Cutting boards: wood vs plastic, open vs closed grain

As a follow up to a recent TALK discussion of food safe finishes, I dug out two relevant references on cutting boards that I found years ago:

  1. U of Wisc. Study showing wood cutting boards have a lot less bacteria than plastic cutting boards. Wood has chemicals that kill bacteria while the chemicals in plastic.

  2. Recommendation from the FDA that only “closed grain” wood be used for cutting boards:

(A) Except as specified in ¶¶ (B), (C), and (D) of this section, wood and wood wicker may not be used as a FOOD-CONTACT SURFACE.

(B) Hard maple or an equivalently hard, close-grained wood may be used for:

(1) Cutting boards; cutting blocks; bakers’ tables; and UTENSILS such as rolling pins, doughnut dowels, salad bowls, and chopsticks; and

(2) Wooden paddles used in confectionery operations for pressure scraping kettles when manually preparing confections at a temperature of 110oC (230oF) or above.

From chapter 4-101.17 of

Apparently this is not “Law”, just advice from the FDA. As the document says: “The Food Code is a model for safeguarding public health and ensuring food is unadulterated and honestly presented when offered to the consumer. It represents FDA’s best advice for a uniform system of provisions that address the safety and protection of food offered at retail and in food service.”

All you can say is that the FDA recommends closed grain wood for cutting boards – but they could be wrong and closed grain is bad. They do not recommend open grain wood but they could be wrong and it is OK to use. Caveat Emptor.

I have a hand held microscope (because I am a nerd, and proud of it) and went around my woodpile and found:

Tight – no to almost no voids, ie “Closed Grain”: Maple, Cherry, Purple heart, Paduak, Birch, Aspen, Sapele, Blue stain beetle kill pine, Cypress, Birch, Sycamore, Cottonwood, White oak (but only because the voids are filled with some crystalline thing), Bois D’arc

Semi tight – some small voids spaced out: Walnut – can vary a little bit. It is definitely more open than maple but voids are much smaller and fewer than red oak/ash. Live oak (some variability, some was tight), Lace Bark Elm

Semi Open - mostly closed but some larger voids (2x the void size of semi tight): Wenge, Post Oak

Open Grain – wide open – you could drive a truck through the voids: Ash, Red Oak, Honey Locust

Mesquite, hickory and pecan range from semi tight to semi open. There are hundreds of Pecan/Hickory species.

The wood database has pictures of end grain for most species. Examples


This is great information, but as I’ve been told by people about some that I have made: “They are too beautful to actually use.” In that case the skiy is the limit as to the hardwoods you can use. I would say the same applies to charcuterie boards. Most of mine, however, are hard maple and black walnut cutting boards. I used peruvia walnut once and it turned out beautiful. Pervian is darker than ordinary American black walnut. I made a cutting board once with purple heart and maple for one of my son’s friends in Germany. He loved it.

I use mineral oil and maybe a little bee’s wax to coat mine. I soak them.

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Adding to the discussion, the following snippet comes from an article on Woodworkers Source. Can’t say I agree with Wenge though…

" Woods to Use . . .or not use

The best woods to use share similar qualities: they’re hard, dense, and they’re close grained. Hard maple is the shining icon here – it makes a good, durable cutting surface that’s also easy to clean. Other woods like ash, oak, and hickory will be fine as well, though these have a more porous structure. It’s possible that the pores could become a nice little home for bacteria, so you’d need to be faithful about cleaning after use.

Moving into exotics, you get to bring a lot life to your cutting boards. Woods like purple heart, bubinga, satinwood, guatambu, jatoba, canarywood, curupay, bloodwood, afrormosia, shedua, wenge, coyote, ipe, goncalo alves, and many more all have vivid color and rock solid properties for long lasting cutting boards."

I hear the tropical species can be toxic…
The Complete Guide To What Kind Of Wood Is Food Safe.

yeah as with all things - a lot of conflicting articles out there. I wish our American hardwoods had more colors.

You can always get into the world of genetic engineering…Scientists hope genetic engineering can revive the American chestnut tree | Reuters

Would probably need a cDNA library and the promoter sequences for the operon of choice…