A cutting board is a great woodworking project, whether it be for your own use, a gift for a friend or family member, or perhaps you are thinking of going into production and making cutting boards for sale.
There are many different timbers to choose from when considering which to use for a cutting board project, so what about cedar? Is it a good choice for such a project?
Is Cedar Good for Cutting Boards?
Maybe. Now that’s not a terribly helpful answer, but cedar is and is not a good wood to use as a cutting board. Given proper treatment, cedar can become a cutting board of sublime beauty that will last a lifetime, and there are routes to success that are very satisfying.
Generally speaking, cedar would not be our first choice for a cutting board project because it is too soft and brittle, which means it can break easily if put under pressure. However, cedar is an incredibly beautiful timber with an arrestingly deep and three-dimensional grain that can look amazing if handled and finished well.
Cedar has traditionally been used in furniture, not least for its deterrent properties in repelling moths and other insects. You will also see it used as roofing shingles due to its resistance to rot and water, with this last point surely making it an ideal candidate as a cutting board.
Is Cedar Food-Safe?
Cedar wood has an oil that is toxic if ingested, so if you are set on using cedar wood for cutting boards then you have to ensure it is properly sealed before it is used with food in a kitchen. With proper sealing, the wood’s slight toxicity should not be a problem.
The best, most food-safe cutting board would be an edge grain board made from western red cedar, due to its tighter grain. This tree is native to the Pacific North-Western United States and has been used to flavor Native American cooking for centuries.
Advantages of Using Cedar for a Cutting Board
While not the most ideal wood for cutting board, cedar does have its advantages.
Cedar wood is a very beautiful timber with a rich grain that is extremely attractive and looks great when finished.
The Japanese use Hinoki, a close relative of the American cedar, as it is kind to the blades of their kitchen knives, resulting in less time spent sharpening them. The softness of this wood means that is less harsh on a chef’s blades.
Cedar is very moisture resistant and will not warp or suffer from exposure to moisture. That said, it is wiser to wash by hand than put a cedar cutting board in the dishwasher.
It is also highly resistant to rot and as a result, will remain good-looking and rot-free for years.
Cedar is also a widely available timber that will not cost the earth. It is likely to be on the inventory of every lumber yard across the country.
Lightweight and easy to work and carve, cedar lends itself to all kinds of creative uses, especially when considering making larger cutting boards.
Red cedar has a fine grain that glues well and finishes easily with a deep range of colors, giving it a three-dimensional depth of finish that looks great and lasts a lifetime with regular maintenance.
Disadvantages of Using Cedar for a Cutting Board
The disadvantages are significant with this type of wood too, though.
Cedar wood is soft. It will scar easily with the action of kitchen knives, which will shorten the life of the board. It has a low Janka hardness rating of just 900 lbf. The ideal rating for this use is in the realm of 1,350 lbf.
This is a brittle timber, which means that your cutting board will be more likely to split or break if dropped or used too heavily.
Cedar wood also tends to splinter, which means that you might discover thin slivers in your food.
Due to its softness, a cedar cutting board will need to be sanded and resealed more often than other timber cutting boards, as this will help guard against bacteria build-up in the many scores and scratches that will be left behind by your kitchen knives.
Alaskan or white cedar is also very resinous and can suffer from fungal staining, so it is best avoided when it comes to cutting boards.
Cedar wood is not recommended for use with raw meat or fish due to the risk of fragments getting stuck within the soft open grain of the wood, leading to either contamination or the build-up of harmful bacteria just below the surface.
While it is naturally repellent to insects it may provoke allergic responses in some people over a long period of time.
Additionally, eastern red cedar is also said to be flat-out poisonous, so it would be wise to make sure you have the right kind of cedar in your basket before you buy. Any sensible woodworker with the right information should be able to discern whether or not they have the right timber, but mistakes do happen, so be on your guard when picking out your material.
Alternatives to Cedar to Consider for Making a Cutting Board
Here are some better alternatives to consider.
Ash is a popular alternative to cedar when considering wood to use as a cutting board. Its light, open grain and good level of hardness make it a durable and attractive choice for most woodworkers.
Maple is right in the middle of the hardness grades recommended for cutting boards, balancing the need for durability with a softness that will not degrade the sharpness of knife blades.
Birch is famously food-safe, being used for sustainable single-use canteen and picnic cutlery, and even plates. A must-have timber for any woodworker, it is ideal for the kitchen as a cutting board, with no nasty surprises if treated properly.
While cedar might not be an obvious first choice for use as a cutting board, it should not be discounted right away. With the right handling and proper treatment, any issues or shortcomings can be overcome.
Cedar has long been admired for its rich color, its beauty, and indeed, for its aroma when cut. The dust from cutting or finishing cedar may, however, be something of an irritant, causing noses to run and eyes to water, and making proper safety equipment essential.
The end result for the woodworker could be a cutting board of simple beauty. However, it is probably a better idea to select a wood that will not be so high maintenance or have so many inherently difficult issues to overcome.
There are many alternative timbers that could be considered, all of which are as satisfying to work with as cedar.