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Discussion Starter · #1 ·
Ahoy one and all! I'm pretty new to these forums, so I'm sorry if this has already been discussed. My question is if there is a list of wood that is known to be bad for cutting boards. Well, a list of woods that are known to be bad for functional cutting boards that is.

I have read posts here about how red oak seems to be bad because of its pores. I have also read stuff here about walnut and how some people have an allergy to walnut. If there are other woods out there that cause problems, I'd love to know about them before I make another cutting board.

I should point out that I found a page listing wood that potentially has allergies. The allergy thing doesn't concern me as much as the kind of problems found in red oak.

Some wood that I was thinking about using was Sugar Maple, Hickory, Mahogany, Purpleheart, Yellowheart, Redheart, Padauk, Cherry, Aspen, Poplar, Alder, Elm, Bocote.

Sorry for such a long list. I'm probably not going to use more than a couple of these for any one board, but I figured I'd ask about all of them just in case there was some crazy issue that I didn't know about. Thanks in advance!
 

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I'm told that walnut sawdust is actually toxic - not just allergenic... It's a poor wood for cutting boards, regardless.

I vaguely recall from High School wood shop (20+ years ago) that purpleheart has problems as well.
 

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I've been reading that maple and birch are the two woods which are acceptable for cutting boards in commercial kitchens. Clearly, no peanut oil finish!

I realize that doesn't offer much in the way of contrast. I've used cooked red grape skin goop for a really gaudy stain, much akin to purple heart (Vitis riparia, native to North America.)
Free for me, I grow grapes.

The other, stunning, thing that I've seen, was a cutting board which actually used the end grain growth rings for the alternating kalideoscopic pattern. Pine. Yes, pine. The builder must have spent ages in the planning = almost dizzying to look at.
 

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Discussion Starter · #4 ·
That helps

Well not using walnut is fine by me. It's too dang expensive anyway. I always hear about maple being good and I always use it. I also heard that hickory and cherry are good, but I don't really remember where I heard that. It probably wasn't an authority on the subject.

These cutting boards are going to be presents for friends and family members and they will not be for commercial use. No one in my family has any allergies that we know of, so I'm not extra worried about that. Certainly I will be avoiding peanut oil or anything having to do with peanuts though, haha. Here is a link that I found in another forum on potential allergies: http://www.finewoodworking.com/how-to/article/toxic-woods.aspx

Like I said though, I'm less concerned about allergies. I've been reading about how some woods (like red oak) are open grain which apparently is a problem. Some people also talk about wood that is especially porous, but it seems like there is a lot of disagreement there. If someone knows which woods are open grain and open pours that would really help though. Thanks again!
 

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I'm told that walnut sawdust is actually toxic - not just allergenic... It's a poor wood for cutting boards, regardless.

I vaguely recall from High School wood shop (20+ years ago) that purpleheart has problems as well.
Now you tell me.:eek: I just built a rolling kitchen cart for my wife that has a hard maple top but I put in 4 strips of wallnut just to jazz it up a bit. I am wondering if the butcher block oil will seal it enough to prevent any possible problems.

My wife says she does not plan on doing any cutting on the top. She makes a lot of bread and rolls and that will be the main use. Plus, as far as I know, no one in our family has any food allergies.

Charlie
 

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+1 with others and open grain woods not being good for cutting boards - too many small spaces for food particles to get stuck.

I have used sugar maple (aka hard maple), hickory, purpleheart, yellowheart, bubinga, bloodwood, cherry, walnut

Most of the issues I have read with wood allergies are associated with either the dust or ingestion. The wood may be scratched from cutting, but I think the amount of wood particles picked up by the food is minimal.

I have three "user" cutting boards presently being used in my house. All face grain.
One is hard maple with purpleheart inlays.
One is hard maple with walnut inlays.
One is hard maple with a middle section of walnut.
 

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These are the woods I have used in the past with no ill effects. Maple (both hard and soft), walnut, cherry, purple heart, Pauduk (spelling?),yellow heart, blood wood. What you don't want is open grain or soft wood in your cutting boards.
 
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I think that the concern is for the "open-grained" woods = too easy for food particles to get down into the vessels (aka pores). Thus, too hard to assure cleanliness in a big kitchen. There are all kinds of tight-grained woods with small vessels that should be fine.
If I were to cut a ripe tomato on a wood with a lot of tannins, I don't think that I'd notice the change in taste for whatever leached out. Even in wine barrels, the vintner takes advantage of the sloooooow release over perhaps years.
 

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As shown above, you are going to get many good and not good wood to use. It's really a matter of opinion. Some say tight grain only due to food particles getting in open grained wood. I've also read a study by a CA college (I think SD State) that showed the wood in open grained wood naturally kills the bacteria anyway, so that it doesn't matter.

