woods known to be safe for cutting boards?

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Forum topic by Gary Fixler posted 01-07-2010 11:25 PM 26165 views 2 times favorited 26 replies Add to Favorites Watch
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Gary Fixler

1001 posts in 3581 days

01-07-2010 11:25 PM

Topic tags/keywords: woods wood species cutting boards food safe non-toxic

I know black walnut (Juglans nigra) and sugar maple (Acer saccharum) are old favorites, but I’m really looking for a few more colors to work with in end-grain cutting boards. There are plenty of beautiful exotic imports that really aren’t very safe. Ideally, I’d like a handful of additional colors to choose from that have properties similar to maple and walnut. Species I’d be interested to find would be at least as non-toxic as walnut/maple, would have similar closed, or very finely open grain (like walnut), would be a solid hardwood (not soft, like poplar, or soft maple), and would have somewhat similar movement rates to walnut and maple so they don’t cause the board to pop or pull apart.

Any hope for me? Thanks!

Edit: These project packs are a good list to sort through:

It’ll take ages to look up toxicity info for all of them, so I’m looking for some help determining what’s already known to be food safe enough to use for a cutting board, or other food service item. Thanks again!

-- Gary, Los Angeles, video game animator

26 replies so far

View SNSpencer's profile


133 posts in 3313 days

#1 posted 01-07-2010 11:38 PM

I have used Purpleheart and Yellowheart in small cutting boards with success.

-- Jef Spencer - Refined Pallet -

View SNSpencer's profile


133 posts in 3313 days

#2 posted 01-07-2010 11:39 PM

Oh yea, Lyptus, Oak and Ipe.

-- Jef Spencer - Refined Pallet -

View degoose's profile


7245 posts in 3554 days

#3 posted 01-07-2010 11:42 PM

My rule of thumb is….. no spalting ….major no no…. other than that can’t help …. your availability of timber is different to mine..

-- Don't drink and use power tools @

View ARTTdylan's profile


73 posts in 3262 days

#4 posted 01-08-2010 12:24 AM

Hickory. One of my fav’s. – On the left.

-- Dylan - -

View pmayer's profile


1032 posts in 3265 days

#5 posted 01-08-2010 02:42 AM

In addition to walnut and maple that you mentioned, I love cherry. Its hardness is borderline, but its janka rating it in the ballpark of walnut. Generally I use maple, with alternating dark woods. That way the maple supports the blade and minimizes the penetration into the software walnut or cherry. That said, one of my favorite cutting boards uses alternating cherry and walnut with no maple. I have been abusing one of these for over a year now, and after periodic treatments with a mineral oil/wax blend, it looks like new.

One of my other favorites for cutting boards is red birch. I have a bunch of this that has roughly the color of cherry, and nearly the hardness of maple. If you can get your hands on some darker red birch, you will love it for cutting boards.

I love making these. I made one as a gift about 18 months ago, and since then have built about 50 of them. I even helped my dad start a company where he builds and sells cutting boards as his flagship product.

-- PaulMayer,

View richgreer's profile


4541 posts in 3274 days

#6 posted 01-08-2010 02:51 AM

I recently did a breadboard (and bread knife) with walnut, maple and padauk. The padauk was only a narrow accent piece that separated the maple and walnut. So far, the recipients are still alive and doing well.

-- Rich, Cedar Rapids, IA - I'm a woodworker. I don't create beauty, I reveal it.

View TopamaxSurvivor's profile


18390 posts in 3875 days

#7 posted 01-08-2010 03:12 AM

Gary, we know pine and fir are out :-))

-- Bob in WW ~ "some old things are lovely, warm still with life ... of the forgotten men who made them." - D.H. Lawrence

View Dudley's profile


742 posts in 3460 days

#8 posted 01-08-2010 03:26 AM

Oak should be out as well. To open grain.

-- Dudley Young USN Retired. Sebastian, Fl.

View Gary Fixler's profile

Gary Fixler

1001 posts in 3581 days

#9 posted 01-08-2010 05:11 AM

Thanks for the help, folks!

