Cedar Wood Is Not Good for Cutting Boards and I’m going to tell you why, continue reading to find out.
Cedar wood is one of the most popular building materials because it is affordable and readily available. In addition, it is naturally resistant to rot and produces oils that give it a beautiful scent and allows it to repel insects without treatment.
These qualities make cedar wood versatile and ideal for fencing, decking, making furniture and cabinets, and even building musical instruments. However, cedar wood is not good for cutting boards, see why…
Cedar wood is not the best material for cutting boards, mainly because it is softwood. It has a soft surface; hence knife cuts will run deep and be visible.
The deep cuts will also be harder to clean properly, encouraging bacteria growth. In addition, cutting the surface of cedar wood releases its toxic oils, contaminating your food.
Nevertheless, you can do a few things to be safe if cedar is the only wood to make your cutting boards. First, purchase the western red cedar because it is the least toxic of all cedar species and has the most beautiful appearance.
Also, seal the cutting board with mineral oils to protect its surface and prevent toxic oils from leaching.
This is just a quick summary of what to expect when you use cedar wood for cutting boards. As we continue, I’ll discuss the toxicity of cedar wood in-depth and all its advantages and disadvantages as a cutting board material.
I’ll also show you how to seal a cedar cutting board to make it last longer.
What Is Cedar Wood?
Cedar wood is a popular softwood species native to the western Himalayas and Mediterranean region. However, today, it grows abundantly worldwide, making it easy to source and highly affordable.
Woodworkers love cedar wood primarily because of its natural protective capabilities that make it durable. It produces oils that prevent it from moisture that causes wood rot.
The oils also produce a smell that is aromatic to humans but keeps away insects that eat through wood.
Furthermore, cedar wood is flexible and has a consistent density throughout its boards; therefore, it is less likely to warp, split or shrink.
The color of cedar wood varies from light brown to a pinkish red with purple tones depending on the species. When the wood is still fresh, the color is vibrant.
However, UV rays and constant exposure to the elements cause it to start fading. After about a year, the wood color turns completely silver-grey.
Some people like the weathered grey, but if you want to maintain the wood’s natural color, you must protect it with a clear UV-resistant coating.
Cedar has an open cell structure making it lightweight, and since it grows so quickly, the timber tends to be soft. The softness makes the wood easy to cut with hand or power tools as long as they’re adequately sharpened.
On the other hand, the light weight makes it easy to move cedar wood around during projects, and even the objects you make will be lightweight.
Types of Cedar Wood
Western Red and Eastern Red cedar are the most popular cedar species loved by woodworkers. They have the most striking reddish color and are more durable than the other cedars. These red cedars often make the best fences, shingles, ceilings, decks, and other outdoor structures.
The eastern white, Spanish, and Alaskan cedars are other popular cedar varieties. They are lighter in color – usually light brown to a creamy yellow. They are also naturally resistant to rot and have that classic cedar aroma. However, they are not as strong as the red cedars.
What Is Cutting Board?
A cutting board is a durable panel on which you place materials for cutting. It is also called a chopping board and is usually used in food preparation and cutting raw materials such as leather and plastic.
Cutting boards are commonly made of wood or plastic because they are adequately soft; hence, they don’t dull or chip knives. In addition, they are pretty easy to clean, so you don’t have to worry about cross-contamination.
Nevertheless, you can also find unique boards made of glass, marble, steel, and Corian. These are usually more durable, but they are too hard; hence they tend to dull knives. For his reason, they are best used for food preparation tasks that do not require a sharp knife, such as cutting cheese or sandwiches.
Advantages and Disadvantages of Using Cedar Wood for Cutting Board
Here are the advantages and disadvantages of cedar wood cutting boards
- Cedar wood is resistant to moisture. It produces oils that prevent excessive moisture from getting into the wood fibers; therefore, when you wash it, there’s no risk of the cutting board warping or shrinking.
However, you should never put a cedar cutting board into a dishwasher; stick to washing it by hand.
