Thanks to Facebook, I received a rather large inquiry from a gentleman starting a restaurant for 15-20 charcuterie boards and 15-20 sandwich serving boards, and a handful of beer flight boards.
I would really like to take this opportunity as it could be worth a few grand, and I have some design ideas.. but, no idea how to price something this large. And he wants to be able to wash them daily. What would you finish them in to be able to do so? Obviously mineral oil isn't enough - what about a clear epoxy? Or?
Would love any advice.
First, let me validate my perspectives on this topic and why I draw 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 on the professional side of it. One of the most sought-after items is those for the Kitchen and the ubiquitous "Butcher Blocks" "Cutting Boards" and "Charcuterie" 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 forebears 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 Acer spp (Maples) and related species
. Its been that way for millenia, 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 floorboard) 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 or greater since these can be resurfaced and last over 100 years in continued use. For Charcuterie and related my minimum is 40mm. I prefer green wood over "kiln dried" (by today's standards in woodworking), 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...
I would note, the reason Coconut Oil is one of (if not my primary) favorite oils for food prep surfaces is its very neutral affect as a food grade/based "non-drying oil." Even more so than Olive Oil. Anaphylaxis is extremely rare with coconut oils, (I have never heard or read of it happening) and one of the reasons it has been used safely for so long historically. Contact dermatitis is also virtual nonexistent with Coconut Oils....Nothing is 100% safe...other than dry wood, which some do prefer.
Mineral Oil treatment are a "new concept" based more on trend (and the petroleum industry pushing byproduct onto the market to boost profits) than in a good practice based on known (and proven) traditions. I know of few Chiefs that would ever tolerate mineral oil ever getting anywhere near a dish they are preparing. Mineral oils are not a material of "food"...they have (depending on manufacture) very strong tastes/flavors, and are actually a laxative. Not a quality I personally want around food or food prep surfaces. Mineral Oils are touted as colorless and odorless but do have a strong flavor, especially to those with sensitive palates. As a by-product of the distillation of petroleum to produce gasoline they really have no place near food preparation surfaces in my (et al) view.
It's long been used as a common ingredient in lotions, creams, ointments, and cosmetics, but even these are now being determined to be poor for human skin contact over duration. It's lightweight and inexpensive for industry to manufacture from waste byproduct
and that is the main reason it has been so thoroughly marketed in many products of modernity. For me, and what I have seen, this is one of those materials that came into fashion based on "marketing" not from actual good practice or proven long standing tradition...
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 make one of Bamboo (I have made a few lite duty ones), it is only made with an "end grain" orientation. Channeling in the surface needs to be of a nature (like U 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 unless specifically requested.
The next group is "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 most types of cutting boards. There are exceptions for such as end grain orientation Quercus alba (White Oak) species, and only for such things as the culinary arts aimed primarily at Smoke, Barbecued meats, and cold cuts...but hat is a very niche area of cuisine usually.
Good Luck with your project!