A day doesn’t go by that I don’t use a wooden cutting board in my kitchen. All of my cutting boards are wooden, although I’ve used hard plastic cutting boards in the past. Two are of bamboo, and one is maple.
Each is an excellent choice for a wooden cutting board. A little mineral oil on the maple board keeps it sealed, looking good, and food-safe.
The bamboos need no oil and always looks good.
Bamboo is hard, durable, water-resistant, and it cleans up well. We like bamboo for these reasons, as well as the fact it’s a pretty wood and fits well in the kitchen. Bamboo is also eco-friendly in that it is a quick-growing and easily harvested material.
We call it a material, rather than wood, because bamboo is not actually a wood – it’s a grass.
Digressing for just a moment from the title topic, to say that bamboo grows quickly is something of an understatement in some cases. There are varieties of bamboo that grow 2-3 feet per day, so fast you can actually see it growing. I once had a fast-growing variety heavily enclosed in hard plastic 3 feet deep surrounding it in my yard.
It still found a way to spread, and shoots started coming up through my driveway. We eat the shoots; we use the “wood” for flooring, furniture, butcher blocks, cutting boards, and more. All things considered, it is truly an excellent choice for all of these uses.
Back to the topic at hand, though, is consideration of pine for a new cutting board. We know that pine is a softwood, whereas both bamboo and maple are hardwoods with dense fibers and closed grains.
Pine can tend to be porous, too, if not properly finished. So, let’s take a look and see if it is still workable for a new wooden cutting board in the kitchen.
Pine Trees and Woods
As we mentioned, pine is a softwood. Softwoods are determined by the type of tree they come from, gymnosperm trees, meaning evergreen trees known as conifers, that produce cones and needles like pine and spruce. About 80% of all timber available to us in the US is pine of one sort or another, like white pine and Southern Yellow pine.
Softwoods are generally less expensive than hardwoods, and the trees that softwoods come from tend to grow rapidly.
On the Janka Scale, pines will be found near the bottom of the “hardness” ranking. Most pines have a rating of between 300 – 1000 on the scale, named after its developer, Gabriel Janka. The test to determine a wood’s rating is based on the amount of pressure needed to embed a roughly half-inch steel ball halfway into the wood.
Among those to consider:
- Eastern white pine’s Janka rating is 380
- Sugar pine’s Janka rating is also 380
- Western white pine’s rating is 420, not to be confused with other references to 420 (a little cannabis humor there)
- Ponderosa pine’s Janka rating is 460
- Jackpine’s rating is 570
We’re getting up there a bit, as you can see. When we get to Southern Yellow Pine, we hit what is probably the hardest pine wood at a Janka rating of 870. As high as that is in comparison to other pines, it is still well below the softest of the hardwoods.
When we see that red oak, for instance, has a Janka rating of 1290, we see just how soft pine truly is. It is truly a soft wood.
Yet, pine is strong, stiff, and fairly dense. It is easy to work with in the woodworking shop, takes nails well, and finishes nicely. It is subject to warp, though, and the drier it is, the more likely it is to bend and warp.
Pine is also very good at absorbing water, although it varies somewhat as between pine heartwood and pine sapwood. Heartwood comes from the heart of the tree; sapwood is the part of the tree that surrounds the heartwood. The sapwood absorbs water many times faster than heartwood, and as we know, water is the enemy of wood.
Pine is especially susceptible to environmental changes in temperature and humidity and needs to be acclimated to its surrounding environment to avoid warping and twisting. Pine wood fibers will absorb humidity from their surroundings, and this causes swelling that leads to that warping and twisting.
The Advantages of Pine Wood
There’s plenty of it, for sure. The trees grow quickly at any elevation and are easy to harvest. This helps keep it an inexpensive wood.
It’s easy to work with, cut, and nail. It’s also the most common wood to be pressure-treated for outdoor use.
With an open grain that is pleasing to the eye, it takes stain well to enhance that grain. Pine can be knotty, yes (not the misbehaving naughty), and that can get in the way of some projects; they do add an aesthetic character to the wood that many find beautiful, perhaps on interior paneling or even in rustic cabinets.