- Cedar wood is a low-density wood; hence it is lightweight. For this reason, cedar cutting boards are also light and easy to move around. This feature is convenient when your task requires a thick chopping block.
- Cedarwood has a soft surface, and therefore it does not dull knives. As a result, you won’t have to worry about sharpening your knife or any other cutting tool after every use.
- The oil that cedar wood produces is beneficial but contains toxic compounds. When you cut the board, the toxins are released and mixed into the food, contaminating it.
In addition, the dust from cedar causes skin rashes and respiratory problems when inhaled. Therefore, you must always wear a mask and coveralls when making cutting boards using cedar wood.
- The soft surface of cedar wood makes it easy for knives to cut deep. The deep groves can be very hard to clean, thus providing a conducive environment for harmful bacteria to thrive. Bacteria aside, a cedar board with several visible deep cuts is ugly.
- Cedar wood has large pores, so it tends to absorb every liquid that falls on it – including those from juicy foods like tomatoes and mangoes. For this reason, the board can quickly get stained, especially if unfinished.
Why Cedar Cutting Boards Are Toxic to Humans?
Cedar wood contains natural oils and compounds that are poisonous to bugs and protect the wood from moisture damage. This is the natural protection that makes cedar wood popular among woodworkers.
Unfortunately, the oils are as harmful to humans as to insects. So, if you use a cedar cutting board to chop meat, fruits, or vegetables, the foods will absorb some of the oils. And when you eat, you will be ingesting them in small amounts.
The regular ingestion of cedar oils causes allergic reactions such as a runny nose or asthma-like symptoms. These reactions are similar to the respiratory discomfort caused by the dust produced when cutting cedar wood.
On the bright side, the different cedar species produce different amounts of harmful compounds. Therefore, they have different levels of toxicity. Let me break it down for you.
- The western red cedar is the least toxic species and the most recommended cedar for making chopping boards. It is used worldwide to make professional-grade grilling planks, which is all the evidence you need to know that it will make a safe cutting board.
- The Alaskan Cedar is also safe to use, but it tends to have high levels of resin that give it its signature smell. The smell is pleasantly aromatic on its own but is undesirable when mixed with food.
- The Northern white cedar has the same toxicity level as the Alaskan cedar and doesn’t produce too much resin. However, this wood is prone to fungal staining hence cutting boards from it will not maintain their beauty for a long time.
- The Eastern Red Cedar is straight-out poisonous, so you should never use it to make chopping boards or any other food contact surface.
Is Cedar Wood Too Soft for Cutting Board?
Yes, it is! The surface of cedar wood dents and splinters quite easily; therefore, the knives will leave visible ugly marks on the surface. Moreover, the cuts will run deep and harbor harmful bacteria if not cleaned properly.
So, why is cedar wood this soft?
The growth rate of the cedar tree directly influences the delicate nature of cedar wood. They grow fast, with some species, like the western red cedar reaching maturity in as little as 20 years.
The quick growth results in cedar trees having loosely packed fibers with many air gaps. Consequently, cedar timber turns out soft and with a low density.
So, if you make a cutting board from cedar, you must apply a protective drying oil to seal the gaps between the fibers, preventing the knife from slicing through easily.
Does Red Cedar Wood Make a Good Cutting Board?
There are two red cedar species; the Eastern and Western red cedars. However, The Western Red Cedar is the only cedar that makes excellent cutting boards.
The reason is that the western red cedar is food-safe while the eastern red cedar is poisonous. This immediately disqualifies the eastern red cedar as a material for making cutting boards.
Food safety aside, the western red cedar makes beautiful cutting boards thanks to its awesome reddish-brown color and even grain pattern. In addition, the wood is lightweight; hence your cutting boards will be easy to lift.
This wood is also quite stable, so you do not have to worry about the board shrinking or warping out of shape when you wash and dry it.
Even though western red cedar is good material, you must take extra good care of your cutting board to preserve its features. You must seal the board to minimize cut damage on its surface.
Furthermore, you must handle the cutting board carefully to avoid denting its soft surface – be careful not to drop it.
