New DIYers often question cedar’s durability, mainly because it’s one of the softer woods in today’s market. Although it’s a beautiful wood suitable for different woodworking projects, is cedar good for cutting boards?
In this post, I’ll explore the attributes of cedar to determine if they’ll work well as a wooden cutting board material.
Cedar and its Key Properties to Know
Cedar wood is a tree with a growth rate of 25 inches yearly that originates in the Mediterranean region. Besides Atlas and Himalayas, you can also find many of its species in North America.
Among its popular variations, most people seek woodworking project materials from Juniperus Virginiana (Eastern Red Cedar) and Huja Plicata (Western Red Cedar) trees. Considering their wide availability, cedar boards have been an economical and cultural symbol in the industry.
Checking how their colors differ is an effective way to differentiate cedar wood species. If you look closely, Western Red Cedar carries a red to pinkish brown heartwood and yellow-like sapwood. Meanwhile, the Eastern ones have lighter outer layers and reddish-brown central parts.
In the modern era, cedar board is a sought-after material for small-scale and decorative projects like fence posts, musical instruments, wooden pencils, and many more.
Here are the attributes that make it more desirable than other woods:
One of the reasons why cedar is one of the best wood selections for furniture pieces is its lightweight structure. Thanks to its low-density attributes and weight range of 25 pounds per cubic foot, newbie woodworkers will find this material easy to use.
Uniform Grain Pattern & Texture
Furniture makers often choose cedar wood board mainly because of its aesthetically pleasing attributes. With its uniform texture and grain pattern, it can give any wooden home decor, furniture, and instrument a high-end appearance.
Stains and Finishes Well
Instead of being a cutting board material, cedar is ideal for outdoor use. Cedar’s ability to take in stains and other finishes makes it a perfect wood for indoor and outdoor furniture pieces.
For me, the most compatible finishing products for cedar wood are water-based poly, shellac, and linseed oil.
If you’ve been using cedar wood as a woodworking material, you’ll know it produces a sweet scent. Its natural oils give the lumber a distinct aroma that can repel moths away from the workpiece.
Unlike most wood for cutting boards, cedar belongs to the softwood category. Because of this, shaping and slicing them is easier than using other wooden materials.
Can You Use Red Cedar to Make A Cutting Board?
Although red cedar wood is still softwood, did you know its lumber grade falls under hardwood standards? It features added durability and strength, so it’s only natural for this material to be good for cutting boards.
But let me tell you — this wood is built to last. Properly maintain one of these, and you’re looking at a lifespan of 30 to 40 years.
On top of that, it has uniform textures that can give your kitchen a more refined look and food-safe features that make the red cedar cutting board more desirable in the household.
Since a red cedar cutting board can withstand harsh heat and cold conditions, it offers longer material life than other softwood options in today’s market. It also glues well and accepts fasteners without problems.
Another reason why most DIYers use cedar as a cutting board material is its inexpensive per-board-foot price range. As you know, hardwood selections aren’t exactly the most budget-friendly materials out there.
Can You Use Cedar to Make Charcuterie Boards?
Since it’s not a literal cutting board where you’ll tap knife blades, it’s okay using cedar materials as charcuterie boards. The absence of sharp knives means you don’t have to worry about leaving cut marks on the cedar’s surface.
Pros & Cons of Using Cedar for Cutting Boards
Before you decide if cedar wood is a suitable cutting board material, I’ve listed its perks and drawbacks to ease your woodworking experience.
You may not know, but cedar wood includes different medicinal perks, one of which is its antimicrobial properties . This attribute stops bacteria from spreading in the material. Thanks to that, it can be a safe option for a cutting board or other kitchen workpiece.
This material features a wide color range, from reddish-brown to pinkish hue. In fact, there’s also a purple heart cedar specie, in which the wood’s core is purplish in color. Because of this, these decorative cedar cutting boards can fulfill most of your kitchen aesthetic visions.
Its attractive appearance and texture are two primary reasons it works well as a charcuterie board.
Besides its aesthetic value, cedar wood offers excellent resistance against potential damage from wet and harsh conditions. You can count on this material to prevent rot and decay formation.
Let’s face it. You’ll be tapping your kitchen knives into the cutting board, so it makes sense to buy wood pieces that can withstand exposure to a knife blade.
Unfortunately, this activity can leave visible knife marks on the porous wood whether you like it or not. And unlike other hardwoods, the Western red species of cedar only carries a 350 lbf Janka rating.
