Did you know that using the right kind of cutting board can significantly prolong the lifespan of your kitchen knives? Despite the advancements in technology and materials, traditional wood remains one of the best surfaces for cutting and cubing. Plastic, the once-beloved high-tech option, is also a popular choice. However, it’s important to note that not all plastics or woods are suitable. Each material has its own advantages and disadvantages, with its own group of supporters and critics. The great news is that you don’t have to choose just one! You can mix and match, combining the benefits of both materials.

Never Ever

Before delving into the comparison between wood and plastic cutting boards, it is essential to establish what should NOT be used as cutting surfaces. Let’s clarify the materials that are unsuitable for cutting:

kitchen knife cutting pizza




 hard plastic



 any other material that is hard and unyielding and does not score when you slice it with a knife.

Why? Despite being made of strong and durable steel, the finely sharpened edge of a knife is surprisingly delicate. When you cut or chop on these forbidden surfaces, your knives lose their sharpness much faster than you can imagine, even as you dice a large onion for a delicious curried couscous. This means you’ll either have to sharpen them more often or endure perpetually dull knives. Who wants to deal with that inconvenience?

In the Beginning, There Was Wood

Wood possesses not only exquisite natural beauty but also remarkable strength and durability. However, its most appealing attribute, particularly concerning the well-being of your knives, is its tendency to yield to their sharp edges. When you utilize a wooden cutting board, the wood fibers break and create indents, effectively preventing the delicate edges of your knives from becoming blunt by rolling over.

Nevertheless, not every type of wood obtained from any tree is suitable for crafting an excellent cutting board. Certain woods are excessively hard, while others are overly soft. Some lack a consistent texture, while others are not sufficiently dense. In the United States, the majority of high-quality cutting boards are constructed from hard maple due to its ideal combination of durability and softness. Moreover, hard maple boasts a uniform, dense, and fine-grained structure, making it readily available in abundance.

combo cutting board_red oak-maple

Cutting boards can be crafted from soft maple and other flexible woods, but they tend to be less durable. However, there are several alternative wood options that are suitable for the task. Birch, walnut, cherry, white oak, ash, as well as more exotic choices like teak or royal mahogany, can all serve as excellent materials. Some cutting boards are even made from a blend of different woods, although I advise caution when using them for heavy chopping. If the wood types vary in hardness, it may result in uneven wear and tear on your knives. (Photo left: typical combination board made of various hard woods.)

3 Ways Wood Cutting Boards Are Manufactured

In today’s market, cutting boards primarily consist of multiple planks joined together through adhesive, unlike the traditional approach of using a single slab of wood. This modern construction technique enhances their durability and minimizes the risk of cracking or warping. Cutting boards are typically categorized into three types based on their construction: end grain, edge grain, and flat grain. Among these, edge grain is the prevailing choice due to its widespread availability and practicality. To grasp the distinctions between these types, envision a hypothetical 2 X 4 piece of wood.

End Grain

When creating an end-grain board, the top surface is crafted from the end of a 2 X 4, which exposes the open grain resembling a cut tree trunk. This type of board can be easily recognized by its checkerboard pattern and is commonly used in traditional butcher’s blocks.

end-grain board_catskill craftsmn
End grain is the kindest to your knives and will wear the longest.

The cost of end grain boards is typically higher due to the extensive labor involved in their production. However, they offer the greatest benefits to your knives and have the longest lifespan. In end grain boards, the wood fibers are oriented vertically, allowing you to cut into the fibers rather than across them. When the knife edge interacts with the board, it separates the fibers (similar to pushing a ruler into a scrub brush) and then allows them to rejoin and repair themselves. This reduces the pressure on the knife edge, resulting in a sharper edge for a longer period. Additionally, end grain boards exhibit fewer marks from cutting. The main drawback is that these boards tend to be thick (around 3 to 4 inches) and heavy, making them less convenient to carry to the sink.

Edge Grain

Imagine placing a 2 X 4 board with the narrow side facing up (the 2-inch side). In this orientation, it would be considered an edge-grain board. The ideal grain pattern for each plank would be vertical to the countertop, although in practice it’s often a mix of orientations. Take a look at the photo below to see the end of an edge-grain board, where you can observe that some planks have a more vertical grain than others.

edge-grain cutting board close-up

The construction method described here is highly prevalent due to its optimal combination of strength, durability, and affordability. With proper care (i.e., avoiding prolonged exposure to water and regular oiling), these boards can last for a significantly long time. Personally, I have owned a few of them for over 20 years. While their thickness may vary, typically averaging around an inch, they are available in various sizes. This allows you to select the precise dimensions that suit your needs perfectly.