I made several boards myself and all were red oak, white oak, black walnut, & hickory. They seem to be doing just fine.

Mark
 

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Discussion Starter · #12 ·
excellent!

Thanks to all for the responses! I feel much more informed about the woods I should use and/or avoid. One quick question about poplar though. If I used thin poplar boards for contrast would that be problematic? I know that softwood is bad, but since poplar is kind of a hardwood (albeit very soft compared to the other woods mentioned), I am curious to know if I can get away with using just thin pieces of it in the middle of the board.

If poplar is a no go, then what about aspen? The reason I ask is because I am interested in having a wood that is on the very light end of the color spectrum. It seems like some of the sugar maple I've seen can be somewhat light, but not as light as aspen or poplar. It's not a huge deal, but I figured I'd ask to see if anyone has had experience using either poplar or aspen. Thanks again!
 

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Despite my earlier comment about walnut, I have seen it used in cutting boards, but usually as an accent. I suppose it would come down to the quality of the finish. Fine Woodworking had an article several years ago that talked about the finish benefits of using food-safe silicone on wood that would be used for food (boards, bowls, spoons, etc), so that might be a good option if leaching is the big concern. I used food-safe silicone on a cutting board I picked up from an asian grocery. It's a cross-section of a whole log, species unidentified. I felt that the silicone would be a good idea for protection.

Aspen and Poplar are generally the same tree. Poplar refers to the genus Populus. Populus tremuloidies is the American Aspen. There are many species in that genus. If I recall correctly, White Poplar is Populus alba. Cottonwood is a relative.

The issue with softwoods and open-grain is that bacteria take up home in the pores.

As noted, the concern with purpleheart and walnut is mainly in the wood dust - which is probably not a big problem after you finish making the cutting board.

I remember hearing (can't recall where) that walnut is more absorbent... Was hoping someone would confirm or deny that. Seem to think I heard it from food & health inspector...
 

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I've used most of the above woods in my cutting boards. After spending much thought about the same concerns you are worried about, i just started making them with whatever I thought looked good. I've use walnut and even Brazilian cherry and hell, I'm still alive. Now cutting raw meat on there might something to worry about
 

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Thank you WoodChuck. I was just re-reading this thread, thinking that raw meat juice is likely to be the #1 thing to be very careful about.

Experiment: find a piece of clear, straight grained red oak. 48" of flooring would do nicely. Put one end in a glass of water and blow in the other end. See the bubbles? Open from end to end.
I can't guarantee that meat juice would soak into the open, empty vessels of end grain that far but I'll pick some other wood(s).
10+ years ago, I made a pine cutting board, about 16" x 16" x 1", as the "lid" for a knife drawer.
Slopped it up with olive oil. Its a little banged up now, scratches really. That board has seen an awful lot of pizza slide across its face! If I had wanted something really fancy, I'd hang it on the wall.
 

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Oak has tannin that will affect the flavor of food. A bad choice for a cutting board.

What oak are you talking about here? I have used white oak for many, many cutting boards and I have not (nor has anyone I have made one for) noticed any off flavors. For the boards I make I use African Mahogany, White Oak, Hickoy, Maple and Purple Heart. I haven't noticed anything...or grown a third eye.:laughing:

Hays
 

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I made a cutting board (cherry with purpleheart accents) to get an idea for how purpleheart works before using it in a bigger project. The board has seen almost daily use for over a month. No problems with either wood so far.

Other observations: purpleheart is hard as a rock, even compared to hard maple. Also, I got it rough-sawn and it gave me the itchiest, most painful splinters.
 

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There are many, many people who appreciate the tannins from the oak used to make the barrels for the aging of fine drink. For the 5 minutes that my sliced tomato sits on the board, nothing will happen.

For further edification on the composition of those tannins, I recommed that you begin reading on p720 in McGee: On Food and Cooking. 2nd Ed, 2004. ISBN 0-684-80001-2
 

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Hi, I'm new here and this is my first post so here it goes.

I have made a number of end grain cutting boards using Walnut, Cherry, Maple with no problems to those using them. The article in Fine Wood Working did mention "milling and sanding" as the primary problem. I do have a family member with nut allergies, he works with Walnut frequently and has used an end grain walnut cutting board. I have not seen him chewing on it, that might cause a problem/
 

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Discussion Starter · #20 ·
That's an interesting idea Jeepman, thanks for the post! What in particular did the article say about milling and sanding? Was it just saying that sawdust left over from sanding is a problem? Or are they saying that the board needs to be sanded down to a fine grit? I'm interested to learn more about that.

Thanks to everyone else for the suggestions too. I feel like I'm getting a pretty good idea for what to use and what not to.
 
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