You can plane an end grain cutting board but it would be inadvisable especially if you are inexperienced. In general, planing the end grain is discouraged because it can cause catastrophic tear outs which can break the cutting board into pieces and also damage the planer machine, in addition to being a safety hazard for the user.
Why is planing an end grain cutting board dangerous?
This is because the end grain consists of wood fibers sticking up and this causes them to tangle with the planer blades resulting in a tear out. Planing an end grain cutting board may work at times, but when it goes wrong, the results can be disastrous. Thus, planing an end grain cutting board is a safety risk for the user and should be attempted only by highly experienced woodworkers.
So what's the alternative to planing an end grain? You can use an orbital sander with instead. Although it will take more time, an orbital sander removes wood slowly without causing tear outs. You need to start at a coarse grit (80) and go higher until you reach the level of smoothness you desire. It is advisable to sand up to 220 grit for an end grain cutting board.
Can you Plane end grain?
Although inadvisable, there are some safety precautions to take if attempt to planing is made.
- Ensure that your planer blades are sharp and new.
- Ensure planing passes of not more than 1/8th of an inch through the planer.
- use sacrificial anti tear out pieces on both sides of the cutting board.
- Lastly, use glue runners on the sides of the cutting board for preventing the board from being sniped.
Should you rout an end grain? Learn it here- What you need to know about routing an end grain
Is end grain better for cutting boards?
End grain is better than a face grain or edge grain for a cutting board due to many reasons:
- End grain boards hide cutting marks better. Since they are tougher and look more rugged, they don't show cutting marks prominently like face grain or edge grain boards. Although a face grain board might look better when bought, with usage it will look battered due to the knife marks.
- End grain boards are softer on the knives and kitchen knives will not dull quickly when used on end grain cutting boards compared to face-grain cutting boards or plastic cutting boards.
The disadvantage of end grain cutting boards is that they soak up moisture quickly and this can cause the cutting boards to warp and crack. In comparison, edge grain and face grain cutting boards do not absorb moisture as quickly. To prevent end grain cutting boards from soaking up moisture, they need to be oiled regularly. This calls for more maintenance compared to other cutting boards.
How thick should end grain cutting board be?
Keep end grain cutting board thickness between 2" and 2 ½" inches. Making the cutting board thinner than this might cause it to warp easily and crack. If it is made thicker than 2 ½ inches, the cutting board will become too heavy for everyday use and for moving it around. This thickness is assuming the length and width of the cutting board are within usual standards.
When should you throw away a cutting board?
A cutting board should be replaced if there are visible grooves or cuts in the cutting board that makes clean up difficult and cause gunk to build up on the board.
As recommended by USFDA, using excessively worn and grooved cutting boards is a health hazard and should be avoided. This is true regardless of the material of the cutting board, whether wood or plastic. You need to be especially careful to check for visible damage to your cutting board if it's a face grain or edge grain cutting board, as these get damaged quickly.
Another sign to look for is to see if your cutting board is warped. Sometimes cutting boards (especially end-grain cutting boards) can absorb excess moisture and this can cause them to warp and crack. Cutting boards that are warped are difficult to use and will not give a clean cut. They also tend to wobble when used for cutting. If there are cracks in the cutting board due to warping, these cracks can become breeding grounds for bacteria.
If you wish to salvage your cutting board, check whether the damage is minor such as scrapes or shallow cuts. These could be repaired by sanding the cutting board all over and finishing it again using oil. Cracks in cutting boards, are difficult to repair.
Can you use both sides of a cutting board?
You can use both sides of a cutting board provided you place it on a clean and sterile surface. Using both sides of the cutting board will prolong the life of the cutting board by evening out the wear and tear.
But when turning the cutting board over, ensure that your counter-top is clean and free of germs. You do not want any harmful bacteria on your countertop to cause your cutting board to become unhygeinic. If it's difficult to ensure this, use only one side of your cutting board.
If you tend to use the cutting board for both meat and veggies, you can use one side for veggies and the other side for meat. This will avoid the veggies from having the scent of meat when cooked.
Can cutting boards go in the oven?
Do not put cutting boards in the oven. Although wood is in general oven-safe, the glue in the cutting board that holds the pieces together will melt and this will cause the cutting board to disintegrate.
If you are using a plastic cutting board, it is even more dangerous. Ovens melt plastic cutting boards, and cause a giant gooey mess. Melting plastic produces highly toxic cancerous gases.
Do you plane with or against the grain?
Always try to plain with the grain rather than against the grain. Planing against the grain can cause the wood to tear out. This is because when planed against the grain the blade lifts a chunk of the top wood fibers and separates it from the fibers below it.
The way to identify the grain direction is to touch the surface and feel the smoothness in each direction. When you move your hand aginst the grain the wood surface will feel rough. This is similar to when you run your fingers through your pet's hair. The hairs feel smooth in one direction and rough in the opposite direction. In a similar way, wood also a has a direction in which the fibers feel smooth, this direction is commonly called "with-the-grain".
Although it is recommended to always plane with the grain, sometimes you"ll need to plane against the grain. In such a situation ensure that:
- You take light passes in each round of planing. It is preferably to take off only 1/32 inches in each pass when planing against the grain.
- You sharpen the planer blade on a whetstone before planing. A blunt planer blade will cause a tear out when used for planing against the grain.
What woods are not good for cutting boards?
The woods that are not good for cutting boards are open grained woods (such as red oak, elm, ash) which will collect oil and bacteria, softwoods (pine, poplar, cedar, hickory) which will get damaged from knife use and toxic woods (wenge) which are not food-safe.
Also you should avoid using woods that are too hard and take a toll on your knives. These include hickory and wenge.
The best woods for making a cutting board are hard maple. beech and birch. They have the right amount of hardness and are close grained enough to avoid being a breeding ground for bacteria.
If you are new to woodworking, you should learn how to use a table saw safely. Check out my detailed guide for using a table saw safely- Using a table saw safely