Is Red Oak Good for Cutting Boards? (What You Need to Know)

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Unlike plastic, wood is more durable, especially the ones with grains perpendicular to the surface.  Among other things, red oak has soft surface which prevents blades from blunting. 

If you want to know if red oak is a good cutting board material, our woodworkers will share its characteristics, advantages, downsides, and where it works best! Continue reading as our team explains more details.

What is Red Oak Wood: Key Characteristics, Origin, and More

Red oak or Quercus rubra loves full sun and prefers to grow on rich and moist soil in Northeastern United States and Eastern Canada. It is known for being heavy, dense, sturdy, and sustainable.

Heartwood of red oak has light umber color with flecks of red. Then it becomes paler on sapwood. It has straight grains with various red patterns and coarse, uneven texture.

quarter sawn read oak

Red oak is used on floors and has decent workability. However, it reacts when in contact with iron and is vulnerable to stain, decay, and moisture.

Advantages of Using Red Oak as a Cutting Board

Red oak is hardwood and popular for various projects due to its workability, hardness, and response to steam-bending. 

Here are few reasons why people use it as cutting board: 

Sturdy

Red oak has Janka hardness of 1290psi. Good cutting boards are within 900 to 1500 Janka hardness. Red oak has sufficient hardness to resist dents and scratches from butcher knives and heavy restaurant kitchen use.  

Aesthetic Color and Pattern

Red oak board is cut with grain facing perpendicular to its cutting side. You’ll see honey brown or pinkish red cutting board with straight grains forming different patterns. 

read oak

Woodworkers would always play with its patterns and color to spice things up. Either way, red oak will give you premium-looking cutting board. 

Water and Scratch Resistant

When red oak dries, it has density of 44 lbs/ft3 that can resist scratches and dents. Properly finished red oak provides resistance to moisture, good enough for kitchen use. 

Easy Sealing

Pores on red oaks are large. Air molecules can enter and come out the other end. Sealing is easier if it’s soaked deep within wood fibers. Finishes are thicker, look prettier, and last longer.

Anti-Bacterial

Studies prove hygroscopic properties and extracts in oak inhibit bacterial growth and prevent bacteria like E. coli (commonly found in food) from penetrating and lingering on wood. 

Disadvantages of Using Red Oak as a Cutting Board

To balance your understanding of red oak, know its downside. That way, you’ll have clearer and more objective reasons for coming up with a verdict. Its drawbacks include:  

read oak grain pattern

Tannic Acid

Tannic acid kills bacteria. As much as you’d love anti-bacterial on cutting board, tannic acid leaves bitter taste and is mildly toxic when ingested. 

You squeeze out this acid when chopping. So, it’s best to clean your board thoroughly after use. 

Porous

Due to large pores, red oak absorbs more water. It will suck fluid like sponge, especially its heartwood. Black stains easily grow, leading to decay if left unchecked. 

The Smell Can be Bothersome

Red oak has awful scent, leaving stinking smell to your food. But it can be removed through sanding and finishing. Remaining residues are squeezed out when you use your cutting board, so clean it regularly.

How to Seal a Red Oak Cutting Board

Sealing red oak is what really makes it an effective cutting board. As mentioned, red oak is mildly toxic, stinks, and stain-absorbent. 

sealing cutting board

Its advantages don’t offset its drawbacks. Maintenance alone won’t cut it. You’d have to go through all the trouble of sealing and sanding its surface to waterproof it and remove its stinking juices.

If you want to benefit from having a good-looking board made of red oak, here are four steps to follow. 

Step #1: Get a Suitable Chopping Board Sealant

Chopping board is susceptible to sharp knives and cleavers. It is wise to choose sealant capable of resisting dents and pressure. Beeswax, mineral oil, linseed oil, or tung oil works well on red oak. 

Read Next: Finishing Wood With Beeswax 

We don’t recommend using varnishes, polyurethane, or lacquer. Frequent use will cause cracks, and it’s unrepairable. Water and food residues can enter those cracks and eventually cause stains.

Step #2: Spread to the Board

To get things started, sand your wood. Make sure you clean it with dish soap and lukewarm water afterward. You can also use vinegar or lemon to remove foul smell. 

spreading oil on red oak cutting board

Wood must be dry before you apply sealant. Spread oil evenly on the surface with microfibers or lint-free rags/cloth. 

Wait for wood to absorb the oil. Mineral oil and linseed oil soaks for about 15-30 minutes, while some, like tung oil, takes one day. 

Step #3: Add More Layers if Needed

More layers are better. Let it dry to the touch before applying another layer. You can also sand it first. 

Like step 2, wipe it evenly on surface. 

Repeat the process until you are sure you fill and fully stuff every pore with oil. You’ll know you’re done when the wood can no longer absorb excess oils.

Step #4: Rub the Excess

Wipe off excess oil with clean, lint-free rag or microfiber. You can sand it moderately with smooth sandpaper and wait for it to cure fully.

cutting board

Linseed oil takes about 1-3 days to cure, while tung oil and beeswax need 2-3 days. Mineral oil cures faster with six hours curing time. 

Reapply sealer every 2-4 months to prevent brittle, scratches, or dents from adding up. Do it monthly if it’s overused.

Best Finish Choices for a Red Oak Cutting Board

Mineral oil is a popular choice among our peers, as it cures much faster and it’s transparent. It remains fluid when soaked and saturates wood fibers.

You can pair mineral oil with beeswax for smoother, more solid finish and better water resistance.

pouring linseed oil

Tung and linseed oil are rather underrated choices. They’re environmentally friendly and turns into plastic-like barrier when cured. Unlike non-drying, these dry oils become polymers that resist water penetrating your wood and eliminate stinking smell and toxic acid.

Best Grain for a Red Oak Cutting Board

It’s ideal for strong and sturdy cutting boards to have end-grains. Wooden cutting board, regarding wood type, is more effective if grains on its cutting side are perpendicular to the surface. 

End-grain surface reduces tendency of blunting, as opposed to edge side of grain where blades directly cut through grains dulling its sharpness.

end grain cutting board

Having end-grains [1] also maximizes sturdiness. It gives a smoother cutting feeling and denies scratches, dents, and knife marks.

How to Properly Wash and Maintain a Red Oak Cutting Board

  1. Wipe food residues, meat fibers, fish scales, or blood after use.
  2. Rinse it with water. Wash it using sponge/brush with dish soap. You can also use lemon and salt to remove remaining food odor. Bacteria can penetrate your board through scratches and knife marks, so scrub it properly.
  3. Optional: If you use it on meat and fish, soak it in bleach solution for no longer than three minutes. Wood tends to soften and swell if you soak it in water long enough. You only need sufficient time for the solution to kill off bacteria. 
  4. To remove remaining foams of soap or bleach on your wood, rinse it with water once you’re done.
  5. Wipe it with dry clean rag and dry it completely before returning to its rack. 

Can I Use Red Oak as a Butcher Block?

As a matter of fact, this is where red oak is best to use. That is if its surface is sealed with oil finish. 

red oak butcher block

Red oak is dense, hard, and can absorb shock. When you apply proper finish and consistent maintenance, butcher block made of red oak is a practical choice and worth investing in.

Is White Oak Also a Good Option for a Cutting Board?

White oak works well as cutting board and should have same considerations and preparations as red oaks. Plus, it has natural properties capable of resisting water when exposed outside. 

White oak is harder and denser. It has smaller pores but can be less gentle at preserving your blade’s sharpness. 

What are Better Options to Use as a Cutting Board?

Laminated maple, walnut, and teak are better options to use as cutting boards. Materials like beech, cherry, and acacia are also great choices. 

For instance, teak is the most durable hardwood. It can withstand harsh weather conditions and used as boat keel, let alone cutting boards. Walnut is the softest and best used to avoid blunting your knife.

chopping onions on teak cutting board

Meanwhile, maple has more compressed grain and smaller pores. It is water resistant and sturdier. Hard maple even has Janka hardness of 1450 and is the best choice due to its resistance and overall quality. 

However, it dulls your blade faster, making soft maple an alternative option because its quality doesn’t go far from hard maple.   

Conclusion

Its sturdiness and natural look make red oak a good cutting board for butchering and material for large chopping boards in restaurants. Even if it requires extra care and preparation, having wooden cutting board is all worth the trouble.   

However, make sure to have separate cutting boards for your meat, fruits & vegetables, fish, and spices. You don’t want cross-contamination, or your cornbread to taste like garlic and onion.

Robert Johnson is a woodworker who takes joy in sharing his passion for creating to the rest of the world. His brainchild, Sawinery, allowed him to do so as well as connect with other craftsmen. He has since built an enviable workshop for himself and an equally impressive online accomplishment: an extensive resource site serving old timers and novices alike.
Robert Johnson
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