As you make preparations for your own handcrafted wood cutting board, you’ll not only need to decide what species of wood to use, but also whether to build your board from end grain wood or edge grain wood. End grain vs edge grain debates plague the cutting board manufacturing world.
Unless you’re a seasoned woodworker, you may not have heard the terms “end grain” or “edge grain” or know the differences between the two, which is completely understandable—they’re not exactly common topics of conversation in the office break room or at dinner parties. But end grain vs edge grain remains a topic of debate.
However, it’s important to familiarize yourself with the characteristics of each grain to make an informed decision about which one to use in your cutting board project, since your choice will profoundly impact both the form and function of your board.
End Grain vs Edge Grain: Comparing and Contrasting
Here, we are going to dig into the advantages and disadvantages of both end grain and edge grain cutting boards. While it is generally accepted that end-grain cutting boards make the higher quality boards at the end of the day, there are still some disadvantages, especially for those who are manufacturing and building these cutting boards.
Without any further ado, here is a compare and contrast of end grain vs edge grain cutting boards.
End Grain vs Edge Grain: End Grain Cutting Boards
True to their name, end grain cutting boards are crafted from the end pieces of wood, revealing the center of its growth rings. With most pieces of lumber, the long edges of each board show the wood’s edge (or face) grain. The short ends of the lumber show the edge grain, which is produced by cutting against the grain.
End-grain wood can be challenging to cut and shape, which often drives up the price of cutting boards and other products made with end grain.
End grain cutting boards frequently feature a complex and visually appealing checkerboard pattern formed when the ends of many pieces of wood are glued together. This approach creates the strongest and most durable cutting board design, especially compared to the relative weakness of edge grain cuts.
Because the grain in each block of wood flows in a different direction, end grain cutting boards are less likely to warp than their edge-grain counterparts. End grain cutting surfaces are gentle on knife blades and won’t dull them as quickly as other boards, and their fibers have a remarkable “self-healing” property that allows cuts and nicks to close up with regular oil and wax conditioning.
NOTE: For more information about what the best type of cutting board oil can do for your boards, both edge and end grain, check out our in-depth dive: 5 Picks: The Best Cutting Board Oil For The Perfect Boards
Applying stain to end grain wood can be maddeningly difficult since these fibers absorb stain quickly and can produce an uneven finish in which the edges of the wood are darker than its face. Using gel stains or shellac can mitigate these challenges, as they are less likely to soak into the wood’s growth rings.
Pros of End Grain Cutting Boards
- Won’t dull knives
- Surface won’t slip as you cut and slice
- Long-lasting and warp-resistant
- Cuts and nicks can be repaired with regular maintenance
- Intricate and beautiful surface designs
Cons of End Grain Cutting Boards
- More expensive than edge-grain wood
- Challenging to cut and stain
End Grain vs Edge Grain: Edge Grain Cutting Boards
Edge grain refers to the long side-edges (or staves) of a piece of lumber. To make an edge grain cutting board, pieces of wood are laid face to face and fused together, joining the edges to create a uniform surface.
Edge grain surfaces show parallel lines of grain, giving them a striped appearance in contrast to the checkerboard pattern that commonly appears on end grain surfaces.
Edge grain cutting boards often thinner and less durable than end grain boards, although they offer better longevity and quality than plastic alternatives. They’re also rougher on knife blades than end grain surfaces, so you may need to sharpen your tools more often if you frequently use an edge grain board for food preparation.
Because they lack the exposed wood fibers that give end grain boards their self-healing properties, edge grain cutting boards also accumulate surface cuts and blemishes more quickly, although these can be partially addressed with regular oil treatments.
Because they don’t require as much labor and materials, edge grain cutting boards are less complicated and expensive to make than end grain cutting boards. However, they are vulnerable to splitting when multiple species of wood are used in their construction.
Pros of Edge Grain Cutting Boards
- Inexpensive and easier to make than end grain cutting boards
- Offer an ideal surface for food presentation
- Can be thinner and more lightweight than end grain boards
Cons of Edge Grain Cutting Boards
- Less durable than end grain boards
- Dull knives quickly
- Develop cuts and nicks on their surface that are difficult to completely remove
NOTE: There are plenty of great hand planers on the market to get the perfect flat finish without needing to break the bank. As far as hand planers go, we highly recommend WEN products, such as the WEN 6530 6-Amp Electric Hand Planer. See our full review or check out the latest price on Amazon.
Final Thoughts on End Grain vs Edge Grain Cutting Boards
All other things being equal, culinary experts and experienced woodworkers generally recommend end grain over edge grain for crafting the ideal cutting board. End grain construction offers maximum durability and water resistance, making the board less likely to warp or split over time.
End grain fibers also offer the desirable self-healing property that prevents your board from developing a surface filled with cuts, nicks and gouges that can dull knives and harbor bacteria. End grain cutting boards may be more expensive and difficult to make, but they also last longer and extend your knives’ sharpness.
Their intricate checkerboard patterns offer unmistakable evidence that you chose long-term value and quality over short-term convenience when making or purchasing your wood cutting board. Regardless, the true answer of end grain vs edge grain is dependent on your woodworking skill, the end use of the board, and how much time you have on your hands.