The Woods In The Woodshop   13 comments

I work with 21 kinds of wood currently. All are selected to be excellent hard woods for cutting boards, or, in some cases, serving pieces. I can source all but one of these woods locally in Southern California, though they grow around the world. Here are pictures of each of these woods in pieces I’ve made, along with a few key facts about each of these woods.

I’ve shown the rating for each wood on the Janka hardness scale; this is a measure used to compare the hardness of many substances, including woods. Remember, the FDA says a wooden cutting board in a commercial kitchen should be Hard Maple or its equivalent. The Janka rating for Hard Maple is 1,450.


  • Grows: Eastern North America
  • Janka Rating: 1,320
  • Description: One of the most common hardwoods used in North America. Often used for tool handles. There are a handful of species in the Fraxunus genus that are often sold together as “Ash,” including White Ash, Green Ash, Oregon Ash and European Ash.

Cutting Board 16 – End 042. Spalted Ash, framed by Jatoba. End Grain. 10″ x 12″ x 1″.

Birdseye Maple

  • Grows: Northeastern North America
  • Janka Rating: 1,450
  • Description: Birdseye Maple is not a species, but rather a specific figure found in some Hard Maple lumber. It is thought that the figure is caused by poor growing conditions for the trees, and they try to adapt by growing a large number of buds that eventually form the distinct figure in the wood.

Chess 17 – 304. Bloodwood & Birdseye Maple playing surface surrounded by a Black Walnut frame. 18″ x 18″ x 1-1/2″. Sold in its first showing.

Black Walnut

  • Grows: Eastern United States
  • Janka Rating: 1,010
  • Description: The dark color and wonderful smell of this wood when it is being worked are one of the pure pleasures of woodworking. There’s just nothing like Black Walnut.

Bear 16 – 01. Black Walnut. 12″ x 20″ x 3/4″.

Bloodwood, AKA Satine

  • Grows: Tropical South America
  • Janka Rating: 2,900
  • Description: Brittle and very dense, this wood is a challenge to work. Every piece I get seems to cup, twist and bow. To make the cheese & cracker server, below, I had to cut and re-cut the pieces in order to get a result that ended up being rather spectacular, if I may say so myself.

Large Surfboard # 15 – 26. Bloodwood.


  • Grows: Equatorial Africa
  • Janka Rating: 2,410
  • Description: The beauty of this wood is reward enough, but also getting to say the name of the wood means I like to use it a lot. It has a wide variety of grain patterns and a wonderful red color that is a highlight on any piece.

Cheese Board 16 – 017. Bubinga, African Teak & Black Walnut. 8″ x 11″ x 3/4″.


  • Grows: South America
  • Janka Rating: 1,520
  • Description: The colors in this wood are unique: yellows, reds and browns intermingle in breathtaking patterns. Plus, when I cut the wood I smell cinammon in the air. Love this wood!

Clipboard 16 – 009. Black Walnut, Canarywood, Honey Locust & Purpleheart. Letter size. 1/2″ capacity clip.

Caribbean Rosewood, AKA Chechen

  • Grows: Dominican Republic, Cuba, Jamaica, Guatemala, Belize, and southeastern Mexico
  • Janka Rating: 2,250
  • Description: Not a true Rosewood, this wood is often substituted when an affordable alternative is required. The wood’s color has a wide range: red, orange, and brown are often beside darker stripes of blackish brown. Color tends to shift to a darker reddish brown with age.

Magic Bottle Opener 16 – 195. Purpleheart, Black Walnut, Cherry & Caribbean Rosewood. Double Magic.

Cherry, AKA Black Cherry or American Cherry

  • Grows: Eastern North America
  • Janka Rating: 950
  • Description: The softest wood that I work with, Cherry has been a favorite of American furniture makers for hundreds of years. The color of the wood darkens when exposed to sunlight.

Cherry server, Black Walnut end grain cutting board insert.

Goncalo Alves, AKA Tigerwood

  • Grows: From Mexico to Brazil
  • Janka Rating: 2,170
  • Description: Pronounced “Gon SAW lo Al Veez,” the high contrast black stripes in the wood make it a favorite of furniture makers and flooring manufacturers. Mrs M loves her cutting board which is primarily made from this wood.

Cutting Board 13 – 03. Mrs M’s primary cutting board is made from Goncalo Alves, Jatoba, Cherry, Honey Locust & Black Walnut.

Hard Maple, AKA Sugar Maple or Rock Maple

  • Grows: Northeastern North America
  • Janka Rating: 1,450
  • Description: The best cutting boards use Hard Maple, according to the FDA. If you’re looking for a generational board that will be a real workhorse in your kitchen, get an end grain cutting board made primarily from Hard Maple. The # 1 wood that I use, by far.

Cutting Board 17 – 401. Purpleheart, Jatoba & Hard Maple. Edge Grain, Juice Groove. 16″ x 20″ x 1-1/2″. Commissioned Piece.


