Oak in a Cutting Board?

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Blog entry by WoodArtbyJR posted 01-08-2011 04:53 AM 13704 reads 1 time favorited 8 comments Add to Favorites Watch

Oak is not recommended for end grain cutting boards and I am guessing that is because the end grain is so porous that bacteria could collect and grow. NOW, if you use the wiping varnish method wouldn’t that theoretically seal the pores preventing an opening for bacteria to collect?

-- Jim Roberts, Port Orchard Washington

8 comments so far

View Tim Dahn's profile

Tim Dahn

1567 posts in 3561 days

#1 posted 01-08-2011 05:03 AM

A good read about wood cutting boards

-- Good judgement comes from experience and experience comes from poor judgement.

View Dark_Lightning's profile


3159 posts in 3105 days

#2 posted 01-08-2011 06:55 AM

Thanks, Timbo, I also linked that awhile back. There is no substitute for cleaning, when it comes to cutting boards. However, as can be seen in the link Timbo posted, wood is better than plastic. IMHO, oak would be better, due to the tannin content. Tannin, or specifically, tannic acid, is not hospitable to bacteria.

-- Random Orbital Nailer

View WoodArtbyJR's profile


428 posts in 2961 days

#3 posted 01-08-2011 04:00 PM

Timbo & AtomJack, not exactly the answer I was looking for. I have read this article before. I was unaware that oak produced tannic acid. Though the referenced article does allude to wood, in general, having some substance that combats bacteria. Oak is a ring-porous wood, with bands of large, porous spring vessels as opposed to maple which has a tight grain structure. My question still remains, since oak is a ring-porous wood, will the wiping varnish sealing method seal up these open pore tubes? Thus closing off the openings for bacterial to collect? OR, will the wiping varnish method just seal the wood so that the tannic acid (or other substances in other woods) isn’t/can’t be released because of the sealing barrier holding them (tannic acid etc) within the woods structure.
I made an oak and black walnut end grain cutting board and while using my air compressor to clean it off after sanding I was amazed at how I could feel the air coming thru the grain in the oak. This, is what spurred my question.

-- Jim Roberts, Port Orchard Washington

View Julian's profile


880 posts in 3522 days

#4 posted 01-08-2011 05:58 PM

Why would you try using a varnish on a cutting board? There is a reason that mineral oil is all you are supposed to use. It is in direct contact with food.

-- Julian, Park Forest, IL

View WoodArtbyJR's profile


428 posts in 2961 days

#5 posted 01-08-2011 08:38 PM

Julian, look at the podcast link I attached and the wiping varnish method will be shown and explained. Wiping varnish is a method where you thin varnish by about 50% with mineral spirits and then wipe on several coats. This VERY THIN mixture REALLY penetrates the wood, unlike normal varnish which is a topical application. Since the thinned mixture penetrates the wood you do not have the chipping possibility of the built up layers of regular varnish. This is the way I understand it to work. Watch the woodwhisperer podcast and it will explain it better then I do.

-- Jim Roberts, Port Orchard Washington

View childress's profile


841 posts in 3538 days

#6 posted 01-09-2011 08:43 AM

Bacteria will not grow in wood. It will suffocate and die rather quickly. But if using oak, you do need to use the white oaks which have a closed grain due to the tyloses. Red oak has open pores which is why you felt the air coming through. I am not a fan of using the varnish like the woodwhisperer because, I believe, after the first couple of coats, you start to “build” the finish which could lead to moisture being trapped under it. I know alot of people who wouldn’t agree with me, but I clearly remember a video mark did about one of his boards that cracked and in that video, you can see the water trapped under the finish. I always seal my boards with a beeswax/mineral oil mixture and have never had any problems.

Oh, and you can do an extensive search here on LJ because this issue has been covered many times before…

Also, finishes that are made to FDA guidlines (nothing is “approved”, it’s all made to their guidlines) to be considered “food safe” by them, are done so with specific formulas. The minute you dilute them with mineral spirits, they no longer fall under the specified “guidlines” and cannot be considered “food safe”. But this is a whole other argument, because once any finish is “cured” it is considered inert. So much to worry yourself over really. I’ve researched and researched this stuff ad nauseam because I make and sell butcher blocks and cutting boards as my business and I have to be real careful so I don’t find myself in a lawsuit.

-- Childress Woodworks

View WoodArtbyJR's profile


428 posts in 2961 days

#7 posted 01-09-2011 07:32 PM

Childress, THIS IS the information I was looking for. THANK YOU VERY MUCH. I also make and sell cutting boards, but not to the extinct that you do. I started out using Mahoneys Utility Finish (walnut oil). I liked the finish, it was all natural and when exposed to UV it hardened. Two problems though. Some people have severe nut allergies and it is possible that someone could have a reaction to the oil application. The second was when I did a show this last Aug. a small cloud burst came thru and got some of my boards and bowls sprinkled on and the ones I didn’t get wiped off ended up with little pock marks in the finish. I had to refinish them. I then switched to mineral oil and then watching Marc’s podcast using the mineral oil and beeswax combo I tried it. I, like you, LOVE IT. Since I really don’t want to go out and spend money on mineral spirits and varnish I think I will stick with the mineral oil/beeswax method. If it ain’t broke, why fix it…..
With the information on the oak that you gave us I will now verify which oak I am using and stay away from the porous type. Having worked for Uncle Sam and enforcing “The letter of the law” I know exactly what you are saying in your “nothing is ‘approved’ explaination” and completly agree.
Again, thank you very much and I think this subject is put to bed….

-- Jim Roberts, Port Orchard Washington

View miles125's profile


2180 posts in 4002 days

#8 posted 01-09-2011 07:44 PM

I have a red oak cutting board i’ve used for 6 years and have found it to work wonderfully. But i’ve never been one to worry about germs, allergies and bacteria either as it’s my prefered method of building a good immune system. Lol. Plus our ancestors ate off the dirt and somehow we all made it here just fine.

-- "The way to make a small fortune in woodworking- start with a large one"

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