A handmade wooden cutting board is one of my favorite projects to make. Everyone loves them, and they look great in the kitchen. I have several cutting boards that I have built over the years that I use in my own kitchen. If you make your own cutting board or want to buy a custom cutting board and are thinking of making a cedar cutting board, you might want to read this first!
Types of Cedar
Cedar is a beautiful, aromatic wood known for its light weight, easy workability, and natural rot and insect resistance. There are several cedars native to North America that are widely available as lumber. Each has its advantages and disadvantages, so we’ll take a look at the best options for a cedar cutting board.
Western Red Cedar
Western red cedar is native to the west coast of North America and, if you’ve spent any time browsing the decking or siding sections of a lumber yard, it is probably the cedar you are most familiar with. These fast-growing trees produce naturally lightweight wood, insect, and rot-resistant, relatively cheap.
It is a very soft wood which makes it perfect for hand carving. I have built paddles with it in the past and have run into issues because it dents so easily, making clamping a challenge!
If you’ve ever visited a seafood restaurant in the Pacific Northwest, you’ve probably seen cedar plank salmon on the menu. Red cedar is the wood of choice for this dish, so you know there are some culinary uses for the wood!
Like most of the others on this list, the dust from red cedar can lead to respiratory issues for some, so it’s always a good idea to wear a mask and goggles when working with it.
Northern White Cedar
Northern white cedar is a close cousin to western red cedar in its uses and workability.
White cedar is native to southern Canada, and the Northeastern portions of the US and once again is a favorite for building decks and siding. It is slightly less prevalent than red cedar, so even if you live within its growing area, you may only be able to find red cedar at your local big-box lumber stores.
Once again, white cedar is an extremely soft wood that can be easily dented with a fingernail so, while these cedars may be suitable for grilling a salmon, they are far too soft to stand up to use as a cutting board.
Eastern red cedar, or aromatic cedar, is known for its aroma and is commonly used to line closets, chests, or humidors to ward off bugs. The distinctive aroma comes from the natural oils in the wood.
Aromatic cedar is a significantly harder wood than both red and white cedar with a Janka hardness of 900 versus only 350 for western red cedar. Even though cedar is known to be a soft wood, a Janka rating of 900 puts it right in the same ballpark as western maple or cherry.
Because of this, you will occasionally see folks who make cutting boards or charcuterie boards from aromatic cedar. I have never personally used the wood in a cutting board, but many folks claim that the distinct cedar aroma is almost undetectable once the board is finished with a cutting board oil or wood butter.
Finding thicker aromatic cedar boards can be difficult as most big box stores only sell thin planks meant for lining closets. So unless you’re within the tree’s native growing regions of the Eastern US, lumber stores don’t often carry it.
Alaskan Yellow Cedar
Alaskan yellow cedar is a slow-growing cedar native to the pacific coast of Alaska, Canada, and the Pacific Northwest. Yellow cedar has a light yellow color and an extremely tight growth ring pattern. This makes the wood ideal for boat and instrument building as it is strong yet lightweight.
On the hardness scale, yellow cedar falls between aromatic cedar and red cedar with a Janka hardness rating of 580. It is hard enough to be durable for projects like boat decks and guitars, but it will still quickly show wear under constant use as a cutting board.
For this reason, yellow cedar isn’t an excellent choice for making a cedar cutting board. However, it can serve as a beautiful serving platter or charcuterie board.
Cedar Cutting Boards
Here are a few examples of cedar cutting boards available by makers on Etsy.
Aromatic Cedar Cutting Board
This aromatic cedar cutting board from Mellor Woodworks on Etsy is a classical-style cedar cutting board complete with a juice groove.
Cedar Serving Board
This cedar serving board is made from red cedar and is best suited for use as a serving tray rather than a cutting board as, as we mentioned earlier, red cedar is just too soft to stand up to kitchen knives.
Cedar Charcuterie Board
These red cedar serving or charcuterie boards are a beautiful example of using both the heart and sapwood from a red cedar tree. The contrasting colors and grain patterns show what a lovely wood cedar is.
Best Finishes for a Cedar Cutting Board
Cedar is a naturally oily wood, which makes it naturally decay and insect resistant. Because of this, some finishes will never fully cure and will remain tacky.
I use wood butter made from mineral oil and beeswax on all of the kitchen tools I sell in my Etsy shop. The wood butter is buffed into the wood and then wiped away. This leaves a water-resistant finish with a low sheen which highlights the natural beauty of the wood.
Finishes like this, or commercially available finishes, like Odie’s Oil or Totalboat Wood Honey, are great for finishing cedar cutting boards. The wax in the finish will create a natural barrier between the oils in the cedarwood and the surface of your board.
Safely Working with Cedar in the Shop
As we mentioned earlier, some people have or can acquire, through repeated exposure, a sensitivity to the dust from cedar. Because of this, it is always recommended to wear safety glasses or goggles and a respirator when working with it in the shop. Also, take the time to wipe down your finished work with a microfiber cloth or with mineral spirits to remove any dust before applying the finish.
Derek grew up woodworking in his father’s shop and has since gone on to start up a successful woodworking business on Etsy. In his spare time, you can find him mountain biking, skiing, or writing.