Iron Acetate on End Grain Cutting Board

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Forum topic by MattHenschen posted 01-10-2015 07:48 PM 954 views 0 times favorited 5 replies Add to Favorites Watch
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2 posts in 650 days

01-10-2015 07:48 PM

Hello, everyone!

This is my first posting on this site. In fact, I only signed up within the last hour, so I apologize for not setting up any kind of profile or projects for others to see; I’ll get to that soon but, in the meantime, I have some questions that I’m hoping someone might be able help me with. I’ve worked with metals almost my entire life but have done a bit of woodworking here and there. I’ve got some window casing and trim to do in my current home remodeling and stumbled upon end grain cutting boards during an unrelated search several weeks ago and was smitten by their form and function. Now, I simply must build some. I’m starting to find some local sources for hardwood cutoffs, odds and ends, etc., but so far the selections are somewhat sparse. I’ve successfully used concentrated tea-based stains and iron acetate to ebonize some scrap pieces. I would love to use this technique on small amounts of mahogany (just the iron acetate; no additional tannins needed on the lumber I’ve got) to give my boards some definition and contrast in my patterns. What I am wondering, is: a) Has anyone successfully used this ebonizing process when making end grain cutting boards and: b) Does anyone know if it poses any health risk being in contact with food or have any other issues, such as reacting unexpectedly with oil and wax treatments. I would appreciate any suggestions you may have. Thanks!

PS: LOVE this website!

Matt Henschen

5 replies so far

View AandCstyle's profile


2535 posts in 1675 days

#1 posted 01-11-2015 01:55 AM

Matt, I can’t answer your question, but I will offer that end grain cutting boards are best made from tight grained woods, such as maple, cherry, walnut, purpleheart, etc. The reason being that open grain woods provide potential pockets for bacteria to grow. However, it seems that many/most beautiful CBs are never used and are only displayed as art work. If that is your intention, try the mahogany and iron acetate to see how it turns out. If you do, please post pix. FWIW

-- Art

View jap's profile


1251 posts in 1472 days

#2 posted 01-11-2015 03:22 AM

I would think the stain would wash away if used as a cutting board.

-- Joel

View bondogaposis's profile


3969 posts in 1769 days

#3 posted 01-11-2015 03:30 AM

I don’t think stain, iron acetate or any other would hold up to cutting board use. Get some dark woods like walnut or purple heart. Mahogany is pretty soft for cutting boards.

-- Bondo Gaposis

View MattHenschen's profile


2 posts in 650 days

#4 posted 01-11-2015 07:48 AM

Thanks for the feedback, guys! For my “maiden voyage” cutting board, I’m going to keep it rather simple and plan to use some combination of oak, maple, walnut or cherry (depending on availability) for the bulk of the material but wanted to sparingly use something really dark or even black purely for aesthetics. I tested the iron acetate on some mahogany I had on hand and it darkened it quite dramatically. I had read that this metallic acid cocktail actually chemically alters the wood, as opposed to stains that only saturate the wood. I’ve also read that, with end grain boards, oils & other liquids can actually flow through the fibers to seep out on the other side. As I said, I’m new to this so I appreciate the opportunity to bounce these ideas off other members. I’m still in R&D mode right now, so I welcome any and all feedback or suggestions.


View Kazooman's profile


614 posts in 1370 days

#5 posted 01-11-2015 02:14 PM

Art is correct on the choice of woods for end grain cutting boards. Oak is generally not the best choice. The maple, walnut, and cherry are better choices, and I second the purple heart suggestion.

One issue would be when to apply the iron solution (I hesitate to call it a stain since is is reacting chemically with the tannins in the wood, not just soaking in a color). No matter how well you do the final glue up you will still need to do some leveling on the board, often quite a lot. If you treat the wood before glue up then the sanding might cause variations in the intensity of the color. If you treat after leveling the board you will be affecting all of the species of wood to varying extents.

You might be surprised to see just how dark some of the woods will be after oiling. This is end grain. We often struggle to keep end grain from getting too dark when finishing a piece. Here it is your friend. Try making a small prototype (nothing fancy) with the variety of woods you have at hand and see how the colors come out.

I actually use the end grain boards I have made and wouldn’t put any stain or color treatment on the wood that will have food contact. Just what nature provided and a lot of mineral oil.

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