Why end grain butcher blocks?

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Forum topic by socrbent posted 05-02-2012 04:33 AM 3127 views 1 time favorited 19 replies Add to Favorites Watch
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687 posts in 2469 days

05-02-2012 04:33 AM

Topic tags/keywords: question

I have some guesses but would like to know why most butchers blocks are made so surface is end grain?

-- socrbent Ohio

19 replies so far

View AttainableApex's profile


347 posts in 3032 days

#1 posted 05-02-2012 04:39 AM

its like taking a butch of toothpicks tips up, put a knife in it and nothing really happens, it will still stay together.
but put the tips horizontal (face grain) and you start cutting the wood and making splinters

-- Ben L

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779 posts in 2464 days

#2 posted 05-02-2012 05:10 AM

Much like Ben is saying, the wood fibers are more resilient in an end grain board against the chopping motion of the knife. Also, this style is somewhat easier on the blades (keeps them sharper longer) than something like an edge grain alignment.

Another comparison besides the toothpicks or skewers I’ve heard is that of cutting the bristles on a brush. If you try and cut the bristles by chopping from end (the part that touches your head) to end (the part that secures the bristles to the handle), you’re not going to do very much damage. But, if you try to cut across the bristles, you will cut them in half a lot easier.

Of course, you can use edge grain or any pattern you wish and the type of wood does make a difference, but end grain is the better known style for blade life longevity and will almost always be preferred because of that.

-- "Well, at least we can still use it as firewood... maybe." - Doss

View RetiredCoastie's profile


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#3 posted 05-02-2012 05:11 AM

End grain is easier on the knife’s cutting edge. When you cut into a board that is face grain the knife marks will remain and not heal as they will on end grain boards.

-- Proud Supporter of Homes For Our Troops

View eddie's profile


8565 posts in 2813 days

#4 posted 05-02-2012 05:17 AM

hay socrbent here’s a good link on the blocks hes a good teacher and goes into a lot of detail

-- Jesus Is Alright with me

View FirehouseWoodworking's profile


722 posts in 3473 days

#5 posted 05-02-2012 03:42 PM

What everyone above has said with respect to the knives. But there is a more practical reason with respect to safety.

If your butcher block was such that the surface was edge or face grain, as you run a nice along its length, you are essentially carving away slivers of wood that eventually become embedded in whatever food product it is you are cutting. And by extension, those slivers could later become embedded in your throat or digestive tract. Not a very appealing choice.

Hence, with end grain, the most you cut away is “saw dust” which can be passed through your digestive system without harm.


-- Dave; Lansing, Kansas

View Charlie's profile


1100 posts in 2486 days

#6 posted 05-02-2012 04:09 PM

I thought slivers were a good source of fiber in the diet! :)

View TCCcabinetmaker's profile


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#7 posted 05-02-2012 04:13 PM

I have a totally different view on this, and why you shouldn’t use end grain. End grain can absorb fluids, and bacteria if not properly finished, as well as split easier, you don’t split a log on the face grain, you split it on the end grain.

-- The mark of a good carpenter is not how few mistakes he makes, but rather how well he fixes them.

View Doss's profile


779 posts in 2464 days

#8 posted 05-02-2012 04:40 PM

TCCabinetmaker, the force applied in log splitting is far greater and in longer duration than that of a knife. Not only that, the knife’s wedge shape is far narrower than a log splitter. The log splitter is designed to separate and displace the wood. A knife is designed to cut through with little displacement (it is more efficient to cut this way). Because of this, the wood “heals” when using end grain.

Cutting boards are supposed to be made of dense hardwoods similar in characteristics to maple. Your theory on bacteria growth in end grain has been studied and found to be untrue (at least in this research: The USFDA actually recommends end grain cutting boards for restaurants.

The bacteria actually dies with failure to reproduce as it enters the end grain. In any case, you should properly disinfect any cutting boards after use.

-- "Well, at least we can still use it as firewood... maybe." - Doss

View pintodeluxe's profile


5798 posts in 3013 days

#9 posted 05-02-2012 04:43 PM

end grain cutting boards are not better for planer knives though.

-- Willie, Washington "If You Choose Not To Decide, You Still Have Made a Choice" - Rush

View crank49's profile


4032 posts in 3170 days

#10 posted 05-02-2012 05:47 PM

My wife’s uncle was a butcher. He had to switch from wood cutting blocks to plastic because of health and safety requirements. This was about 25 years ago. Has the requirement for plastic cutting boards been changed?
I’m not saying they haven’t, I just would like to know.

View Doss's profile


779 posts in 2464 days

#11 posted 05-02-2012 06:28 PM

In my link above, please remove the “)” from the end. It will cause a linking error if it isn’t.

I am not aware of any requirement that says you can only use plastic. That doesn’t mean one doesn’t exist; I’m just not aware of it.

-- "Well, at least we can still use it as firewood... maybe." - Doss

View socrbent's profile


687 posts in 2469 days

#12 posted 05-03-2012 01:15 AM

Thanks for the enlightenment. This now makes sense

-- socrbent Ohio

View oluf's profile


260 posts in 3238 days

#13 posted 05-03-2012 02:20 AM

The butcher blocks that I cut meat on years ago were three feet thick. We cleaned them by scraping off the top surface. As the blocks wore down , blocks were placed under the legs to get them back to a comfortable working height again. I don’t beleve that those blocks are allowed any more in the prosessing of food for trade.

-- Nils, So. Central MI. Wood is honest.Take the effort to understand what it has to tell you before you try to change it.

View MrRon's profile


5192 posts in 3443 days

#14 posted 05-03-2012 04:11 PM

End grain butcher blocks stay flat. Face grain wil absorb fluids/bacteria just as well as end grain. Most Chinese restaurants still use wood cutting boards. Butcher blocks were used for “chopping”. Bandsaws now replace chopping in processing plants.

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#15 posted 05-07-2012 06:08 PM

Crank49….The FDA didn’t do us any favors by requiring the use of plastic cutting boards in the meat processing industry. They acted under the false assumption that plastic is more sanitary than wood. In fact, the opposite is true. Bacteria is absorbed deep into the wood grain where it either dies or is trapped far enough from the surface to have any effect on the food being processed. Plastic, on the other hand, is impermeable and holds the bacteria at the surface where it can grow and thrive. Wood surfaces are “self-healing” whereas the cuts made in plastic are permanent scars which, as they accrue and become deeper, become harder to clean and must be discarded after a relatively short life time. Wood, if treated properly, can last for generations.

-- Heirloom Quality wood products for the kitchen and dining room at below factory prices.

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