What Are the Best Alternatives Of Cedar For Cutting Boards
Several wood types have better qualities than cedarwood. They are non-toxic and have higher strength and stability, making them the better choice for making cutting boards than cedar.
I’ll discuss all the best woods on the market to help you select something better than cedar. But before I do that, let me first tell you the most important things to look for when selecting wood for cutting boards.
Things to Consider When Selecting Wood For Cutting Boards
The Hardness of the Wood
We use cutting boards regularly; therefore, if you choose wood that isn’t hard enough, your board will wear out quickly. For this reason, it is best to find a solid wood that is dense enough to resist the damage caused by cutting objects. This means selecting a wood with a high Janka rating.
Hardwoods have higher Janka ratings than softwoods, so on this front, we’ll favor them more.
Nevertheless, you should remember that wood boards that are too hard tend to dull cutting tools, especially upon repeated use. For instance, wood such as the Australian Buloke has a Janka rating of 5060, which is quite high – it will have you sharpening your knives after every cut.
I recommend selecting woods with Janka ratings of between 900 and 1500. These are medium-hardness woods that are stable enough to withstand the consistent use of cutting boards and will not dull your cutting tools.
Even though wood is natural and eco-friendly, some woods contain compounds that can harm human health. These compounds are usually present to fend off insects and weather damage while the tree is still growing. And they remain in the wood even after you cut and dry the lumber.
If you use wood with toxins to make a chopping board, there is a high risk of releasing the compounds when you cut the board.
Consequently, your food will absorb the toxins which will cause harm after you ingest the food. Some woods – especially softwoods – also cause respiratory problems and skin rashes if you inhale their dust or let it settle on your skin.
For this reason, you should only use wood sourced from trees that produce edible fruits, nuts, leaves, or sap because they are generally considered food safe. Avoid exotic woods like Purpleheart because they contain too many toxins despite having a stunning appearance.
The Porosity Of The Wood
A block of wood comprises dry plant matter and several tiny pores enclosed within the matter. The size of the pores of wood is what we call porosity.
Woods with larger pores have high porosity and tend to absorb and retain a lot of liquid. So if you use them to make cutting boards, they will absorb the moisture from foods like raw meat and vegetables.
As a result, your cutting board will be ground zero for food cross-contamination. Moreover, bacteria could start growing within your board, thus putting you at risk of food poisoning.
I recommend using low-porosity woods because they do not absorb too much liquid or allow bacteria to grow. They also resist staining and are more stable and durable than high-porosity woods.
Best Alternatives of Cedar For Cutting Boards
Maple wood makes the best cutting boards because it has all the necessary features that make a good cutting board. First, it produces highly nutritious fruits known as Samaras, indicating that it does not contain toxins.
Maple is also a hardwood with a Janka rating of 1450. Therefore, it is hard enough to resist denting and deep cuts but soft enough to not dull cutting tools.
In addition, this wood has minimal pores, which makes it hard for bacteria to thrive. The few pores also make maple less prone to staining.
To make it better, maple wood has a beautiful appearance and is easily workable. Its neutral off-white color and subtle grain perfectly match most kitchen settings.
Unfortunately, /the light color of maple is prone to staining. So, if you cut “colored” foods such as beets and turmeric roots, the stains will show. In addition, Maple wood is pricier than the other hardwoods on this list.
Beech wood is another excellent hardwood with a Janka rating of 1300. This means it won’t show cut marks as clearly as cedar wood. Moreover, this wood is highly dense and has tightly packed grain.
As a result, maple cutting boards aren’t prone to moisture damage, making them stress-free to clean. The tight grain also leaves very little room for bacteria to thrive.
The pinkish-brown color of beech wood is lovely, and the wood itself is affordable for hardwood.
On the downside, beech wood stains easily, and its bright color does little to hide it. In addition, this wood shrinks more than most hardwoods; therefore, you must condition your cutting boards monthly to avoid the issue.
