woods for a cutting board. Red oak however, even though a hardwood, has large pores so it retains dirt, even after washing, making it a poor choice for cutting board material. Here are some examples of an in the counter cutting board from Lumberjocks.com