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End grain, edge grain & blended grain – what are the differences?

End grain butcher blocks are constructed by fusing together short rails or slats of wood, sometimes as short as 1 inch and sometimes 10 inches or longer, each standing on end. Looking down on such an array you would see dozens of rectangular ends (hence the name, end-grain) of wooden pieces. Each rectangular end exposes wood fibers and displays a small sample of the source tree’s grain pattern you would see if examining a cross-section of the tree’s trunk. In aggregate, these small rectangles create a checkerboard with moderate to pronounced color variation.

In contrast, edge-grain butcher blocks feature wood rails that are laid on their sides, adjacent to one another. When viewing the surface of an edge-grain board you see the grain pattern of a tree that would be revealed in a vertical slice of the tree. What distinguishes edge-grain blocks is that each wood slat runs the full length of the board. As a result, edge-grain butcher blocks have no unsightly butt ends or finger joints, and relatively little color variation.

Blended-grain butcher blocks are an offshoot of edge-grain boards. In fact, this design is sometimes referred to as jointed-edge grain style. But instead of using uniform-sized wood rails, each spanning the board's full length, blended-style boards use different sized pieces to span each "row" of the block. Consequently, boards made using this style have seams that run in both directions – along the board’s width as well as its length.

As mentioned, edge-grain and end-grain butcher blocks present totally different views of a tree's grain structure. Edge-grain boards show the grain of a tree we would see when viewing the edge of a plank of wood cut from the tree, whereas end-grain boards show the grain we would see when viewing the end of that same plank. (see the illustration below)

edge, end, blended grain styles

What are the pros and cons of each butcher block grain style?

End-grain butcher blocks are the strongest, yet they’re easy on knives. The fibrous cutting surface helps absorb the impact of knives, cleavers and hatchets. Consequently, sharp blades are less prone to premature dulling. There’s a side benefit: fiber-rich, end-grain surfaces are less likely to suffer nicks and gouges. End-grain boards are the most expensive, due to the complexity of this construction style.

A particular strength of edge-grain boards is the clean, uncluttered look they deliver. They have no seams that run perpendicular to the major longitudinal seams, plus they show the least overall variation in color.

Blended-grain butcher boards are the most affordable. Since they can accommodate wood pieces of varying length, they generate the least amount of scrap. There is a downside to accommodating wood strips of different lengths: blended boards are least strong among these three styles.

Which grain style is right for you?

Your personal tastes and intended use will help answer that question. Both edge and end-grain style butcher blocks are strong and durable. End-grain boards are better for slicing and chopping since the cutting surface is made up of wood fibers that more readily absorb sharp blades. Your knives will stay sharper for longer, and your block will show fewer serious scars and nicks. On the other hand, edge-grain style is typically preferred for blocks of considerable length, since seams running only one direction provide a cleaner, more expansive look.Finally, blended-grain boards provide nearly the same expansive look and feel of edge-grain boards, but at slightly more affordable prices.