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Jul 25, 2011 09:15 PM

Cutting board questions -- would love advice

Hi all

I'm about to invest in a cutting board, and have a few questions I was hoping you could help me with. Please weight in on as many or as few questions as you'd like/are equipped to answer.

-- What is the difference between 'carving' boards and 'cutting' boards, when it comes to just cutting/slicing/using a knife? I know carving boards are meant for meat and presentation and have features like liquid moats, but can I use a carving board interchangeably with a cutting board from a purely functional perspective - i.e., for all my cutting/slicing/etc. needs? Or will this damage my knives?

-- I'm looking at a Cornue end grain hornbeam carving board (kind of like this, but less pricey: Is hornbeam too hard a wood for relatively brittle/hard knives like Shuns, especially if I'm not just carving on it but using it for all my meat/veggie cutting purposes every day? I read on knifeforums ( that someone's Shun knives were damaged on a John Boos maple cutting board, and that the damage subsided only when he switched to a softer wood like cherry and to another maker (BoardSMITH, of course :-)). If a wood can be too hard for certain knives, I thought hornbeam was even harder than maple?

-- On a related note, how do I know if a board contains resin hardeners or other adhesives or substances that defeat the purpose of end grain in terms of being gentle with knives? Does anyone know if Cornue's carving boards contain such substances?

-- Is warping in cutting/carving boards inevitable? The Cornue boards I looked at had very slight warping, maybe 1-2 mm on one side, to the extent that the boards will spin if I spin them. They're so heavy that they're stable when left alone, though. Is this amount of warping acceptable and to be expected, or should I look elsewhere?

BTW, I will likely also get a BoardSMITH board at some point but I wanted to start with the Cornue which could also be used as a carving board and for presentation (and is really gorgeous).

That's it for now! Thanks so much for any guidance you can offer.

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  1. Wow, quite a set of questions and quite a cutting board. I'll give them all a shot:

    - A carving board is simply a cutting board with a drain for meat juices. The other functional difference is a carving board is more for slicing action than chopping action when cutting.

    - Wood hardness is measured by ASTM D 1037-7 and is typically measured on the "side" not end grian. The scale used is called Janka hardness. Black Cherry is 995 and Americal Walnut is 1010 on the Janka scale, while Hard Maple is 1450 and Hickory/Pecan is 1820. American Hornbeam, similar to what is found in Europe is 1780 on the Janka scale, so it's not as much harder than maple than maple is harder than walnut. To put things into perspective, exotic woods at the top of the scale can run over 3500. End grain is unique, especially when you are cutting on it, as the fibers tend to move out of the way of the knife edge like the bristles of a dart board move to allow the entry of the dart. In this case, hardness is typically beneficial as wood that is too soft allows too much penetration of the blade. Although woods that are too hard or too dense could have a negative effect on a knife edge, especially one that is very hard. This is in part the problem with bambo boards, which are not recommended.

    - Since just about all cutting boards are an assembly of small wood pieces, they will all have some sort of glue (resin) to hold them together. What I believe you need to be concerned about are boards where the resin accounts for a much larger percentage of the construction, laminated or pressboard for example. When using hardwoods there is no reason to add resins to the wood.

    - Warping is not inevitable, but certianly common. Wood is alive and as such picks up and releases moisture with changes in weather (humidity). A cutting board sitting flat on a counter will release moisture from the top side but can't really release it at the same rate from the bottom side, this changes the moisture content and thus the size of the cells and causes the wood to expand and contract differently, causing warpage. Sealiing the board with mineral oil will go a long way to reducing the water movement in the board, thus reducing warpage. The board in the link is on feet, so this should not be a problem, assuming is't on three feet and not four. It's possible they can flaten out when the moisture reaches some equalibrium.

    15 Replies
    1. re: mikie

      Purchasing a well made board that is at least 1.5 to 2 inches thick will help reduce the chance of warping. Thin boards are notorious for warping.

      1. re: scubadoo97

        Scuba - thanks for this! The board appears to be 1.5" thick and still has about 1-2mm warping..

      2. re: mikie

        Mikie- wow, thank you so much for the thorough and helpful answers! One follow-up --- what are the practical implications of the the fact that "a carving board is more for slicing action than chopping action when cutting" -- can you pls explain what you mean by this? I.e., will a caving board be less suitable for chopping, and if so, in what way exactly is it less suitable and what would be the impact of using the carving board for that purpose?

        Thanks again -- you really went above and beyond.

        1. re: iyc_nyc

          Wow! $600.00 for a Cornue board? You could get 3or4 BoardSmith boards for that price...

          1. re: petek

            I know -- i'm going to get a BoardSmith eventually.. :-)

            The one I saw was much less than the linked Cornue -- a $600 board is most certainly not in my budget!

            1. re: iyc_nyc

              I can't recommend boardSmith boards enough.I picked up a 16"x22" Carolina Slab($140.) and couldn't be happier.

          2. re: iyc_nyc

            I'm a hobby wood butcher, so this subject has a special interest for me, no problem.

