I've been asked to make a cutting board for someone. I've never made one before so looking for some advice...best wood?
I think that most butcher blocks are oak, is that right?
what is a good contrasting wood to use?
Can I just glue up wide boards or am I better off making smaller boards to prevent warping?
cup up, cup down, or vary?
It needs to be kinda thick because she wants channels for the juice to drain down.
Finish? butcher block oil only?
Your question on this is probably one of the most common I see and/or get...Butcher Block...Whats the best wood? etc. I have been meaning to write a good response so I can just send folk to it or "copy and paste" it. So here we go:
Cutting Boards, Butcher Block, and related Items
First, let me validate my perspectives on this topic and why I have drawn the conclusions I offer...
I have been a traditional woodworker for over 40 years, much of that while working within other professions, but always keeping my hand in the professional side of it. One of the most sought after items are those for the Kitchen and the ubiquitous "Butcher Block" being asked for most often. I have gotten to watch the complete evolution of these over time from "plastic is best" in the late 70's and 80's...until we all learned through the events of actual human deaths, that plastic actually can (once cut on enough and not properly cleaned) grow bacteria in all the cut marts to the point of being unserviceable. This can happen at a very alarming rate!!! Even though many are still in service, little can change a human habit once formed, so many still cut on plastic. Then studies came out proving the logic of our forbears that "wood is good"
because there are some species (Acer Species...aka Maples and related)
that actually have antimicrobial properties within the wood itself, and cleaning them is nothing more than vinegar and/or citric acid. I have designed and made everything from working Harvest Tables to full on professional "stump style" and "butch blocking" traditional cutting surfaces for everything from Butchery, and Bakery, to Abattoir facilities. That history is what facilitated the advice below offered.
Hands down, the best wood for "cutting surfaces" are going to be Maples and related species
. Its been that way for literally over 1000 years, and only the last 100 have we "experimented" with other materials and woods. Most of which don't come close to the performance of Maple and many are just plain bad to use.
As to construction, I promote "End Grain" orientation whenever possible. If on the flat...bark up only!!!!...as this has the shortest fiber pattern exposure (aka splinters) and follows the traditional adage of: "use wood as it stands living or fall in the forest."
That's not a hard and fast rule but a very dominantly found tradition with very strong logic behind it. If wood is used for a cutting board (or a floor board) with the "pith side up" the splinters get longer and the fiber structure can trap liquids down inside the wood!!! My minimum thickness for 90% of what I design and/or make for a cutting board is 100mm and I prefer actual "stump style" blocks at 300mm that can be resurfaced and last over 100 years in continued use. I prefer green wood over dry, and joinery over glues whenever possible...
As to finishes, I only use food grade oils and beeswax for all but the cutting surface. There are countless blends out there, but just plain pure food grade Tung or Flax oil rubbed into the wood is standard by many. Beeswax cut in with citrus oil which also is a great cleaning agent in its own right. Note
that some Chief and others do not want any "drying oil" used on their boards...at all!!!
I support this and understand the reason, as they can trap bacteria and/or taint the flavor of the food. Some want it just bare wood, while others (me included) will use Coconut oil (my all time favorite) or Olive Oil which both have been used for over 1000 years. As to going rancid...NO, they do not...IF...the surface is cleaned properly after each use and wiped down with fresh oil that is blotted off with warm water...
Before I end this post, let me speak to the other woods often used, that probably shouldn't be. One of the most common currently isn't a wood at all...Its a grass!!...and that would be Bamboo. Now I love bamboo, and it is a pretty cool material to say the least. Why don't I like it for cutting boards. The main reason is it dulls the crap out of good knives because of the natural silica content in the cell structure of the plant. I also know that many fall apart because they are not made well. Like most (if not all) good cutting surfaces...END GRAIN IS BEST!!!
...and if (I have made a few lite duty ones) I make one of Bamboo, it is only made with an "end grain" orientation. Channeling in the surface needs to be of a nature (like V channel) that can be cleaned well and easily if these are used at all. I don't recommend them nor put them on my projects.
The next group are "nut woods." I don't recommend any of these typically because of allergic reactions and toxicity, as well as, tainting the flavor of foods, which they can do. These same reasons are why I personally do not ever recommend tropical or other "unknown" hardwoods, as many of these too can taint flavor or have toxins in them or the potential to. Cherry to has a distinct flavor to those with sensitive palates, as well as silicate in the fibers. Oaks and related species are entirely too full of tannic acid, and are "open celled" which is not a good thing to have on a cutting surface!!
Good Luck with your project!