Looking for wood suggestions for my butcher block counter top.

The wood counter top I have is too yellow (see photo). I'd like to replace it with a wood that's good for chopping but that's also a little more grey/brown in color. Any ideas?

Amanda Hesser


amysarah July 13, 2011
Yes, that's true - a hardwood can either be an open or closed grain. (All the woods on that chart are N.A. hardwoods, but under each pic it specifies whether the grain is open or closed. Walnut is both a hardwood, and according to the chart, open grained.)

As I understand, the hardness factor makes it hold up to marks, cuts, dents, etc...open/closed grain is more about how porous it is and texture. Of course this is also effected by finishing...I've seen plenty of cutting boards made of walnut, or walnut laminated with another wood. I think with proper finishing/oiling it can probably work fine. This is all just 'rule of thumb' stuff. (And I only know what I've learned on the job from talking to cabinet subs and so on - I'm by no means a wood 'expert'!)

In any case, really mostly wanted to get across that whatever the wood chosen, it's really important to look at an actual sample, in the room/light it's going into. You'd be amazed by how many of our clients are surprised by how different a color/texture can look in context - from how it did in the showroom, online, whatever.

By the way, your kitchen counter looks lovely. And thanks for the link to the Janka scale!
Peter July 13, 2011
AmySarah, thanks for the additional info. Just to be clear though -- whether a species is open or closed grain does not perfectly correlate to whether it's a hardwood or softwood, correct? It's more to do with the appearance? Because walnut (which I have and is pictured above) is an open grain according to you, but is listed as a hardwood on the site you link to.

And really, when it comes to wood for cutting material, it's more to do with the hardness than the open or closed nature of the grain? And when looking at hardness, you want to look at the Janka scale, no? A scale like this one?


(Where I'm surprised to see Walnut so low down as it's really held up quite well for me.)

amysarah July 13, 2011
Little late here, but - switching my cook's hat for my architect one - hardwoods vary in grain – closed, e.g. maple or cherry; open, e.g., walnut or beech; or in-between like hickory. The more open grain, the more porous - not so great for your purpose. Here’s a handy chart of hardwood species’ grains/colors in various finishes - you'd use mineral or specialty oil, not Tung as shown, but the look would v. similar:


Just remember there's always a degree of variation in color/finish for any natural material - and color representation online is pretty dicey - so this is only a general guide.

Really important to get a sample from the fabricator (or your contractor) to look at in situ before committing. This obviously goes for any new ‘built-in’ surface, to avoid a costly/aggravating ‘oops!’ You might love a particular wood color/texture on its own, but it might not look so hot next to your other existing kitchen finishes.

From the pic, it looks like you have dark-ish stained cherry cabs, black stone counters (from white veining, looks like marble?) and a white tile backsplash (very neutral.) You might be able to fix the too bright/yellow issue by using a warm toned wood (to compliment the cherry cabs,) that's simply more muted, without necessarily going for a really grey/brown one. I'd play with a few samples of woods appropriate for cutting surfaces - see what works on site. Color can appear very different in person than it did in theory.

Phew. Hope all that was helpful!

Edit: for some reason the link isn't showing properly here; should work if you copy/paste the whole thing into your browser.
thirschfeld July 11, 2011
What you want, whatever wood you use, is a wood with a tight grain and considered a hardwood, so fewer food particles get into the grain. I think beech, my hardwoods floors are all beech, is beautiful but not as an end grain, hickory is really gray in places and varies from board to board, cherry might be nice. What you might want to do is get online and look for barn floors from tobacco barns. They refinish a lot of them, by planning them down, and they are stellar and if you are lucky, made of American chestnut, and birch would make a great cutting board/ countertop.
Peter July 11, 2011
Susan, the same piece since 1973 -- impressive! Is it end grain or planked boards?
Sam1148 July 10, 2011
I like the blond color for the photography, it really makes the food stand out.
I doubt a darker color would photograph the food items as well, ask your photographer.
susan G. July 10, 2011
This may not be practical, but I've been cutting on a butcher block made of teak since 1973. Used all the time, carelessly maintained and still in excellent condition.
Emily H. July 10, 2011
Oh goodness, I'm happy I'm not the only person that gets annoyed with the tone of her butcher block. I have to say, Peter's suggestion is right on. I've used a few different walnut chopping blocks and I approve.
Peter July 10, 2011
Amanda, welcome to Foodpickle. I think you'll find the community here very helpful and friendly. ;-) Now to your question:

While most people say that maple is the only wood around when it comes to cutting on the countertop is maple (and end-grain at that) I've been using Walnut for my kitchen for a little over two years and it's held up fairly well. Granted, I don't use mine anywhere near as much as you use yours (I work too late at night lately to cook a lot) but it still might do the trick. If you're worried you could always have someone make up an end-grain walnut block for you though that might cost a bit.

Anyway, we only cut on 25% of the counter as a whole -- the 25% to the right of the sink as shown in the attached photo. As you can see, you can't see any marks at all until you get close up (as shown in the closeup).

Finally, I finished (and periodically reapply) the counter in a wax paste of my own devising that's part beeswax and part mineral oil. Easy to apply and 100% food-safe.

If you're ever in Brooklyn, NY and want to come by and see it in person, you're welcome to swing by. ;-)
Recommended by Food52