            My comment relates to hardness and the way the knife edge contacts the board. As a carving board, the hardness is not an issue as the knife glides across as you slice through the food. As a cutting board, there are times when more of a chopping motion is used or the knife slams into the board as something is cut, say a watermellon for example. In this case a really hard board might be more likely to damage the knife edge.

            Warping is just something wood does, although an end grain glue up really shouldn't warp, it just may not have ever been flattened completely. Hard to say with any degree of accurcy. But wood can be fickle.

            1. re: mikie

              Thanks again, Mikie.

              RE: the hardness -- would constant/daily chopping (as opposed to slicing) present a problem for my knives on the Cornue honrbeam end grain board -- or are you just talking theoretically about even harder boards than the Cornue?

              Finally -- okay to get a board that already has 1-2 mm warping? I don't tk any are perfectly flat...

              Thanks so much again!

              1. re: iyc_nyc

                I'm talking theoretically, I don't know that anyone can say for sure what degree of hardness will damage a knife as it will depend on how hard you use it as much as anything else. Also, although hornbeam is hard, it's end grian, which is going to act differently than side grain where the hardness numbers come from. Personally, I don't think you would need to be concerned unless you are really hard on equipment.

              2. re: mikie

                "I'm a hobby wood butcher"

                What is that? Do you mean you make butcher board as a hobby or do you mean you butcher animals as a hobby? I am guessing the former, but ... you never know.

                1. re: Chemicalkinetics

                  Chem, a "wood butcher" is just a nick name for someone who works with wood, makes a lot of saw dust and ends up with a finished product.

                  I actually used scraps from projects like the one below to make a few cutting boards for the kitchen and family.

                  I've been intreagued by your stump cutting block, intreagued and amazed, amazed it has not split. It is extremely difficult to keep a log section from splitting as the water escapes. Wood turners (bowl makers) impregnate the wood with PEG to stabalize it, but I don't know that you would do that for a cutting block. So a couple of questions, was the log section dry when you got it, if so, was it air dried? If not, how did you get the water out so that you could get mineral oil in?

                  Take care,

                  1. re: mikie

                    :) I thought so, but it is funny don't you think (the way I teased you about wood butcher).

                    "amazed it has not split. It is extremely difficult to keep a log section from splitting as the water escapes"

                    Well, my first one did split, but I also did something semi-stupid for the first one. I put it in my oven to try to dry it.... so.... there were some mishandling as you can tell. :P

                    For this current block, it has not split. I did put tung oil and beeswax so that may have really slowed down the water escape -- causing a more uniform escape. It certainly has been dried, that I know, because it is much lighter than it once was. However, I don't expect a typical Chinese BBQ chef uses beeswax et. al., my guess is that he just rely on the oil from the foods. Most of them use these wood block, and most of the one I saw is without split.


                    "So a couple of questions, was the log section dry when you got it, if so, was it air dried? If not, how did you get the water out so that you could get mineral oil in?"

                    Oh it was wet for sure. I can feel it. I let it air dried for 2-3 days, not enough to dry it completely for course, but enough so I can start to sand it with an electric sander. It was that wet. I didn't use mineral oil. I used tung oil, but I understand your question. It just take in the tung oil, so I guess it was partially dried out enough to absorb the oil. In fact, I went through quiet a bit of oil and used up all the oil I had at the time and I then seal it with beeswax.

                    1. re: Chemicalkinetics

                      Wow, what are the chances of seeing a picture of my local chinese duck house on a US cooking site? This the cook from the Good Fortune Duck House in Perth, Western Australia. I recognised him and the shop immediately.

                      My parents have a chinese chopping block, like yours, only smaller and on feet. They got it in 1967 when living in Penang, and it's been used daily. I want one and I have not located one yet. I assume Customs and postage make importing not viable.

                      And while I'm here thanks for all your informative replies for so many threads; they;re appreciated.

                      1. re: jhamiltonwa

                        "This the cook from the Good Fortune Duck House in Perth, Western Australia."

                        :) What a small world with internet.

                        "I assume Customs and postage make importing not viable."

                        To ship a custom personal cutting board from Penang is probably not viable. That said, I am sure you can buy various wood blocks. Afterall, your local duck house bought its. I doubt these Chinese barbecue shops/duck houses pay ridiculous high prices.

                        "I'm here thanks for all your informative replies for so many threads"

                        :D You are too kind. Your very welcome.

          3. If it's an end-grain board the hardness of the wood is pretty much moot; even a very dense wood has a good bit of give when you're cutting into the end of the grain instead of across it. For this reason I would be reluctant to use a soft-wood end-grain board, just because I'd worry it'd be too porous and likely to harbor nasties. A very dense wood end-grain board is I think just about ideal; I would expect it to be expensive, because of the material and labor cost.

            That said, my own cutting surfaces are side-grain maple, bamboo, and plastic. Very little of my cutting is of the sort to stress a knife edge unduly, mostly work with a 4" carbon-steel Sabatier, and the small bamboo board doesn't really dull the blade any more than the food does. I don't as a rule hack at giant slabs of anything. I butcher chickens on the big vinyl tray, which the experts tell me is just asking for it, but lots of hot water and some occasional dilute bleach has kept the bugs at bay so far.

