What is a Butcher Block?

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Forum topic by Mary Anne posted 04-28-2010 07:27 PM 5015 views 1 time favorited 14 replies Add to Favorites Watch
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Mary Anne

1058 posts in 2628 days

04-28-2010 07:27 PM

Topic tags/keywords: question butcher block define

I thought I knew.

Someone gave me some free wood about a month ago. There were several 6” x 12” by about 36” chunks of oak. I volunteered to make them a cutting board to show my appreciation, but they said they would really prefer a butcher block. Okay, no problem. I thought I knew what a butcher block was and didn’t ask any further specifics beyond approximate size. Then I started browsing LJ projects tagged with “butcher block”...

In looking through everyone’s projects, I saw “butcher blocks” of all descriptions – long grain, side grain, face grain (I’m not sure of the difference between these), and end grain. I found “butcher blocks” made up of slabs, strips, and squares; made of one type of wood, or many. Some had juice grooves, some had feet, and some were just flat on both sides.

So, fellow LJs, I am curious how do YOU define butcher blocks? What makes a butcher block a butcher block, or a cutting board a cutting board, or a chopping block?


14 replies so far

View HokieMojo's profile


2103 posts in 3147 days

#1 posted 04-28-2010 07:51 PM

i would think size and weight are the main determinant with a butcher block being MUCH larger, often on a cart with wheels, but not necessarily, that large. I think its a gray line between the two though.

View Ray Friddle's profile

Ray Friddle

68 posts in 2449 days

#2 posted 04-28-2010 07:57 PM

I always thought they were the same thing in terms of grain, but the main difference is that a butcher block is usually a much larger (and thicker) top mounted on a sturdy support with legs. A cutting board I think of as a thin hand held board that can be picked up and placed anywhere.

-- Ray

View a1Jim's profile


115172 posts in 2996 days

#3 posted 04-28-2010 08:00 PM

I’ve always thought chopping blocks as dealing with the use of end grain as the cutting surface . But I’m not an expert in either type of boards.

-- Custom furniture

View SnowyRiver's profile


51452 posts in 2899 days

#4 posted 04-28-2010 08:24 PM

Here is a pretty good description,

-- Wayne - Plymouth MN

View kennyd's profile


103 posts in 2419 days

#5 posted 04-28-2010 08:37 PM

Hi Mary Anne,

I’ve done some research on butcher blocks as I was going to build one for our kitchen. After seeing one in the flesh so to speak I decided it wasn’t what I really wanted. True butcher blocks are just what some of the other LSs mentioned, that is, blocks of lumber, usually 2” x 2” x 12” or more, oriented vertically (end grain is the cutting/chopping surface) to form a large square block, 2’ x 2’ or so, 12” thick. Usually on it’s own legs and most often made of hard maple. Like the one below.

Butcher Block

Hope this helps.

-- Kenny... The man who needs a tool he doesn't have is already paying for it.

View PurpLev's profile


8523 posts in 3068 days

#6 posted 04-28-2010 08:45 PM

“Butcher Block” is much like a “Writers Block” where the artist is just uninspired and out of ideas… in this case, probably out of fresh meat. :o)

However, when most people refer to butcher block it is usually to the long grain version such as in kitchen counters (you’ll see it referenced in stores, designers, etc), and not so much the end grain. when people want to refer to end grain butcher block – they’ll explicitly describe it as ‘end grain butcher block’. but the general term refers to a work surface made of glued up strips of wood (long grain, or end grain as the top surface)

-- ㊍ When in doubt - There is no doubt - Go the safer route.

View reggiek's profile


2240 posts in 2689 days

#7 posted 04-28-2010 09:18 PM

Mary Ann – just wanted to mention that Oak is not recommended for cutting boards or butcher blocks as the long grain can catch and retain bacteria.

Walnut, Maple and any of the hard, short grain exotics (and other domestics of this type – i.e. cherry) are preferred. Not that I haven’t seen Oak used before…but it is not the preferred/recommended material.

As for the difference between a cutting board and a butcher block – I have seen the names used interchangeably… I have also heard some folks distinguish these too by whether meat is used….either way I would say the definition is what the customer thinks it is – if they want to call a end grain piece or a non end grain piece either name is fine by me….I just ask for the dimensions…and how they want it supplied (cart, table, counter…or portable)...and that’s what I make them.

-- Woodworking.....My small slice of heaven!

