The terms edge grain and end grain refer to the orientation in which boards of lumber are laminated together to form hardwood surfaces.
Understanding the difference between the two is helpful in making the right choice for your needs. Appearance and performance are two differentiating factors.
Edge Grain Butcher Blocks: AKA “Long Grain” or “Side Grain” - Hardwood strips laminated together in parallel. We use only premium, full length staves to make our edge grain butcher block countertops. The hardwood is turned on its edge with the length of the grain visible. This makes a great, durable surface for food prep, baking, dough rolling, and more. The long grain of the chosen hardwood is the most durable grain orientation. Edge grain tops, while very good for chopping and food prep, will show signs of knife marks and wear over time quicker than end grain tops. The very durable wood surface acts like a wall and will also dull knives quicker than end grain tops. Some like the distressed, character-filled look that edge grain tops develop over the years. Others choose to refinish over time, which is a very easy process – it’s as simple as sanding and re-oiling to make your edge grain butcher block look like new 5-10 years down the road.
Additional considerations – Edge grain tops are an excellent choice for bakers and for chefs agreeable to a bit of additional knife sharpening over time. Edge grain butcher blocks can be made somewhat thinner than end grain blocks due to the strength of the grain in the lateral direction. We make edge grain butcher blocks at a minimum of 1 1/2” thick and a maximum of 7” thick. Edge grain butcher blocks are more affordable than their end grain counterparts due to the simpler structural makeup. We recommend referring to our overhang guidelines to determine best how to support any applicable overhang.
End Grain Butcher Blocks: AKA “End Cut” – Hardwood pieces laminated together with the ends of the hardwood in vertical orientation. This vertical orientation is what makes end grain butcher blocks so excellent (gentle) when using fine knives. In “end up” orientation, the natural pattern of the wood grain acts as a catch and release mechanism for the knife blade (as opposed to acting like a wall in edge grain orientation). End grain butcher blocks do tend to take more oiling and conditioning than edge grain blocks, as the wood’s orientation allows for the oil to evaporate more easily. These butcher blocks will distress at a slower pace over time than edge grain blocks. Refinishing, if desired, is just as easy – sand and re oil for your butcher block to look like new.
Additional considerations – End grain tops are an excellent choice for chefs and culinarians alike. We recommend supporting any overhang greater than 2 1/2” on your end grain countertop with corbels. Also, due to the orientation of the wood’s grain, we make end grain tops at a minimum of 2” thick and recommend thicker for large kitchen islands. End grain butcher blocks have a more complex structural makeup and come at a higher cost than their edge grain counterparts. Similarly, due to their style of construction, end grain tops will release evaporating oils at a faster rate and therefore require more frequent oiling than edge grain tops.
The bottom line:
Either option will create a beautiful, warm, natural, durable and sustainable gathering place and food prep area in your kitchen.