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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.

  • This is probably better suited to cooking.stackexchange.com. It has little to do with actual construction of the boards. – Daniel B. Mar 28 '15 at 21:10
  • @DanielBall I agree this question could be considered borderline but Ratchet Freak keeps it on topic. The OPs answer, while useful, is more off topic as it is more concerned about the knife than the wood. – Matt Mar 28 '15 at 23:45
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    @Matt, I'm inclined to think that the way a question is answered should have no bearing on whether it's on topic. If there is an on-topic answer, maybe the question can be rephrased to better match that answer. Perhaps something like, "What are the properties of end-grain that make it advantageous to use for cutting boards?" – drs Mar 29 '15 at 0:08
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    That should be better, yes? Even with that, it's a stretch, but I think the properties of wood are worth knowing, more for posterity than this particular example. – Daniel B. Mar 29 '15 at 0:25
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    @DanielBall For an answer that addresses both, it can makes voting for that answer more difficult (e.g., you agree with the answer to one of the questions, but disagree with the answer to the other question). – drs Mar 29 '15 at 0:41
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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.

Wood structure under electron microscopy

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.

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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.

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    That's a highly debated topic. The fact that it absorbs moisture well can also be an advantage. It also absorbs bacteria fast and the wood's natural properties stop the bacteria from reproducing and it slowly dies. (Source) I used my end-grain cutting board for vegetables for 2 years now, I have no issues. (I regularly apply mineral oil.) – Maxime Morin Mar 29 '15 at 0:15
  • I expect that you still don't want raw blood in your lettuce. – ratchet freak Mar 30 '15 at 14:04
  • Obviously, but at that point, it becomes a matter of preventing cross-contamination. It isn't about end-grain advantage or disadvantage. I would never use the same board for raw meat and vegetables; even with non end-grain or plastic ones. – Maxime Morin Mar 30 '15 at 14:58
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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.

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