Besides knife marks, cedar cutting boards have a higher chance of yielding dents and scratches.
The brittle structure of cedar can cause splitting and cracking on the cutting board. It can affect the wood’s strength and durability.
Cedar’s Tannins Stain
When working on this lumber, it’s crucial to note that the cedar tannins will likely leave stains on your hands. It contains protein and carbohydrate substances that can build tan-colored streaks on cutting boards.
Admit it or not, any wood species with slight toxicity can hinder food safety. In that sense, using cedar for a cutting board project isn’t the safest idea, especially if you use it in your daily food prep.
You should also note that cedar oil contains highly concentrated toxins like thujic acids and dextrose. Inhaling these components can cause respiratory system irritation and lead to a runny nose, rashes, etc.
See Also: Spar Urethane on Cedar Wood
Cedar’s Odor Lingers
The enduring fragrance of cedar is one of the primary factors that make it less suitable as a material for cutting boards.
Nevertheless, this aromatic quality becomes an appealing attribute when used in other applications such as closets and chests, as it naturally acts as an insect repellent.
However, constantly smelling cedar odor on your kitchen, cutting boards, and other utensils isn’t the most desirable outcome.
Is Cedar Wood Food Safe?
While many woodworkers consider cedar toxic, some species under this category are food safe. Using them as cutting boards is fine, but be mindful of the wood varieties to avoid exposing food to dangerous toxins.
When shopping for a wood-cutting board material, it’s crucial to check the product labels to ensure that they’re non-toxic and safe for food contact.
Why is Cedar Hard Enough to Make Cutting Boards?
Indeed, the cedar’s Western red variation doesn’t have enough strength for regular cutting board activities. However, the Eastern specie of this tree produces lumber pieces with a 900 lbf Janka hardness rating.
If you ask me, that hardness level is more than enough for regular cutting boards in a typical kitchen setup.
And even though a cedar cutting board can’t last as long as a maple cutting board, you can always enhance its durability with protective finishes.
Why are Cedar Cutting Boards Toxic?
Cedar oil production can fight stubborn infestations. However, extensive exposure to this material can potentially harm humans, especially when your food is in frequent direct contact with cutting boards made from this specie.
And like any other lumber type, it can also produce wood dust during the workpiece’s construction. The cedar dust from cutting and sanding can lead to irritation, asthma, or other health problems. If you want to avoid these things, I recommend to wear protective gear.
Softwood Causes Problems with Bacteria
The softness of cedar cutting boards gives bacteria and other harmful substances an easy opening to spread into the surface pores. And once that happens, these toxins can infect and spoil your food.
What Type Of Cedar Wood Is Best Used as a Cutting Board?
As previously mentioned, red cedar is the best specie under this category to use for cutting boards. Not only is this wood safe for food contact, but it also has uniform grains and even textures.
Best Woods for Cutting Boards Compared to Cedar
A maple wood board is as beautiful as cedar, but its hardness and strength make it more valuable as a cutting board material.
Instead of choosing cedar for a cutting board, you could opt for beech for its excellent resistance against scratches and impact.
Walnut wood cutting boards are dark wood options less likely to shrink over time. It can also keep a beautiful appearance if it’s properly maintained.
Ash lumber can be a cedar alternative if you want a lighter color, but it doesn’t accept finishes well.
Since acacia has a hardness rating of 1500 to 2000 lbf, it can be a durable option for a heavily used cutting board.
Besides durability, teak wood will suffice as a cutting board material mainly because of its tight grain pattern, moisture resistance, and high oil production.
It has a softer construction than hard maple, but cherry still holds more durability than cedar.
This eco-friendly material is widely available and has enough strength to withstand regular wear and tear.
Are Cedar Woods Carcinogenic?
Cedar woods are not carcinogenic but can build bacteria when not cleaned regularly.
What Do You Mean By Cedar Fever?
You can get cedar fever from trees like Western Red Cedar. It’s an allergic reaction to pollen.
How Do You Seal Your Cedar Cutting Board?
You can use three to four tablespoons of food-grade mineral oil and rub it over the cedar board.
Now, is cedar good for cutting boards? The answer is a mix of yes and no. While cedar wood offers excellent aesthetics with its straight-grain pattern, making cutting boards require a more durable material.
Trust me when I say that some harder woods are better options to prevent costly repairs and replacements in the long run.
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