Teak wood has a high oil content, making it highly resistant to decay. You will never have to worry about decay if your cutting board stays in wet condition for long periods.
Additionally, the oils produced by teak are not as toxic as those of cedar wood, so you can rest assured that the boards are food safe.
Like most hardwoods, teak is durable and resists scratches and dents, but not as well as maple or beech. It is also highly resistant to shrinking; therefore, your cutting boards will only need conditioning every 3-6 months.
Moreover, the orange-brown color of teakwood hides stains pretty well, so you can use your board to cut anything you want.
Unfortunately, teak wood contains significant quantities of silica; hence it dulls cutting tools much faster than other hardwoods.
Walnut is softer than maple wood, having a Janka rating of 1010; nevertheless, it is still within the appropriate hardness rating of wood for cutting boards. It is resistant to scratches and dents but not as well as the other hardwoods on this list.
This wood is dense, giving it excellent stability and durability. You don’t have to worry about your cutting boards shrinking or warping out of shape whenever they are in consistent contact with water.
The high density of walnut wood also leaves little room for harmful bacteria to grow.
Walnut cutting boards have a beautiful dark color unique from the other woods on this list. Beauty aside, the dark color also hides stains on boards pretty well.
How Do You Seal a Cedar Cutting Board?
The best way to ensure a long life span for a cedar cutting board is to seal it with oil periodically. The treatment is best done monthly or bi-weekly because cedarwood is too weak to remain untreated as a cutting board.
So what exactly does sealing a cedar cutting board do?
Sealing a cedar cutting board closes the wood’s natural pores, preventing it from absorbing moisture from the foods you cut. This ensures that no mold or bacteria thrives on the board.
Moreover, sealing a cedar cutting board will lock in its toxic oils, preventing them from contaminating your food.
Now that you know what sealing does, let me show you how to seal a cedar cutting board properly.
Step 1: Select A Finish
The two types of cutting board finishes are food-grade drying and non-drying oils. The drying oils soak deep into the wood fibers and only require a single application.
On the other hand, the non-drying variety does not harden within the wood; therefore, you need to reapply them frequently to maintain the protection of the cutting board.
Here’s a list of the oils you can use to seal your cedar wood cutting board.
Mineral oil is the most affordable and popular non-drying finish for cedar cutting boards. It is a petroleum derivative, but it is safe to use on and around food-contact surfaces.
This option is highly water-resistant, meaning that juicy foods such as raw meat, tomatoes, and mangoes won’t leak fluids into the board. It also ensures that cedar’s toxic oils remain within the wood fibers to prevent food contamination.
A mixture of beeswax and mineral oil will soak deep into the wood grain, creating an impenetrable attractive finish. This finish is more durable and offers more protection than pure mineral oil.
You can mix the oil and beeswax in a 1:5 ratio or purchase a ready-made mix from a woodworking store.
A mixture of carnauba wax and mineral oil offers more protection because carnauba wax dries harder than beeswax. It is the best option if you use your cedar cutting board to cut lots of water-retaining foods.
Carnauba wax can be tricky to find, but you may get lucky in online woodworking stores.
Tung oil is one of the best food-safe drying oils available in woodworking stores and online shops. It seeps into the wood and hardens within the fibers, forming a sturdy protective layer for the cedar cutting board.
You do not need to frequently reapply tung oil to maintain the protection of the cedar board.
Raw linseed oil is an FDA-approved food additive; hence it is among the safest finishes you can use to seal your cedar cutting board.
However, it takes a long time to set, which can be a nuisance if you want to use the board as soon as possible.
Note: Never use boiled linseed oil on cutting boards because it is a processed product with metallic components that are unsafe for consumption.
Walnut oil provides durable, water-resistant protection for cutting boards. Its finish is dark and beautiful, perfect for a rustic kitchen aesthetic.
On the downside, this oil takes about 4-5 days to dry, even longer than linseed oil’s drying time. Nevertheless, the finish will be worth it.
Step 2: Apply the Finish
Start by washing the cutting board thoroughly before you apply the finish on it. You do not want to apply the oils over bits of dirt or food remnants on the cutting board.
