If you are thinking of making a cutting board as your next woodworking project, you might be struggling to choose the type of wood to use.
Continue reading to find out whether birch is good for cutting boards as well as some other alternatives you might be able to use for your project.
Is Birch Good for Cutting Boards?
Wooden cutting boards are the first choice for most professional chefs as they do not dull a blade as quickly as a ceramic, marble, or glass board. However, not all types of wood are right for the kitchen.
Birch, however, is a good choice for making cutting boards, and there are a multitude of reasons for this. It has a good hardness rating, is inexpensive, and is relatively easy to machine and finish. Available in almost every lumber yard, it is a staple in every woodworker’s inventory.
Is Birch Food Safe?
Birch is a timber that is used for a wide variety of household products, from broom handles to toothpicks, and is well suited for use in the kitchen. It has no strong odor or flavor so it is a popular material for use with recyclable cutlery and tableware.
This species is a close-grained hardwood which helps it be food safe. Bacteria will find it hard to get a foothold with birch and it cleans up well with hot water. If you are in a canteen or restaurant that uses disposable wooden cutlery, then chances are they will have been made from birch.
In general, lighter-grained woods are usually a better choice for use as a cutting board, as color can sometimes leech out of a board made from red oak. Incidentally red oak is also not a good choice in the kitchen due to its open grain, making it susceptible to harboring food-borne bacteria.
With birch, there are no such worries, as it is recommended for use in making toys, teethers (as it has a high resistance to splintering), and many other early years and developmental products.
Advantages of Using Birch for a Cutting Board
There are several advantages to using birch for a cutting board. Those include the facts that birch:
- Has a Janka hardness rating of 1,450 lbf, which is well within the high end of the recommended ratings for cutting boards, and it makes it a durable choice that won’t fall apart
- Has a fine grain and a good density level which makes it a very good choice for use as a cutting board as it will not hold onto food remnants
- Glues easily and can be finished well, which means that it can be laminated in order to make boards of any size
- Has a natural resilience and will not splinter or crack when faced with daily use from knives or other kitchen blades
- Has a warm, natural golden color, which, due to its high level of flecking means it reflects light in an attractive way
- Is widely available and is sold out of most North American lumber yards. There are nine species native to the US so finding a supply is rarely an issue
- Is the least expensive of all the hardwoods and can be a fine substitute for its more expensive cousin, maple, but it will take more time and effort for it to shine
Disadvantages of Using Birch for a Cutting Board
There are some disadvantages to using birch in this way too. Chiefly amongst them are the following issues:
- Birch has a grain that is subject to interlocking patterns, a grain that will rapidly change directions, making it quick to blunt a saw
- It can be prone to splitting when joining with screws or nails, so if you want to fix an accessory to a board, such as a rope or perhaps a nameplate, then it would be sensible to pre-drill the piece first; once affixed, screws and nails both hold well in birch
- When sawn or finished with sandpaper, birch dust can sometimes aggravate the throat, so it is wise to wear appropriate respiratory masks when working with it
- It sometimes displays cross-grain scratching, which means you will have to take great care sanding it to perfection
Alternatives to Birch to Consider for Making a Cutting Board
Maple is a good alternative to birch for making cutting boards and will be more expensive to buy but a little easier to work with and finish. Both hard and sugar maple are seen by many as the industry standard for what qualities a timber cutting board should have.
Beech is another wood worth considering but it is slightly harder than birch, so factor this in when making a choice. There is a fine line between your cutting board’s durability versus your kitchen knives’ durability.
Sycamore is also a possibility as it has a similar close-grained finish. Stories of sycamore’s antibacterial qualities stem from the qualities possessed by the leaves, sadly not the lumber. An attractive timber, it is also not as durable as birch, maple, or beech.
Birch could be considered a little bit of a Cinderella hardwood in that it is as hardworking as any of the alternatives, but oftentimes it is overlooked because it is less expensive and therefore possibly seen as lower in quality.
However, with patience and skill birch can be a fine choice for kitchen cutting boards that will outlast and outperform many other timbers. If you use a food-grade mineral oil every couple of months to protect and feed the wood, it will help keep it looking great and working well even longer.
Its fine grain, relative hardness, and overall good availability should make birch a staple timber in every woodworker’s store. Its sustainability as a fast-growing and easily replenishable lumber should see birch being used for years to come.
When weighing up the pros and cons of birch, it is a good, food safe choice for making a cutting board, with many advantages for the woodworker.