  • Grows: Eastern United States
  • Janka Rating: 2,140
  • Description: Several species in the Carya genus are marketed variously as Hickory or Hickory/Pecan. Hickory is among the hardest of woods native to the United States: Hickory is denser and harder than either Hard Maple or White Oak. In Missouri, Hickory was often found as corner fence posts on the farms in my area. Today, I find the white sapwood combines with the golden heartwood to make fascinating patterns in some of my best cutting boards.

Cutting Board 17 – 402. Black Walnut, Hickory & Bloodwood. End Grain, Juice Groove. 16″ x 21″ x 1-1/2″.

Honey Locust

  • Grows: South central & eastern United States
  • Janka Rating: 1,580
  • Description: The one species I use that I can’t buy locally. The unique orange hues and wavy grain pattern means I keep paying a premium to use this wood, in spite of the difficulty in working this very dense wood.

Sous Chef 17 – 906. Bubinga, Honey Locust, Padauk & Purpleheart.


  • Grows: Australia
  • Janka Rating: 1,860
  • Description: Formerly used as flooring in colonial homes in Australia, Jarrah is one of the Eucalyptus species that is just gorgeous. It’s crimson tones are spectacular.

Cutting Board # 15 – 014. Hard Maple and Jarrah, with just a spectacular grain pattern. End grain, of course. 12″ x 16″ x 1-1/4″.

Jatoba, AKA Brazilian Cherry

  • Grows: Central America, southern Mexico, northern South America, and the West Indies
  • Janka Rating: 2,690
  • Description: The color of Jatoba has little to do with Cherry, though that is a common association. It’s medium brown color approaches that of Black Walnut, but its hardness makes it a much better choice for edge grain cutting boards, as well as end grain! The 8/4 thickness is difficult to source currently, but this is a great wood for cutting boards.

Medium Surfboard 16 – 02. Jatoba & Hard Maple. Sold in its first showing.


  • Grows: Cuba, for “true” Mahogany, but that’s not available due to over-harvesting decades ago. Today, Mahogany may be from Honduras, Africa or Asia.
  • Janka Rating: somewhere around 1,000, depending on the specific species
  • Description: This is a very pretty wood, but the sourcing makes the wood very unpredictable. Most mahogany is too soft to be a good wood for cutting boards, but the grain is very pretty for serving pieces.

Magic Bottle Opener 183. Jatoba, Mahogany & Cherry. Single Magic.

Oak – Red

  • Grows: Northeastern United States and Southeastern Canada
  • Janka Rating: 1,220
  • Description: The most popular wood in America, red oak is widely used for furniture and appears in most American homes. There is not a “red oak” species, but rather a group of species that characteristically share a reddish patina, and are marketed together as, simply, Red Oak. Extremely porous, this wonderful hardwood is not suitable as a wood for cutting boards.

Lazy Susan # 15 – 049. Purpleheart & Red Oak. 17″ diameter x 3/4″.

Oak – White

  • Grows: Eastern United States
  • Janka Rating: 1,350
  • Description: Like Red Oak, White Oak is an array of different species having similar characteristics, all being sold as “White Oak.” The lumber is most commonly associated with Mission-style furniture. It’s a good American hardwood, though I seldom use it in cutting boards because there are prettier options. In my opinion.

Clipboard 16 – 017. Purpleheart, White Oak & Birds Eye Maple. Legal Size, 1/2″ clip. Commissioned Piece.


  • Grows: Central and tropical west Africa
  • Janka Rating: 1,970
  • Description: When I cut this wood, it’s pumpkin orange. With exposure to UV, the wood changes to a nice warm brown. Padauk is perhaps the most frequently misspelled (and mispronounced) wood species, with Padouk, Paduk, and Paduak being common misspellings. A common pronunciation is puh-DUKE, though the google machine tells me that the proper pronunciation is puh-DOWK.

Lazy Susan 17 – 12. Padauk & Birdseye Maple. 18″ diameter.

Purpleheart, AKA Amaranth

  • Grows: Central and South America (from Mexico down to southern Brazil)
  • Janka Rating: 2,520
  • Description: Without question the most requested wood that I use due to it’s striking purple color, Purpleheart will eventually fade into a grayish dark eggplant color that’s almost silver with prolonged UV exposure. Some pieces have a striking rotten smell when cut, so it’s hardly my favorite wood to use – but it is the most requested.

Pig # 16 – 02. Black Walnut, Cherry, Hard Maple & Purpleheart. 12″ x 19″ x 1″.


  • Grows: Native to southern Asia; now widely grown on plantations throughout tropical regions of Africa, Asia, and Latin America.
  • Janka Rating: 1,070
  • Description: This expensive wood is a favorite of traditional outdoor furniture makers, but the plantation grown teak that’s currently available is too soft for cutting boards. I do use Teak in serving pieces, and it is a very pretty wood.

One of my favorite pieces, made from Yellowheart, Teak and Walnut. I was able to piece this together out of scrap, and the results were very unique.


  • Grows: Brazil
  • Janka Rating: 1,790
  • Description: The most striking and consistently colored of hardwoods, Yellowheart often flouresces when cut properly and shown in proper lighting. If you like yellow, you will LOVE Yellowheart!

Small Sous Chef 16 – 024. Quilted Yellowheart & Canarywood. 9″ x 16″ x 3/4″.

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