End-grain cutting boards are an example of end grain being used for better performance. What are the properties of the wood which makes end-grain boards desirable? What are the disadvantages or difficulties of building them as opposed to regular cutting boards.
The physical qualities of end-grain that make them desirable over side grain in a cutting board relate to the structure of wood itself. Viewed under a microscope, end-grain looks like a series of straws.
A knife cutting against this surface is likely to spread the fibers apart rather than dislodging fibers or completely cutting them as can happen with side grain.
An end-grain cutting board is kind of 'self-healing' in this regard, as compared to side grain.
The disadvantages? Wood isn't as strong along the axis parallel to the end grain, therefore you tend to make things thicker when using end grain. For example, if you slice off a 1/4" piece of a 2x4, you can easily snap it in half with hand pressure. A 1/4" piece cut from the length of a 2x4 is much harder to break.
One of the disadvantages is that end-grain absorbs moisture very well. This means that meat juice will seep in and not come out. Which makes it important to never use your meat board for vegetables. (Good advice for any type of cutting board)
Also if you leave it standing in a puddle of water at its center, the center could expand while the edge wouldn't, leading to cracks.
According to John Boos, end grain blocks are used because the fibers of end grain absorb the impact of the knife better than the face grain. The effect of this over time is that the knife edge stays sharper and thus requires less frequent sharpening. Additionally, the end-grain board will be subject to less damage by the knife.