While shopping for a cutting board, you may have heard terms like end grain, face grain, or edge grain. You may have also noticed that end grain cutting boards tend to be more expensive than the rest, and maybe you've wondered why.
Let's start by talking about the terms above, and what they mean.
Face grain cutting boards are generally the cheapest type of cutting boards on the market, They are made simply by gluing wood planks together. Because of they way they're constructed, minimal labor is needed, and the price is low, but they are the most prone to warping over time. They also tend to show scratches and knife marks more than the other two options. Most people who are serious about their kitchen supplies won't bother with one of these.
Edge grain cutting boards are a step above face grain cutting boards, and they won't break the budget. An edge grain board is made by cutting wood into strips, and flipping the strips so that the edges become the cutting surface. Since the cutting and assembling of the boards adds to the labor involved, these boards are marginally more expensive than face grain boards. Since the edge of the wood tends to be stronger, these boards are less likely to show scratches as easily, and also less likely to absorb moisture, making them less prone to warping. These boards are an excellent choice for most kitchens.
These are the holy grail of cutting boards, and in my opinion, they are worth the hype. End grain cutting boards are made the same way as edge grain cutting boards, but then they are cut again, and reassembled with the ends of the wood facing up. This additional labor, and often additional material required, raises the price tag on these higher than the edge grain boards. These tend to be thicker boards, which makes them incredibly durable, but the real magic happens on the cutting surface of an end grain board. Since the fibers are running up and down through the board, instead of across it, these boards have somewhat of a "self-healing" ability. The best way to describe this is to imagine cutting a paint brush. If you cut across it, you'll likely cut through the bristles, damaging the brush, but if you cut down through the bristles, when you pull the knife out, there will be no visible mark on the brush. For that same reason, end-grain boards are easier on your knives, and tend to has a less dulling effect on them. They're easily recognizable by their checkerboard pattern.
So which one is right for me?
Ultimately, the only person who can make this decision is you. If you're cooking on a budget, and want a cutting board that may not last for a long time, a face grain board may be what you're looking for, but try to find one that's a little thicker, which will give you the best chance of avoiding warping. If you cook regularly, and want a cutting board that will hold up to your every day needs, you can't go wrong with a well made edge grain board. If you use high quality knives, and want a board that will last, and don't mind paying for the best, buy an end grain board. Your knives will thank you.
Maintaining your board
With any of the boards above, care and maintenance is always the best way of preventing problems. I recommend using our cutting board wax, on a regular basis to keep your boards in top shape, and always make sure they stay out of standing water.
Edge grain (left) and end grain (right) boards: