Butcher blocks have probably been around for as long as people have been cooking their food. Wood is an excellent surface to cut on and has always been widely available. Long popular in Europe and other parts of the world, butcher blocks are becoming more and more popular in homes in the United States as well.
If you do an internet search for “butcher block,” you might get a bit confused about exactly what it’s referring to. In general, butcher block is a broad term that is used to describe a range of hardwood projects that includes cutting boards, tabletops, and counters. Originally, although not as much anymore, these blocks were intended for cutting food. Now, they often replace granite or Formica® countertops and add a rustic charm to a kitchen or dining room, even though they may not be meant to have a knife used on them.
One of the distinctive features of a butcher block project is how beautifully they highlight the natural beauty of the wood used, particularly the grain. When starting any type of butcher block project, you’ll need to decide first what orientation you’d like showing on the top and sides of the block. This article will detail the different grain options you’ll see mentioned in butcher block projects and some of the pros and cons of each.
Flat Grain (or Face Grain)
If you place a large, square, hardwood board down flat, the top and bottom of the board will show the flat grain of the wood. This is also sometimes called the face grain.
The flat grain is usually the least expensive option for a butcher block project It can also be the fastest to make. It is the softest option for cutting on but can be very visually appealing since it shows the grain design in large swaths. For that reason, it’s pretty popular for tables and countertops. When using the flat grain for a project, your project can only be as thick as the boards you’re able to acquire.
If you look at the side of your board where the grain runs parallel to the flat grain, you’re looking at the edge grain. The edge grain is generally better for cutting on than the flat grain and will last longer. However, it will dull knives more quickly than an end grain board and will show nicks and cuts faster as well. If you’ve seen cutting boards or butcher blocks made with many small strips of wood, they are typically showing the edge grain side up.
If you cut your board perpendicular to the flat and edge grain, you’ll see the end grain of the wood. It’s what you’d be looking at if you were to chop a tree down and look at the stump.
It’s the most expensive since there is often more waste if you’re trying to achieve a specific design. This is the best surface for cutting on and is the one that will be most forgiving on knives and the board itself. If you’ve seen butcher blocks with a checkerboard pattern, they are almost always done with the end grain. It can be used to create intricate and unique designs that are gorgeous to look at.
The type of grain you choose for your project will depend on your budget and the purpose of the butcher block. No matter what, you can create a beautiful piece that will accent a kitchen or dining room and stand on its own as a testament to your craftsmanship.
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