Edge Grain vs End Grain Cutting Boards
By Bobby B. | February 2022 | Cutting Boards
Wood grain, along with the type of wood, a cutting board is made from are two important factors to consider when purchasing a cutting board. In most cases, wooden cutting boards are created by gluing strips of the same type or multiple types of wood together. Choosing which side or grain of the wood is facing up determines what type of grain the cutting board will have. There are three types of grain style to choose from, end grain, edge grain, and face grain. Here we describe the difference between these three surfaces, list the advantages and drawbacks of each, and provide insight on which might be the best for your needs.
End Grain Cutting Boards
Let’s begin with end grain (also commonly referred to as a butcher block). This is the strongest and arguably the most popular type of grain for a wood cutting board. On a piece of lumber, the two cut ends (which show a section of the tree’s growth rings) are considered the end grains. To create these these cutting boards, small blocks with the end pieces facing up are glued together, often in a checkerboard pattern.
On this type of board, the end of the wood fibers create the cutting surface and give it a “self-mending” nature. Knives will cut between the wood fibers as opposed to across them. Once the knife lifts off the surface, the fibers of the wood close back together. Picture cutting through the bristles of a broom. When cutting through the end of the broom, the knife moves through the bristles which return to their normal position once the knife is removed. Cutting across the side of the broom however, causes the bristles to dent or break. The same is true for wood fibers.
Gentle on knives: Knives are able to sink slightly into the wood which helps them hold their edge and not dull as fast.
Less visible cut lines and scratches: Knives will cut through wood fibers as opposed to across them. This allows the wood fibers to close back up (known as self healing) and have fewer visible knife marks.
Thick and heavy: End grain boards are typically between 2″ and 2.5″ thick. This gives them a good weight and keeps them sturdy and in place while in use. The thickness also makes it less prone to warping as long as it receives regular conditioning.
Durable: It can tolerate heavy chopping and butchering on a regular basis. As with all wood cutting boards, conditioning is a must. Regular maintenance will help ensure your board will last a lifetime.
Requires frequent conditioning: The exposed wood fibers on the surface allows oil to evaporate more quickly compared to edge and face grain cutting boards. Therefore, end grain needs to be oiled or conditioned more often to keep it from drying out.
Cost: End grain boards are made up of many pieces. This means more wood cuts necessary and more glue to hold it all together. The additional work and materials makes them more expensive.
Large number of seams: As mentioned in discussing cost, many pieces are needed to create an end grain board which leads to a large number of glued seams. This becomes problematic if the board is not regularly maintained or purchased from a less reputable source, as the seams may crack over time.
Heavy chopping and butchering: Also called butcher blocks, end grain are excellent if you plan on doing a lot of heavy chopping, butchering raw meat, or carving large pieces of meat.
High-end knives: This is the best option if you have high-end kitchen knives that you want to keep in good shape.
Edge Grain Cutting Boards
Edge grain is what we consider the middle ground when it comes to cutting boards. On a piece of wood, the narrow sides are considered the edge grain. Cutting boards made from this grain are made by gluing the flat, broad side of the wood together so that the edge pieces are facing upward.
An edge grain cutting board will have a striped pattern. Typically, the pieces will run the entire length of the board allowing you to see the continual grain pattern and the natural beauty of the wood. Unlike end grain boards, there is no “self-mending” property when cutting on this type of board as knives cut across the wood grain.
Less Moisture Absorption: They don’t absorb liquid as quickly as the open fibers on an end grain board. Therefore, they tend to be more stain resistant and will dry faster after washing.
Lower Maintenance: All wood cutting boards need to be sealed; however, edge grain boards will require less frequent oiling over time compared to end grain cutting boards.
Durable: When maintained properly these cutting boards will last many years.
Cost: Edge grain boards are less complicated to make and therefore less expensive.
Visible Knife marks: Cutting across the grain makes knife marks more visible; however, using a good cutting board oil on a regular basis will make them less noticeable.
Less Gentle on Knives: An edge grain board will dull your knives faster than using an end grain cutting board; yet, it will still be more gentle than using a face grain, plastic, or glass cutting board.
Everyday Use: Edge grain are excellent everyday cutting boards for light to medium food prep tasks such as chopping vegetables or carving/slicing small to medium sized meats.
Mobility: They are light to medium weight making them easy to move back and forth from the sink to the counter.
Prepping Moisture Rich Foods: Less moisture absorption makes these boards great for cutting up fruits such as watermelon or cantaloupe or other items with a lot of liquid content.
Serving Board: Thinner, lighter edge grain boards are often used as a serving board for cheeses, crackers, etc…
Face Grain Cutting Boards
Face grain cutting boards are the easiest of the three grain types to make. On a piece of lumber, the wide, broad sides are the face grain. They are constructed from one solid piece of wood or two pieces that have been glued together along the narrow edge.
These are some of the most beautiful wooden cutting boards because there are few seams and a clean, smooth grain across the entire board. Due to this, face grain boards are often used as a serving board or personalized with an engraving and given as gift.
Cost: Face grain boards are easy to make and therefore the most affordable of the three types of grain styles.
Moisture Resistance: Face grain boards don’t absorb as much liquid making them more resistant to stains.
Visually Appealing: This type of board allows you to see the full grain of the wood giving it character and a smooth, clean look.
Clear, Visible Knife Marks: With the cutting surface being one uniform piece, slicing across the wood fibers on a face grain board leaves knife marks that are very easy to see.
Hard on Knives: Similar to edge grain cutting boards, face grain boards will also have a tendency to dull knives as you cut through the fibers of the wood. However, they are still better than plastic, glass or even bamboo cutting boards.
Prone to Warping: The thickness of face grain boards is limited to how thick the lumber is they are made from (most are around 1″ thick). Because of this, they are generally thinner than end or edge grain boards and more likely to warp if not maintained properly.
Light Use: It is a great tool when used irregularly for light kitchen tasks
Serving Board: A face grain cutting board can make a great serving board and is an affordable option for use as a charcuterie board.