            1. iyc_nyc,

              I think mikie has given a very extensive answer and others have pretty much mentioned all the high points. I think a good quality cutting board is a good investment, but it does not mean you have to spend a lot. I think I am in the camp of cowboyardee that most end grain cutting boards are pretty good. BoardSmith ones are better polished, but I think they are probably all functional.

              I know many people (in the past) have suggested to get thicker board to minimize warping and to get larger board to provide more cutting space. I honesty think those are good advices, but you have to make sure that it is not too big that you cannot handle it. If it is too heavy, then you will have a difficult time to wash it. If it is too large, then you may not have enough space for it. If it is too tall/thick, then you can result in poor ergonomic. Your elbow should be above above your hand when you are cutting. If the board is too high, then your hand could be above your elbow, and you can imagine that being odd and uncomfortable.

              Just balance everything out.

              3 Replies
              1. re: Chemicalkinetics

                Super helpful as usual, Chem! I didn't tk about the ergonomics so that is great advice. I may end up using the cutting board on my kitchen table (super limited counter space) so hopefully that'll offset any thickness.

                Still remember your amazing trunk cutting board -- wish I had something like that!

                1. re: iyc_nyc

                  My pleasure. Don't worry about the ergonomics too much, but if you ever feel shoulder pain or any discomfort while preparing your foods, then you may want to examine your posture.

                  Yeah, I like my trunk cutting block. It still looks great and no crack, no warping. It wasn't even that expensive. Definitely no glue to worry about. I think it was $~$40 for including shipping. You can probably just get one for $10 if you find a local lumber yard. The challenge is that it was a rather unfinished wood block, and I had to invest time and effort to sand the block, oiled the block and everything. I enjoyed it because I viewed it as a project, but I don't feel comfortable recommending it as a ready-to-go product.


                  Stay cool

              2. Mikie, gave some great, reasonable advice I think. Here are just some other considerations:

                * When I chose the thickness of my boards I stacked books up on the counter and simulated working with my knives. In the end, I decided on a board with no feet and 1 3/4 inches thick. I just got those rubbermaid kitchen matts for underneath and it has never warped.

                * I am a convert to thinner boards. I just like having less heavy boards to pull out for a quick cutting job. With that said, I worked with a custom board maker to pick the right wood that doesn't 'move' as much and manage the optimal thickness versus surface area. The boards do warp once in a while, but they also bounce back really well but I also use them A LOT. Thin boards are worth the effort if done well and you take care of them.

                * BoardSmith makes a great board, and I have one, but there are other boards makers too. Have you looked into Brooklyn Butcher Blocks? I just thought of it because of the 'nyc' in your ID. I don't have one of their boards, but they look well made. I can't say from experience though.

                Also, Gowanus Furniture customizes boards. and would probably be able to make a carving board for you. Again, in the NY area.

                1 Reply
                1. re: smkit

                  Hi there-

                  Thanks for the mention re Gowanus Furniture, smkit.

                  If this thread here is still active, iyn_nyc, our boards are made of walnut and maple and the finish is a blend of USP mineral oil and beeswax, with a touch of orange oil and anise oil. As stated above, the thicker boards tend to warp less, but it's really a function of keeping the moisture content even on both sides.

                  If you're curious, we use Titebond-III - a water-resistant glue that is FDA approved for indirect food contact.

                  More custom boards are on the way, as there are more problems to solve. Like big boards you can mount on your wall for storage, if, like me, your kitchen is pretty tiny...

                  This is one of the latest - I really like the lip on the front.

                  GIve a shout if we can help...

                2. I find that carving boards are too small for any significant amount of prep work. I have a large board--24 x 20 x 1" --that my husband cut from an IKEA butcher block top that we replaced with a stone top. It sits next to the stove and is fine after 3 years. Easy to pull out and gives enough room for any prep job, pasta, bread etc. Also easy to wash and dry. Nothing fancy but it works well and cost very little.

                  3 Replies
                  1. re: escondido123

                    I think you make a very good point. But like everything else, there are so many circumstances and exceptions, that it's difficult to know what all the options and constraints are. Some carving boards are two sided where one side has the mote and the other is flat, some of these are reasonably sized, some are not. Your large board sounds like a great compromise of surface area to weight, a two inch thick board that size would be too heavy for many people to handle. My personal view is to get as much cutting board as you can a) aford, b) handle comfortably, and c) have a place to store if you can't leave it on the counter. One typically needs more than one cutting board anyway, so having one that's a carving board won't be a big deal.

                    1. re: mikie

                      Totally agree. We have half a dozen boards, two have carving moats (and now that I think about it those are the two that have warped and they were the most expensive) one is kind of fancy with a handle--like a very large cheese board--that's great for quick jobs, and then there's the thick Boos board about 15 x 20" that stays out all the time by the toaster and stove. It's those small boards that are banished from my kitchen--they take up space yet give none in return.

                      1. re: mikie

                        I have a mix of board sizes and they all come in handy. The ones I use now are mostly end grain though, and all except one are without feet to make the double sided. I also bought fleximats to fit over the larger boards to add versatility. So if I need to cut a protein, I just take out a thin fleximat, cut the protein and banish the mat to the sink.