Finishing Chopping Blocks
by Alan Noel
Professional Wood Finisher

From time to time I'll get a call about what finish should be used on chopping blocks. Most of the time, chopping blocks are made of rock maple and are designed with the end grain serving as the chopping surface, though I have recently seen chopping blocks made of birch or some other hard or soft woods from different parts of the world that are quite frankly, very poorly designed. The most prevalent issue is that the laminations have been glued together utilizing the flat cut side of the wood instead of the end grain for the cutting or chopping surface. Here are 7 tips for dealing with chopping blocks:

1. There is no finish that is harder than the steel in a sharp knife.

2. Blocks made of flat-cut surfaces are the least desirable and will not hold up to heavy use, but are fine for use when merely cutting or chopping with knives. Meat cleavers, on the other hand, should only be used on high quality chopping blocks with the end grain serving as the chopping surface.

3. There is no finish that is truly appropriate for a chopping surface because as soon as it's used, the blade will cut through any finish on the surface and then cut into the wood itself.

4. When the blade cuts through the surface, it creates a "rut" where bacteria can flourish. Since bacteria need a food source, the finish (if there is one present) along any food particles in the rut will do nicely.

5. The bottom line is that the only treatment a cutting surface should get is a good washing with household bleach and then rinsed with water. The bleach will kill all of the bacteria and the water rinse will remove any bleach residue.

6. I also like to repeat the cleaning process before using again just to be sure. This is especially true if I used it for any meats.

7. As for chopping blocks that are made of plastic, I would clean them the very same way.

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