- Rinse the cutting board under running tap water if you haven’t used it recently. If it has bits of food, rub it down with a clean sponge and a dollop of dish soap.
- After cleaning, allow the board to dry for about 30 minutes before applying the finish.
Pour your selected oil onto a clean cotton rag and then rub it onto the cutting board using long horizontal strokes. Ensure you cover the whole surface, leaving no gaps in the finish.
- Allow the oil to sit for a few minutes, and then turn the chopping board and apply the finish on the other side. Use the same application technique you used on the first side.
Allow the finish to dry for as long as it needs – this could take several hours or days, depending on the finish you selected. On average, a board treated with a non-drying oil will be ready in 3-5 hours, while a drying oil may take up to one week to harden properly.
- You can tell that the finish is dry by running your fingertips over the wood. If there’s any residue on your fingers, you must give the finish more time to dry.
- As the cutting board dries, leave it on a countertop or anywhere where pets and kids won’t reach it.
Here’s a Video On How to Seal Cutting Board:
Proper Maintenance Practices Cedar Wood Cutting Board
Even after you seal your cedar cutting board, you must employ a few maintenance practices to ensure that the board and the finish remain intact for a long time.
The actions may seem minor and negligible, but they go a long way in ensuring the durability of the cedar cutting board. So, below are a few practices you should adopt to take care of wooden chopping boards.
- Wash and dry the cutting board after every use to prevent the food juices from getting into the wood fibers. If you allow the food remnants to remain on the board, they will rot and cause harmful bacteria to grow in the wood fibers.
After washing the board, wipe it immediately with a clean rag until it feels dry to the touch.
- Air dry the cutting board on its side after washing it to prevent one side from drying more than the other. If you dry a cedar cutting board face down continuously, the board will warp out of shape.
- Never wash your cedar chopping board in the dishwasher or submerge it in a sink full of water. Such actions expose the cedar wood to a lot of moisture, damaging the board. So, it is best only to wash your cutting boards by hand.
- Sanitize your cutting board regularly using water and vinegar, especially after cutting raw meats. This will deter the growth of harmful bacteria and minimize the chances of food cross-contamination.
- Never use olive or vegetable oils to seal your cedar cutting boards because they become rancid over time, rendering your cutting board unsanitary.
Cedarwood is popular because it produces oils and compounds that protect it against insect attacks and moisture damage. Cedar trees also grow quickly, making their timber readily available and affordable.
These features make cedarwood versatile; hence, we use it for all kinds of indoor and outdoor projects. We use it for fencing, decking, furniture, ceilings, cabinets, and even building musical instruments. But the burning question remains.
Cedar Wood Is Not Good for Cutting Boards
We’ve seen that cedarwood is the perfect material for making cutting boards primarily because of its soft surface. Cutting tools tend to leave deep cuts on the board, providing a breeding ground for all kinds of bacteria. The deep cuts also make the board look ugly.
Other than softness, the oils in cedar wood contain compounds that cause allergic reactions in humans when ingested or inhaled. You will notice people gradually developing asthma-like symptoms and other issues such as a runny nose or severe skin rashes.
If you want a cedar wood cutting board, use western red cedar because it is non-toxic and beautiful. It is also lightweight, allowing you to make thicker cutting boards without worrying about weight. NEVER use Eastern red cedar for cutting boards because it is highly poisonous.
Besides the western red cedar, you can make chopping boards using the Alaska or northern white cedar. They are equally non-toxic but have a lot of resin that leaves a weird smell and flavor in foods. They also stain easily, and their light color does nothing to hide the stains.
Lastly, it is best always to seal your cedar cutting board to prevent it from absorbing fluids from juicy foods. Use mineral oil or drying oils such as tung oil or raw linseed oil because they are food safe and have an attractive finish.
That’s it, folks! I hope that this information has helped you understand everything concerning cedar cutting boards. If you need clarification, don’t hesitate to contact me in the comments.