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Dec 18, 2010 07:43 PM

ISO cutting board advice

Hi guys:

Thanks to the expert advice of the folks here at CH, my knives are now RAZOR sharp. As a result, they cut really deeply into my OXO plastic cutting boards, which is extremely annoying because the boards kind of "grab" onto the edge of the knives, even with relatively light pressure. My knives are all western-style Japanese steel (i.e., relatively brittle alloys sharpened at 16 degrees), and I even worry that the edge might chip when I pivot the blade during chopping.

So I've decided to switch to wood cutting boards. I've done a little reading, and it seems that everyone praises end-grain boards, especially maple ones. However, I live in Japan, and it is impossible to find end-grain maple boards here. Pretty much all of them are made of Japanese cypress and are side-grain -- even the super-expensive ones for sushi chefs, which can run up to $6000 for one the size of a desktop!

I basically have two questions:

1. Is it worth ordering an end-grain maple cutting board from the US? They are heavy, so the shipping is really expensive.

2. Would it actually be better for me to use a Japanese cypress board? I especially wonder about this because I am using Japanese knives anyway, and it seems that Japanese cutting boards should be ideal for use with Japanese knives given the whole "thousands of years of Japanese knife-making tradition" thing. Also, I can pick up a nice 3-cm-thick one at the local kitchen store for around $30.

I'd really appreciate your advice, including suggestions for other options that I may not have mentioned -- bamboo? rubber? make my own? just learn to chop better?


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  1. Cypress is a surprisingly durable wood given that it's a bit soft. Frank Lloyd Whos-its used it a lot and has turned out to be one of the more reliable specs he ever made. I've never heard the preference of end grain, as when you consider wood it's helpful to think about a bundle of drinking straws, end-grain and you're going to be filling those straws, long-grain and they're on their sides. yeah wood stains, but it doesn't release the bacteria it absorbs.

    I've heard of rehabbers that go into old houses on the chopping block (so to speak) that specifically search out Cypress trim for resale. it largely grows waterside and is highly resistant to rot. Maple is harder, but not as tough in the long run.

    2 Replies
    1. re: hill food

      Thanks for your answer, hill food.

      I think the idea of end-grain boards is that the knife doesn't cut through the wood fibers, but slides between them and separates them. This allows the board to "heal" when the knife is removed because the separated fibers simply move back into their original positions.

      If you play darts, I think it's like a traditional "bristle board" that you see in pubs -- the bristles are all perpendicular to the front surface of the dart board (like cutting a 2-inch-thick slice off the end of a huge cylinder of tightly bound bristles), so the darts stick into the board by sliding between the bristles. A bristle board can last for years even in a busy pub.

      1. re: tanuki soup

        that makes a lot of sense. I'll buy that for a quarter.

    2. Japanese Honoki (I hope I spelled that correctly) is the traditional wood used in Japan. It is a species of cypress or cedar and is considered food safe. Long grain boards do allow a knife to slice through the wood fibers but with the super sharp Japanese style knives, the sharpness allows for less force used for cutting and less damage should occur to the board because the edge doesn't contact the cutting surface as hard. End grain board fibers do line up differently and will let the edge to slide between them rather than across. Less potential for damage.

      A quick check of the USPS web site for Priority Mail International rates shown a 22 pound box to Japan at about $105.00 USD. (Delivery quoted as in 6 to 10 days. More likely 6 to 14 days.) Not cheap by any means. You could use Parcel Post which will be much less but Parcel Post goes by surface means and can take weeks for delivery and has a higher potential for damage to happen.

      1 Reply
      1. re: BoardSMITH

        Thanks, BoardSMITH. I actually visited your website a couple of days ago and was lusting after your beautiful hard maple butcher blocks. I appreciate your taking the time to check the shipping rates to Japan -- as I expected, ouch! Maybe the best approach is to pick up a cypress (hinoki) board locally and try to improve my cutting skills. If that doesn't work out, I may have to start saving up my lunch money for a nice maple board + shipping.

      2. What you have experienced about the ficition feeling between a very sharp knife and a cutting board is normal.

        There are at least two actions which can wear a knife edge down. One is what you described. When a knife edge hits a very hard surface, the sudden impact can dull the knife. For this reason, glass cutting boards and stone cutting boards are bad for knives. Some also dislike bamboo cutting boards for the same reason. This is why many people prefer end grain wood cutting boards and rubber cutting boards. They allow knife edges to cut into them. In other words, they absorb the up-and-down impact. On the other hand, if a knife is allowed to cut into the board too deeply, it can also dull the knife. Most people do not simply cut food using a pure up-and-down motion. We push the knife foward or pull the knife backward while exerting the downard force. This is the reason why you felt the cutting board grab your knife. The knife had already cut deep into the board and was literally dragging in it. This will dull a knife in a different way. Not because of impact, but because of rubbing/wearing. In this sense, you actually do not want a board too forgiving. I found out my knives dull faster when using a rubber cutting board.

        It is a Japanese belief that a Japanese hinoki edge grain cutting board has the correct balance of being not too hard and not too soft. Of course, Japanese culture believes in finding beauty in simplistic. I would get an reaonably priced one especially you live in Japan and all.

        1 Reply
        1. re: Chemicalkinetics

          Thanks for your advice, CK. I'll be picking up a hinoki board in the next day or two.