So you’ve decided you want to buy a wooden cutting board? Now comes the “not as easy as it seems” choice of which type of wood.
Not all woods are suitable for cutting boards. Some are too porous, too soft, too endangered or simply toxic. For the type of foods we focus on at Carnecraft, there are eight realistic choices:
- Hinoki (Japanese Cyprus)
If you aren’t a tree aficionado, you might be surprised at how WIDE the variations are among these woods in terms of durability, knife friendliness, color, cost, and popularity.
Quick Comparison Table
|Wood||Popularity Rank |
|Janka Hardness Rating**||Color||Cost|
|Hinoki (Japanese Cypress)||7||510||Very Light||$$|
** Note: there are many different Janka Hardness ratings on the internet. Depending on the source, literal numerical values will vary slightly but ordinal rankings rarely differ.
A very important point that is not readily apparent from the above table is that the two best selling (by far) woods are very hard woods that don’t easily scar or groove and therefore, last a long time. This makes sense, right? People want products that last a long time.
However, that’s only half the story. As we pointed out in our definitive cutting board buying and care guide, hard wood boards that are durable also hinder knife edge retention, dulling and rolling blades with each strike. Given that most of us has have a larger investment in our knives than we do our cutting boards, “knife friendliness” is arguably more important than “board durability.”
This is especially true when you consider that some health experts argue that boards should be replaced at least every five years, versus quality kitchen knives that are expected to last a life time.
Just something to consider as you read through our overview of each type of wood.
Types of Wood
Technically a flowering grass instead of a tree, bamboo is cheap, fast growing and durable. From an eco-friendliness standpoint, bamboo is hard to beat. It requires little water, chemicals or pesticides and produces 35% more oxygen than an equivalent stand of trees. It can be harvested in 3-5 years versus 20+ years for some trees.
When used in cutting boards, bamboo is a relatively “hard” wood, meaning that board will last longer (i.e. not get too scratched) but knives won’t maintain their edges as well. Importantly, bamboo cutting boards are generally the most affordable on our list.
Best suited for: People on a budget who need a durable board.
Although bamboo has knocked maple out of the top spot in terms of sales, maple cutting boards are simply iconic. Maple is a light colored wood with moderately pronounced grains. It makes beautiful boards and is the mainstay of the John Boos cutting board line (the most famous cutting board manufacturer).
Because of its relative abundance in North America, maple is used for heavier boards and butcher blocks weighing 20+ pounds. Home chefs deboning, quartering or fileting large cuts of meat are more likely than not using maple butcher blocks.
Best suited for: Virtually everyone. A partial exception is anyone with high end, expensive knives (e.g., Wusthof, Shun). In that case, walnut and teak are probably better, but if you must have maple, be sure to buy an end grain cutting board (versus flat or edge grain).
Walnut is the darkest wood on our list and makes absolutely beautiful cutting boards. Not only is the wood darker but the grains are very pronounced, resulting in a rich, traditional look.
Walnut is on the softer end of hardwoods – 25% to 30% softer than bamboo and maple respectively. Not surprisingly, walnut is very knife friendly. Global, Kramer, Shun and Wusthof chef knives love these boards.
While walnut cutting boards will be more prone to scaring, you’re trading off the longevity of a medium-priced cutting board versus the longevity of several likely more expensive kitchen knives designed to last a lifetime.
Best suited for: People who need a darker board to match or contrast their kitchen décor and/or have premium knives.
In many ways, our description of Teak will be similar to Walnut – both are softer, premium woods that are darker than their top-selling bamboo and maple counterparts. A key difference is that teak has natural oils and sand (silica) that make the wood more durable than its hardness rating alone might imply.
Teak is also brighter than walnut and has pronounced grains. Individual strips of wood have more variation in color, giving teak cutting boards an aggressive, bold look. It’s one of our favorite looking boards, and many people display them prominently in their kitchens as functional works of art.
Teak boards are strong contenders for “best overall,” and we recommend them with few reservations.
Best suited for: Other than preferences on looks, see walnut above.
These trees and shrubs are members of the pea family and are native to Australia. Today, they are grown in Asia, Africa and even the Americas. Like bamboo, acacia is considered to be eco-friendly as it grows quickly and requires limited chemical fertilizers and pest control.
Acacia has rich gold and brown hues that fall somewhere between teak and walnut. It is also the hardest wood on our list, checking in at ~25% harder than bamboo. As a result, acacia cuttings boards are highly resistant to gouges and scratches and highly durable.
Best suited for: People on a budget that want a distinctive looking board that doesn’t scar.
Although hugely prized as fruit trees and for furniture wood, cherry is not a super common cutting board wood. It is, however, often paired with maple or walnut in “checkerboard” end grain cutting boards.
Cherry is very soft, scoring less than 1000 on the Janka hardness scale. However, it has very fine and close grains making it “tougher” than it appears and thus, not as good for blade edge retention.
Cherry wood makes perfectly fine cutting boards that aren’t the best at any one thing – board durability, edge retention, affordability, etc. As a result, cherry wood boards are among the lowest selling hard wood boards.
Best suited for: People that like the look or need a cherry board to complement their kitchen’s décor.
Also known as Japanese Cypress, Hinoki is literally a soft wood in both a practical sense and a scientific classification sense. It’s 65% softer than maple and is extremely forgiving to razor sharp, high end knives (e.g., 15% blade angles).
Hinoki is very light wood with small consistent grains and has a pleasing natural citrus fragrance. Hinoki cutting boards are excellent for delicate and precision operations like fileting fish. Not surprisingly, one of the biggest sellers of Hinoki cutting boards is Shun, the high-end Japanese knife maker.
While not the best everyday workhorse, these boards are excellent additions to any kitchen.
Best suited for: People with elite kitchen knives, people that need a very minimalist, light colored board for their décor, and people who prepare delicate, precise dishes (e.g., sushi, carpaccio).
These huge trees grow up to 150 feet tall and are found most commonly in boreal forests in Canada, Siberia, and the northern U.S. Larch is an extremely soft wood, so much so, that larch is only used in end grain cutting boards, which are known for their “self-repairing” capabilities.
Larch has a light, maple-like color with very circular and swirly grain patterns. Once you’ve seen a larch board, you won’t forget it. They are instantly recognizable and one of our absolute favorite looks.
Larch cutting boards are probably the most expensive cutting boards in terms of average price on the market today. This is due to the fact that they are only offered as end grain boards (which are more expensive to make) and the wood is less widely available due to being restricted to colder forests.
Best suited for: People with a big budget who want a bright, distinctive board that looks different from what everyone else has.
Hopefully, we have disabused everyone of the notion that “wood is wood.” The eight most common woods used in cutting boards vary tremendously, and your day-to-day experience in the kitchen will be noticeably different depending on the type you choose.
Readers of this guide will be well suited to choose with confidence.