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Mary Anne

1058 posts in 2628 days

#8 posted 04-28-2010 09:39 PM

Thanks for your responses and links. I appreciate the friendly folks here who are willing step up and share knowledge and honest opinions. Humor is always good, too! It’s fascinating when I think I know something only to find out others have a completely different idea, as I found out looking at LJ projects. A lot of people seem to use the names butcher block and cutting board interchangeably, or heftiness is the determinate.

FWIW, it was my assumption that a butcher block was a large, thick, end grain heavy-duty board. And that is what I am making for the folks who gave me the wood. I hope this is what THEY had in mind. I think I will put some feet on it, though, since that is what I like in my own kitchen to keep it from bouncing and rattling around when using a cleaver. On the other hand, my bandsaw works just fine with a lot less effort. ;-)

David (BoardSMITH), I’m glad I threw in the question about chopping blocks. I read your description to mean that they are made of a slab rather than glued?

Hopefully, I will come up with something presentable to give these nice people who were generous enough to give me the wood for free. Then, with luck, their idea of a butcher block and mine are the same.

View MyFathersSon's profile


180 posts in 2732 days

#9 posted 04-28-2010 09:52 PM

Without disagreeing with any of the above comments -
Here is another twist -
I have often heard “butcher block” used as a design term – like “hounds tooth” “checkerboard” etc.
The concept being that it was several pieces obviously edge glued together most often long grain—
or—a piece of laminate printed with that design.
as opposed to something that gave the appearance of being a single solid piece of wood.

In that light I have heard reference to - a butcher block table a butcher block countertop or even—- a butcher block cutting board.

In your place – given the diversity of possible ‘right’ answers—I would go with Reggie’s closing comment—
ask the customer what THEY mean—and smile.
OOPS—I came in after the bell. Sorry.
I ENVY YOU—as much as I love Fort Worth—I miss the HECK outa the Blue Ridge (lived there about 4 years altogether)

-- Those who insist it can't be done - should politely refrain from interrupting those who are doing it.

View Dennisgrosen's profile


10850 posts in 2534 days

#10 posted 04-28-2010 09:53 PM

a butchers block is something that
can change in size from this
I think a french modell

but with haveyer block and longer legs instead

and always stand alone on the floor

and then there is the modern home kitchenblock
wich is barely more than a cutting board
but still have the endgrain exposed up and down

a real butchers block is realy havey and can take a lot of punisment
before it even consider to raise an eyebrow


View Nomad62's profile


726 posts in 2377 days

#11 posted 04-28-2010 10:39 PM

Well, doggone it; I thought I knew what it was, agreeing with “my fathers son”, but I up and learned something. “Snowy Rivers” link to Wikipedia took me to a schooling, hope I don’t get a headache. Thanx! ;-)

-- Power tools put us ahead of the monkeys

View Mary Anne's profile

Mary Anne

1058 posts in 2628 days

#12 posted 04-29-2010 02:33 AM

I agree that oak is not the best choice for a butcher block, but it is what the people gave me and it would be meaningful to them for me to use it. I’ll give them as much info as I can come up with for keeping it as sanitary as possible—hmmm, maybe another forum question.

Nope, you’re not after the bell; if anyone has something to add to the subject, I’m interested. I, too, have seen butcher block refer to a pattern. You reminded me that I had the ugliest laminate kitchen countertops years ago that were supposed to be a butcher block pattern.

I’ve only lived here in the mountains overlooking Boone for 3 years so far, but after 16 years of heat, humidity, and tiny teeth with wings (sand gnats) of Savannah, the cool mountain air and the vistas of the Blue Ridge are a refreshing change.

Thanks, Dennisgrosen for the links to those two magnificent butcher blocks by other LJs. Mine is going to look puny and homely by comparison, but I am still excited about it. :-)

Headache or no, the schoolin’ is good for us! It is one of the best anti-aging medicines there is.

I have my blocks cut and a partial glue-up done already.

Oh, I can’t really ask the people what THEIR idea is of a butcher block. I only have the address where I picked up the wood, no phone or email for them. As it is, I’m going to have to drop by and hope they are home when it is finished. It’s a freebie for them, so I assume they will be pleased.

Thanks again, to everyone who responded.

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Mary Anne

1058 posts in 2628 days

#13 posted 05-04-2010 03:51 PM

Here is the finished project for anyone who is interested:

Click for details

View MyFathersSon's profile


180 posts in 2732 days

#14 posted 05-04-2010 05:20 PM

I would say that meets any of several definitions of ‘butcher block’
Hopefully one of them is theirs :-)

-- Those who insist it can't be done - should politely refrain from interrupting those who are doing it.

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