Flat Grain

If you were to rotate your hypothetical 2 X 4 piece of wood so that the wider edge (the 4-inch side) was facing upwards, it would be considered a flat-grained board. Although it may resemble an edge-grain board in appearance, it cannot be compared to one. Due to the nature of its grain pattern, even a well-made flat grain board is inherently weaker and less durable, meaning it won’t last as long. It’s worth noting that many edge-grain boards do incorporate face-grain or quasi-face-grain planks, and that’s perfectly acceptable. Wood is a natural material, so there’s no need to be overly strict about it. In fact, nowadays it would likely be difficult to find a completely pure flat-grain board. The most important thing is to have a majority of edge-grain, as this will provide the board with strength and help prevent warping.

Then, There Was Plastic

Surprisingly, high-density polypropylene, also known as plastic, shares similar characteristics with wood. It possesses toughness, yet maintains a softness that doesn’t dull knife blades. However, it lacks the ability to heal and doesn’t retain an appealing appearance after accumulating numerous score marks. Interestingly, while weathered wood often holds an aesthetic appeal and commands a higher price, worn and used plastic tends to evoke unease. Nevertheless, a plastic cutting board is significantly more affordable than its wooden counterpart, making it easier to replace. Additionally, it offers the advantage of being thinner and lighter than a typical wooden board. As an added benefit, it is dishwasher-safe for convenient cleaning.

KKG's plastic boards

Before embarking on your journey with a collection of plastic cutting boards stowed in your saddlebags, please ensure an essential factor – the flexibility of the plastic you purchase. It is not enough to rely solely on the claims made by online retailers such as “safe for professional knives” or “knife-friendly” as they may not always hold true. Bob Tate, an esteemed professional cutlery sharpener, advises seeking a plastic board that can be easily sliced from the side with a knife. This suggests a soft texture, doesn’t it?

Upon discovering this valuable insight, I inspected the polypropylene boards in my kitchen, and I’m pleased to report that three out of four passed the test with distinction. As for the one that didn’t meet the criteria, I only use it occasionally and never for chopping, so its inadequacy does not concern me greatly. It presents a classic dilemma: harder plastic may maintain its visual appeal for a longer time but can be harsh on your knives, while softer plastic may lose its aesthetics more quickly but is gentler on your knives. Personally, I prioritize the well-being of my knives.

Plastic cutting boards offer a wide range of vibrant colors, which can be utilized as a coding system if desired. In professional kitchens, different colors are often assigned to specific food types, such as red for raw meats and green for vegetables. This coding system helps to prevent cross-contamination. However, even if you don’t use them for coding, you can still appreciate the appealing color variations. If you’re interested in a stylish and completely color-coded set of cutting boards, you might consider checking out the offering by Joseph Joseph.

One advantage of plastic boards is that they don’t absorb strong flavors from pungent foods like onions and garlic, unlike their wooden counterparts. If you’ve ever experienced the lingering taste of garlic on strawberries after cutting them on a wooden board that had previously been used to mince garlic, you’ll understand what I’m referring to. With plastic cutting boards, you can avoid the unlikely combination of garlic and strawberry flavors.

fruit cutting board

In our kitchen, we’ve gone the extra mile to ensure that even with plastic boards, we don’t experience any lingering garlic or onion flavors. We have set aside two plastic cutting boards exclusively for fruit, clearly marked with the word “fruit” using a permanent marker. The labeling is discreet, placed near the edge in small font. It might seem a bit nerdy, but it’s a practical solution that effectively separates the flavors!

Cutting Board Summary


Pros: Provides knife protection; has a beautiful, natural appearance; weathers well; offers a variety of styles; lasts a long time; possesses natural hygienic qualities.
Cons: Cannot be washed in a dishwasher; can be costly.


Pros: Provides knife protection; initially looks great; available in various colors; dishwasher safe (except for the dry cycle); inexpensive.
Cons: Eventually develops scars and does not weather as well as wood; may not be as hygienic as wood depending on usage; requires careful drying in the dishwasher.


Pros: Features attractive and unique patterns; lightweight; weathers as well as wood; comes in a variety of styles; long-lasting; relatively inexpensive.
Cons: Can be harsh on knives; suitable for light usage only, such as for bread or apple lunch; not dishwasher safe.

Hard Rubber (Sani-Tuff®)

Pros: Provides knife protection; more sanitary than plastic; dishwasher safe; extremely durable; can be resurfaced.
Cons: Lacks attractiveness; limited style selection with only one beige color; heavy; can be pricey.

Thin, Flexible Plastic Mats

Pros: Portable and lightweight; available in a variety of colors and styles; inexpensive; partially dishwasher safe.
Cons: Flimsy; offers minimal knife protection; wears out quickly and not meant to last; prone to warping in the dishwasher.

Wood Fiber Composite (Richlite w/Epicurean)

Pros: Features attractive modern designs; wears well; offers a variety of styles; lasts as long as wood.
Cons: Can be harsh on knives and should only be used lightly as a backup for items like bread, etc.

The Knife Experts

The Knife Experts

Hi, we’re James and Luke, two Brooklyn-based chefs on a mission to help home cooks and aspiring chefs unleash their culinary potential through the mastery of kitchen knives. Join us on this journey.

Recommended Articles

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *