Differences Between Face-Grain, Edge-Grain and End-Grain Cutting Boards
What is the different between a “face grain”, “edge grain”, and “end grain” cutting board?
The following illustration will understand this point.
HOW ARE CUTTING BOARDS MADE?
The best way to understand the differences are to consider the “grain” in any piece of wood. Any piece of lumber that woodworkers use has three surfaces that we refer to as 1) face grain, 2) edge grain and 3) end grain. The face grain is what you’d normally see on the “outside” of the board. It’s where you see most of the grain and beauty of a piece of wood. Woodworkers typically use the face grain to make table tops or panels that you might see on cupboard doors. Edge grain is the “side” of the board. It’s usually the side that woodworkers measure the “thickness” of a board. Finally, end grain is the end of the board.
Face grain cutting boards are made by gluing the edges of narrow boards of wood together. Edge grain boards are made by gluing the faces of strips of wood so that the edge grain side is now exposed as the cutting surface of the cutting board. End grain boards are made by cutting the piece of lumber into blocks, and gluing the blocks together with the end grain up, forming the top surface of the cutting board.
WHICH TYPE IS BETTER?
There is no right answer here. You just have to weigh out the pros and cons of each type of board.
Face Grain: Face grain boards will show knife marks faster than edge grain or end grain boards and are not recommended for heavy chopping use. But, face grain shows the most grain and often are the most striking of all cutting boards.
Edge Grain: Edge grain boards will be tougher than a face grain board and is a good first step into wooden cutting boards. Edge grain cutting boards require less upkeep then an end grain cutting board. Since the grains of the wood are not exposed the wood will soak up less moisture, making it less likely to warp or crack if not oiled regularly. They may also be thicker than face grain giving the board more weight and body. They also do not have to be as thick as an end grain board which at times can become rather heavy.
End Grain: End grain cutting boards are the most durable, have the ability to hide knife marks, and will not dull knives as quickly as plastic or glass cutting boards. But, end grain boards tend to come with a higher price tag as end grain boards require more steps to produce. End grain patterns are unpredictable and can be difficult to match or replicate creating a more unique, one of a kind aspect.
Which is better? I don’t think one is “better” than the other. Because of the nature of the grain, the edge of the board is the strongest part of the board and most chefs will usually agree an edge grain board is best for chopping since it tends to show knife scratches and marks less. However, because the grain is usually prettier on the face of the board, a face grain board often provides more visual interest in the kitchen. But, the board still provides an excellent surface for cutting and chopping. End grain is by far the strongest and used for true chopping / butcher blocks but have a higher price tag due to the process it takes to make one. In the end, it is up to the customer.
An end grain board generally prohibits the blade from sinking into the wood, producing a dulling effect. If the end grain board is made of close-grain woods like maple, purple heart, padauk, etc, the surface tends to "heal" itself and since you're cutting on the short grain, your blade doesn't sink into the wood like an edge grain. Cons being that due to the process by which they're built, and the amount of wood required, they're more expensive and can be bulky and cumbersome.
If cost is the major consideration, I'd recommend an edge grain board made from a quality hard maple. If cared for, it'll be around for years.