Pine Wood In The Kitchen
We mention all of this because we’re considering using pine board as suitable for a cutting board. We know there is humidity in the kitchen; we know we need to keep our cutting boards clean by washing them with warm water and soap; we know that water and other liquids are going to be spilled on them.
Harder woods and less porous woods are, perhaps, a better choice; a plastic board like those used in commercial kitchens are also, perhaps, a better choice. The type of wood we choose, as well as the type of material we might choose, becomes important then.
But, we’re dealing with wood. Yes, it is a great and effective absorber of water, and when wet will twist and turn. Can it still become a decent cutting board for us?
Of the types of wood we have to choose from, can we make an effective pine cutting board?
Pine Cutting Boards
We think so, yes.
While pine would not be our first choice (bamboo holds that rank, with a black walnut being another highly-ranked spot on our list), it is still a workable solution. The softer woods on the Janka’s pine ratings might not be, but the harder SYP can be.
Sure, black walnut is a very hard hardwood with semi-tight pores; it’s highly durable and rot-resistant, and its dark, heavy, fine-grained heartwood makes excellent furniture. With a suitable finish, it’s another excellent choice for a wooden cutting board.
We can work around pine’s shortcomings in these regards, though. It’s the board face and edges that might make it a less than good choice in the kitchen where there is apt to be water and other liquids that spill on a cutting board. Susceptible to warping and twisting when wet will give a cutting board a short lifespan.
End-Grain Cutting Boards
This is the workaround, and the result can be a beautiful cutting board. We know how butcherblock is made: strips of wood, end or edge, positioned together, glued and clamped, planed to smoothness, and finished with oil. Strong and durable, butcher block cutting boards and countertops are beautiful.
Take that same principle, though, and cut the end-grain of pine 2 x 4s, for instance, or even 4 x 4s, and glue them up in strips of the desired length of your wood cutting board project. Then, glue the strips together to the desired width.
Run the result through your planer for an even surface, and go to work with your sander and router. Sand the resulting board with fine-grit paper; router the edges to round them, if you like, or leave them as is.
The end grain board’s surface will be harder and longer-lasting than an edge-grain or face grain board. Its firmness will be closer to twice that of the face grain of the pine. An edge-grain cutting board will also provide a strong and hard surface for cutting and chopping, but we like the idea of piecing together end-grain pieces like a puzzle, even pieces of different sizes, to form something of a mosaic character to the project.
Maintaining a Pine Cutting Board
The maintenance requirements of a pine cutting board are no different than maintaining other wood cutting boards. Warm water and soap after each use is recommended, of course – you want to keep your board clean. I’d recommend drying it after washing, too, rather than letting it air dry.
We know that those who make and use a pine cutting board may limit its use to dry food, cutting only bread, for instance. Breadboards are also common in home kitchens. For food prep, like cutting meats, though, or for heavy chopping, they will choose another type of wood like bamboo, walnut, or maple, harder woods.
However, with a well-chosen finish, even an end-grain pine cutting board can be used for uses other than with dry foods. Among the better finishes for cutting boards are:
- Butcherblock Wood Oil
- Food-Grade Mineral oil
- Pure Tung Oil
These oils penetrate deeply into the wood and offer excellent protection against liquids. Pure tung oil, for instance, will penetrate deeply and bond with the wood fiber as it hardens, and unlike oils that do not dry, it does not need to be frequently re-applied.
Video Proof of Beautiful End-Grain Cutting Boards
Scraps of wood, cut to size, glued together, cut further for all end-grain pieces, assembled, and glued again, and you have a beautiful cutting board. While in this video is a variety of types of wood, the principle is still the same – an end-grain cutting board. Substitute all pine from scaps of 2 x 4, and the result will be the same.
And while we’re talking about cutting boards, here’s a video I came upon last week, and the wood is both creative and stunning. If neither of these videos inspires you to attack a cutting board project, nothing will.
Inexpensive, eco-friendly, easy to work with, and beautiful to look at when finished properly – pine can be an attractive choice for your next wooden cutting board project.
You can produce a quality cutting board with it, a beautiful piece to become the next star in your kitchen. It’s not the ideal material, but it can still be an excellent choice.