Jef – I’ve wanted to use Purpleheart, but wasn’t sure if it was toxic. I’ll double-check, but it’s probably okay. My one concern there is that it seems to turn brown in a few years. If I make imagery out of blocks with brown wood, as well as purpleheart, I’m a little concerned they’ll eventually match, and the image will become mostly invisible :) Oak, as Dudley mentioned I’m going to leave out, as it’s very open, and the grain can catch a lot of food particles. I suppose I could fill it, or bar-top it, but I’m looking to crank out things here, so the less work the better. I’ll have a look into your other suggestions as well. Thanks!

Larry – Yeah, no spalting, pretty as it is :(

dylan – I’ll give hickory a look-see. Hadn’t occurred to me, as I thought it was pretty open, like oak. Thanks!

pmayer – I think I would like to give cherry a try. I’ve never used it, and really don’t know much about it, besides that it’s a great furniture wood, and that it changes color over time with exposure to UV. I don’t know that I’ve seen red birch. I’ll have to look around. Is it sort of like a lighter walnut? I’ve used birch from Home Depot, and they get a lot of heartwood running through it, and it can be quite brown. I quite like it, and if that’s what you mean, I agree.

Rich – glad to hear everyone survived, haha. That is another wood I would love to use, especially as the background in many of my designs, but then it will be pretty predominant throughout the board, inside the frame, and around the center art. I’d better do my research and be sure it’s not an allergen. I know walnut can actually cause problems for very allergic people, but then, walnut boards are so common, so it must not be too big a deal. I know someone online who made a friend ear plugs (those disc-like earings that go inside your earlobes) out of either bubinga or cocobolo (I think the latter), and he had a very bad reaction to them. Thanks for the suggestion!

Topamax – why are they out? Are they bad for you? I honestly don’t know.

-- Gary, Los Angeles, video game animator

View TopamaxSurvivor's profile


18390 posts in 3875 days

#10 posted 01-08-2010 05:31 AM

They are soft and can be full of pitch.

-- Bob in WW ~ "some old things are lovely, warm still with life ... of the forgotten men who made them." - D.H. Lawrence

View jerryw's profile


158 posts in 4116 days

#11 posted 01-08-2010 05:37 AM

ELM makes a nice board. color ranges from tan to brown.

-- jerryw-wva.

View ARTTdylan's profile


73 posts in 3262 days

#12 posted 01-08-2010 09:35 PM

Hickory is more open than maple but less than oak. I think it still makes a fine cutting block.

-- Dylan - -

View ellen35's profile


2739 posts in 3632 days

#13 posted 01-08-2010 09:47 PM

There is a website that will give you safe woods for food. I don’t have it on my work computer (yes, I have to work to afford my toys!)... but try googling wood safe for foods or something like that. As I recall, most everything is safe… at least everything that I’ve ever heard of or had access to. Cutting boards are also finished with mineral oil and that is about as safe as you can get!

-- "Don't let the perfect be the enemy of the good." Voltaire

View sIKE's profile


1271 posts in 3954 days

#14 posted 01-08-2010 09:56 PM

Ive used the afore mentioned Cherry/Walnut/Maple with much success. This year I added Purpleheart and Bloodwood to the mix. First time working with both. They are very pretty, but don’t care to much for Purplehearts chippyness. The Bloodwood work allot like maple and according to a recent LJ survey the redness of the wood doesn’t fade severely. Here is a trivet made for someone for Christmas. Its not a cutting board but I am planning on using the rest of the board for one.

-- //FC - Round Rock, TX - "Experience is what you get just after you need it"

View Andrew's profile


709 posts in 3398 days

#15 posted 01-08-2010 09:59 PM

Oak, does have open pores, however much like walnut the wood contains tannins, which are natural antibiotics. In otherwords they are your safest as far as bacteria goes. All cutting boards get cuts in them, all cuts allow moisture and food to get in them, plastic cutting boards slightly “heal” the cut trapping said moisture and food, createing a perfect place for bacteria to live and breed. Wood at least dries out, this is good cause bacteria needs moisture and protien to live. Walnut and oaks will actually kill the bacteria as well.
Thought you would like to know.

-- Even a broken clock is right twice a day, unless, it moves at half speed like ....-As the Saw Turns

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