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I have heard that there is some wood that should not be used in a cutting board because it can be 'bad'. I am not sure what wood is not good, but I guess some wood is poisonous and stuff. I use woods like pine, black walnut, cherry, oak, red oak, cedar, maple, hickory, and sometimes aspen. Are any of these bad? And if they are why are they? What should I look out for when making a new cutting board? Thanks!

  • I am not an expert but once read walnut chips in a horses bed can be very unhealthy for some reason, and one thing I do know , maple I read has naturally occurring anti microbials. Walnut on the other hand when water is left on it, there can be a change to the water -the walnut has some oil or chemical in it which is why I dont use it in this way and that could be alleviated by a good finish but then arent food grade finishes not really sealants, therefore they would not seal or prevent the transfer of the chemical in walnut -maybe someone should do a test leave a puddle of water on maple and – paul prince May 26 '18 at 18:54
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To a great extent this is just the flipside of the question "What woods are good to use in a cutting board?" and there was a recent thread on this subject that was closed for being more likely to attract opinion-based responses. But you have asked one key follow-on question that doesn't come down just to a matter of opinion.

Are any of these bad? And if they are why are they?

As per the above it depends on who you ask, so this becomes largely a matter of opinion rather than there being some definitive yes/no checklist you can refer to showing what species should and shouldn't be used.

The example of western red cedar helpfully provided by Adam Zuckerman already is a perfect illustration of this, as not only is this species used for boards it's sometimes specifically chosen for use with food for the very chemicals it contains that make it an irritant (Google "planked salmon" for more). Some of the aromatic hardwoods chosen for burning when smoking food are also good illustrations of the same principle, because someone out there is likely to hold the opinion that "they shouldn't be used for boards because they'll taint the food" or something along those lines.

In terms of outright toxicity, not something like irritant/potential irritant properties, there are no woods you might buy and would consider using in a board that qualify, so you can put that worry out of your mind.

The thing you should focus on here as the woodworker is the risk to you when making the board, not any danger for the user from the completed board in any normal way. So while a given species might be perfectly fine in a board, you might want to avoid using it rather than risk exposure to its dust when sawing, routing or sanding it.

What should I look out for when making a new cutting board?

This is the only part where I think you can get input that isn't merely an opinion, because it's about wood's physical properties. And the primary bit of advice is not to combine species of widely different properties in a cutting board, for durability reasons.

Probably the main thing to focus on is avoiding combinations of species which have markedly different coefficients of movement (see table at the bottom of this previous Answer). This is for structural stability, because where pieces that expand more are locked between pieces that expand less it could put great strain on your glue joints and eventually split the board. Note: it doesn't matter if the glue is completely waterproof or how strong the glue joints are, because if necessary the board will split the wood itself apart to relieve internal stresses.

The other thing to bear in mind is using woods with very different hardnesses, if you're concerned with how the surface will retain its looks. So for example pine can make a perfectly acceptable wood choice for a board but it shouldn't be combined with something like hard maple because the pine will wear far more than the maple over time, leading to an ugly mismatch of surface textures.

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The Wood Database has an extensive database with details about "Allergies and Toxicities" for all its known woods.

Cedar (which has 12 varieties listed on their site at the time of this post) can cause both skin and respiratory issues. Several wood varieties can cause death.

Example:

Species: Cedar, Western Red

Reaction: irritant, sensitizer, runny nose, asthma, nervous system effects, NPC (rare)

Areas Affected: skin, eyes, and respiratory

Potency: 5 (out of 5)

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The woods that are most safe to use for cutting boards are those that bear fruits, nuts, or other edibles and have tight grain - Walnut, Cherry, Maple, etc.... A mix of walnut and maple make great cutting boards whether you're planning on gluing face, edge, or end grain. Also, make sure your glue is food-safe; I use Titebond III

  • I use titebond lll on my cutting boards all he time. And titbond ll on everything else. – Ljk2000 Aug 5 '16 at 2:49
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    Why does the tree being fruit-bearing have a bearing on the suitability of its wood for use in a cutting board? You haven't given a reason, just made an allusion to the wood being safer because the tree bore fruits or other edibles. But what about thujone? – Graphus Aug 5 '16 at 6:12
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Obviously you don’t want to use any softwoods, regardless of their grain density. They will show knife marks more than a hardwood in most cases. And, even though poplar is technically a hardwood, you’ll want to avoid it as it has very similar properties to pine. It’s just too soft and light to handle chopping and cutting.

Secondly, don’t use any species with open grain patterns; or, low grain density. Oak is an example of an open grain wood.Oak has very open pores which would attract bacteria, oils, etc..

The go-to/can’t-go-wrong woods in the US for cutting boards are hard maple and black walnut. They’re accessible, dense, closed-grain, and quite attractive as well.

If you want to use some exotics, some good cutting board woods are sapele and jatoba. Purpleheart is popular but can be very tough on your blades and tools.

Some “in-the-middle” species you’re probably familiar with are ash and hickory.

  • I'm sorry but there's so much wrong here. You can make boards out of softwoods. Many many old boards were made from softwoods, including pine and spruce, the same woods commonly employed for the tops of farmhouse tables which were not babied in any way. Re. your recommendations for close-grained woods, black walnut isn't one of these! Otherwise it would never need grain filler. And ash can be just as open-grained as some oaks. – Graphus May 27 '18 at 21:26
  • “So much wrong” is a bit dramatic. Don’t tell me that NOT using softwoods for quality cutting boards is a controversial opinion. It’s not. – Pipeliner_USA May 28 '18 at 10:12
  • Not being the least bit dramatic. If you want to skip over the black walnut and ash and focus on just the softwood issue, your statement that they won't last very long is, again I'm sorry, plain wrong. I have a pine board downstairs that attests to this, it's a family piece and is now over 30 years old. There's nothing at all special about it and it hasn't been treated with kid gloves (quite the opposite in fact, before it came into my care it was soaked repeatedly and used as a trivet numerous times!) and yet it's still going strong. – Graphus May 28 '18 at 11:50
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    @Graphus fair enough. not last long was maybe not the best way to put it. pine lasts plenty long in old house frames, etc. i should have said softwoods will show wear and tear more than a hardwood like maple. glad you’re pine board is still going strong. – Pipeliner_USA May 29 '18 at 23:05
  • Please tell me why you have a problem with my walnut and maple recommendation. They are literally the two most popular/common species I’ve seen in hand crafted cutting boards and you dismissed it without any explanation, – Pipeliner_USA Jan 1 at 3:20

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