Caring for your Butcher Block and Cutting Board. - Rock Woodworks

Caring for your Butcher Block and Cutting Board.


I've always been fascinated by trees, the structure of them, how they grow, how they've been used in history. They are simply amazing for all sorts of reasons. One use that has stood the test of time is using them in the kitchen. Slicing and dicing with a well made Butcher Block is the preferred choice for any dignified chef and has since made its way into many homes worldwide.

     A butcher block needs love and attention, just like any good relationship, it requires caring for, or so my wife tells me so. I usually listen to her, depending on the topic.

Okay, Find Your Roots.

    First, we need to talk about the science of wood, because that's what a butcher block is made of, wood. The very nature of wood is that it wants to absorb most liquid forms. The very purpose of wood is to transport water from the roots to the leaves via microscopic highways of tunnels that deliver the H20 to their destination. Some trees are fast growing and have larger highways than others. The pine tree has large tunnels which deliver more water and so it's a fast growing tree. The Walnut tree has smaller tunnels to which deliver far less water and slows its growth. Generally speaking, the faster growth of a tree usually means it's a softer wood, which is not good for a butcher block. This idea is referred to as the "grain" of the wood.

    This concept is important to know. It defines what kinds of wood are acceptable for the making of a good butcher block or cutting board. Durability is a must if your going to want longevity, and a durable cutting surface is going to be hard. This presents a difficult challenge for using it as a cutting surface as it will dull the knife when used, but wait, what if there was a solution to this problem?

A Simple Solution

     Wood has been the go-to for many solutions in this world, and for good reason. It's renewable (if done correctly), it's durable and it can last for hundreds of years if cared for properly. Wood is the best choice for your cutting surface. Another positive for wood cutting boards is all of the crazy patterns and variations you can get. the Beauty and craftsmanship that can go into the board or block is almost art.

  Now there are other options for a cutting board, of course. Lets look at these real quick.

Plastic - Common because it is cheap, easy to make, and easy to maintain. Most of them are dishwasher safe and will last a long time. But, plastic boards have been known and proven to harbor bacteria, which is sickening.

Glass - Another option, but a terrible one. yes it's easy to clean but it is a nightmare for your knives. Glass will start dulling the knife after one use. Keeping a sharp knife detrimental to the functionality of a board.

Marble/Granite - it's rock, so yes, it will dull your knife faster than glass.

Metal - If you use a metal surface to cut your meats and vegetables, you need to be put on a desert island and vanished from modern society. How dare you.

Your Orientation...           For Your Board, Silly.

    Remember the highways mentioned above, well those determine the orientation of the wood. If you were to take an 8 ft log and cut it long ways, you would have several cross sections of 8 ft long wood which would be considered and "EDGE" grain orientation. This orientation creates beautiful wood patterns and it exposes the grain on an elongated surface making those highways long. These make for great cutting surfaces and is a cost effective way to make a cutting board.

Now, take that same log before we cut it, and cut it into cookies that would be short and round, if you were lay these sections flat, it would be considered "END" grain. This end grain orientation is the desired cutting surface for many that cook often. The end grain exposes the fibers on end and as the knife makes contact with the surface, the wood will separate and when the knife is lifted, the grain fibers will realign to it's original form. It's called self healing, which is pretty cool. Wood is amazing.

Caring For

     When wood gets wet, it swells. Many cultures in history have used this to their advantage, like drilling holes into stone and placing wooden dowels into the hole, then soaking the wood rod with water to expand the wood and crack the stone. But this is the very thing we want to avoid. Again, water is bad. the internal structure of the wood will explode on itself if it were to swell creating an irreparable board or block. You will often see cupping, or bowing, or even torquing if the board gets wet then dries out.

    The best protection against moisture is oil, food grade mineral oil. Mineral oil is great because it will not go rancid as other oils will, like canola, or vegetable. Keeping the board conditioned with oil and not letting it dry out is the best practice to care for a butcher block. Another addition to food grade mineral oil is Beeswax. When you combine the oil and beeswax using heat, it will form a goo that, when applied, will create and extra "waxy" barrier to repel moisture. I suggest for heavy use, apply once every 2 weeks. For light use, maybe once a month. That's just what the doctor ordered.

One sign that a board is getting dried out is the color or sheen of the board. If it's losing it's sheen or looks pail in the center, then it's time for a treatment of oil.

I make my own mixture in large quantities and sell it on my website.


        Putting your wood cutting board/ butcher block in the dishwasher will result in a TOTAL disaster. Not only are you exposing the board to the harsh chemicals that will break down the mineral oil and dry it out, but you are exposing it to heat as well. Heat is another common killer of boards. Heat expands the wood resulting in cracks and possible breaking of the board.

       DO NOT USE SOAP! Soap is another chemical that is designed to break down any oils. This will dry out your board as well. Instead, use a combination of lemon, vinegar, kosher salt, and baking soda. These are all natural alternatives to soap and do just as good at cleaning any surface. The high acid chemistry kills any bacteria and sanitizes the surface.

       Remember to keep it out of the sun. If your board is close to a window that lets in direct light onto your countertops, then be aware to move it into a shaded area or put it away when not in use.

One last thing...

Keeping your board/block in good condition takes some getting use to and requires a little extra TLC. So take the time and understand what the wood wants and keep it well oiled. Butcher blocks are a great addition for anyone interested in cooking at home or adds a nice piece of art for those that don't cook. Regardless of your intentions in the kitchen, everyone needs a wood cutting board or butcher block.

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