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This is going to be a relatively short entry.  I get asked a good deal about wood varieties, grain orientation and "what should I go with?"

Rule 1. Wood varies.  Within a species, within a single tree.  It just does.  But in general...

Rule 2. From softest to hardest: cherry, walnut, maple.  Or at least what I'm buying.  While I personally prefer walnut, and while I can definitely feel the difference between a maple board an a cherry board in terms of resistance, I think that in general the distinctions between them are going to be relatively minor for you.  A board that's well cared for vs one that isn't will be the main difference in your boards functionality.  That said...

Rule 3. So you're just really particular and you want durability and stability?  Maple.  Granted, it will also be (nominally!) harder on your knife.

Rule A (Yes, I'm switching from number to letter because this one is important). End grain is better on your knives than edge grain, which I will also call long grain, simply because I think switching between saying "end" and "edge" gets a little bit confusing.  

Rule B. But, in my opinion, getting a huge end grain countertop isn't the way to go, unless you really just want it for aesthetic appearances and are willing to pay for it.  

*Rolls up sleeves* So, let's get real here about cost.  End grain just costs a lot more to produce.  First off, sanding end grain is extremely time consuming and exhaustive.  Like you wouldn't even believe.  I still don't believe it.  Also, end grain is a bit more prone to warping--calm down!  It's okay!  It's not like your end grain cutting board is guaranteed to freak out.  The warping I'm talking about is actually pretty minor (even *IF* it does happen) on an end grain cutting board.  Part of that is because the boards thickness relative to it's width and length.  My end grain boards are two inches think to provide ample surface area for gluing, creating a more stable product.  But two inches of thickness for a piece that's 24 x 96?  All the sudden that seems pretty skimpy and I recommend beefing that up to allow for greater surface area for the glue.  Naturally, that adds to the cost.  Oh, and did I mention that I have to surface this either by hand or via a ridiculous jig?  It's slow work.  In any event, I think you can see where I'm going here...

Edge grain, aka long grain, is a great choice for a countertop.  Okay, yes, it's rougher on the knives, but take a look at a butcher shop.  Very rarely do you see a butcher with a new, giant end grain chopping block.  They may have one they picked up from an estate sale that's pretty sizable or they may have new long grain counters, but rarely do you see both.  Why?  1. Buying something used from decades ago is usually cheaper than buying new and 2. you know it can endure because it has already endured and 3. They're chopping so frequently (at least 40 hours a week if not 60), that they have to sharpen their knives frequently anyway, so edge grain or end grain?  In this instance, it probably doesn't matter.  Long grain for a counter top is great because it is so utilitarian and durable.  

Question 8 (I admit it, I'm making this up): So which wood would I recommend for a butcher block counter top?  I say it's up to you.  You just have the following to consider....

What do I color do I like?
What do I intend to use this for?  Functional or ornamental?  (ie-will I be cutting on this countertop or do I have a separate cutting board?)
How hard/stable do I want my piece to be, even after considering everything I've just read?

 

My two cents!

-Nils

November 12, 2013 by Nils Wessell