Wood isn’t as tough as you think. Here’s why wooden cutting boards split—and what to do about it when it happens.
You may be wondering why your wooden cutting board is splitting and what, if anything, can be done about it. While the exact cause may vary, there are a few simple things you should do—and others you should avoid—to extend the life of your cutting board.
Fortunately, in this article, we will address just those things. As a self-taught cook, I have owned and destroyed more than one wooden cutting board over the years, and I have had to learn the hard way how to care for them.
How do wooden cutting boards end up splitting?
As a raw material, wood swells when it absorbs moisture and contracts when it dries out. Not surprisingly, the most common cause of a split wooden cutting board is the owner forgetting to dry it after use.
This is important information, especially for first-time owners of wooden boards who are used to cutting their food on plastic. Caring for a wooden board is quite different than caring for a plastic board.
All wooden cutting boards, whether they are made of bamboo, beech, cherry, maple, teak, or walnut, have a porous surface. When they come into contact with water, particularly over a long period of time, they can soak up a lot of it because of their dryness and porosity.
A wet wooden cutting board that hasn’t been patted dry and hung or placed on the dish rack will bend and twist as the wood fibers dry out, causing cracks and splits of varying degrees.
For the same reasons, don’t allow a wet board to dry on a flat surface without patting it down first. It can cause cracking, splitting, or warping, and can encourage the growth of bacteria on the side that’s facing your countertop.
How to Keep Wood Cutting Board From Splitting
Moisture is the number one reason an otherwise good wooden cutting board suddenly splits. So here comes my best advice for how to prevent that from happening:
To protect your wood cutting board from splitting, wash it by hand and never put it in the dishwasher. Pat it down with a clean cloth or a couple of paper towels, and let it air dry for at least 3-4 hours before storing it in your kitchen cabinets.
Soaking the board in water or leaving it on a wet countertop is a no-no. Contrary to what most people think, it is enough to soap the cutting board briefly, rinse it with lukewarm water, then dry it out.
If you are worried about sanitization, don’t be. Some time ago, Cook’s Illustrated magazine colonized cutting boards with salmonella, cleaned them using various methods, including soapy water, undiluted vinegar, and bleach solution, and then sent them to a lab for analysis.
The results of laboratory analysis showed that all methods were equally effective in reducing bacteria to safe levels. In other words, hot soapy water is all you need to clean a wooden cutting board.
Is a Split Cutting Board Safe to Use?
Split wooden cutting boards are not safe to use. Blood from meat, juices from fruits and vegetables, and food particles can get stuck in the cracks, harbor pathogenic bacteria, and endanger your health.
Preparing and cutting food on a split wooden board can transfer bacteria, including Staphylococcus aureus, Salmonella Enteritidis, Escherichia coli, and Campylobacter, to your food and make you sick.
The statistics, as you can imagine, are not to be trifled with. The numbers show that about 1 in 7 U.S. citizens contract food poisoning each year, and not everyone survives to tell the tale.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 48 million Americans get food poisoning each year, 128,000 of whom are hospitalized and 3,000 of whom die from it.
If you notice cracks and splits on your wood cutting board, follow our tips for repair and don’t wait too long to act.
How to Fix a Split Cutting Board
To repair a broken cutting board, clean it by hand with soapy water, pat it thoroughly dry, and then do not use it for 24 hours. Let it dry out fully, preferably by hanging it on the wall or placing it on the dish rack.
Meanwhile, you should get yourself some food-safe glue from the hardware store and a sheet or two of sandpaper. But don’t just take any old glue off the shelf: buy one that’s approved by the Food and Drug Administration for indirect contact with food.
On The Wood Whisperer, a blog whose authors have much more experience with woodworking than us, they recommend that you reach for a bottle of Titebond III Ultimate Wood Glue.
Place a piece or two of butcher paper or parchment paper on your working surface to catch dripping glue from the other side of the cutting board, just in case. (Trust me: you don’t want to have to clean dried glue off your dining table or kitchen countertop.)
Lay the cutting board flat on the table or countertop and cover both sides of the crack with tape or plastic wrap to prevent the glue from smearing all over the board.
Then carefully fill the crack with glue, making sure the glue gets into all the tiny nooks and crannies. Let it dry overnight and sand off the glue on the following day. Your cutting board’s surface will be nice and smooth again.
When you are done, your wooden cutting board will look and feel almost like new again.