Select Your Butcher Block by Wood Hardness and Aesthetics

Select Your Butcher Block by Wood Hardness and Aesthetics

With 15 different species of wood to choose from for your butcher block, you might feel a bit overwhelmed by so many great-looking options. The purpose of this article is to help you filter your options using two important criteria: the wood hardness and the aesthetics of each wood species.

Comparing Wood Hardness

First, let’s address hardness. It’s a critically important variable to weigh when choosing a material for kitchen, commercial or industrial countertops. Your consideration set might well vary depending on whether you will be installing these countertops in a residential or a commercial kitchen; in an office or a garage workshop; in a commercial showroom or a manufacturing plant.

If you’re the type of chef who prefers a cutting board for cutting, slicing and chopping and will rely on your countertop for less aggressive tasks such as rolling and kneading dough and cutting out cookies for baking, or if the most rugged work you will do atop these counters is pushing papers or giving customers change, you will have the option of considering even soft woods, giving you many more options you might want to consider.

On the other hand, if you will be doing serious cutting, chopping and pounding, or operating power tools and maneuvering heavy hammers and wrenches for example, then of course it will make more sense to stick with a wood hardness that is less likely to suffer dings, dents and gouges. Fortunately, there’s a standardized test that’s used to measure a wood’s hardness, making it easy to compare hardness ratings different species.

The Janka Test Measures the Hardness of Different Woods

The Janka Hardness Test involves forcing a steel ball – 11.28 mm in diameter – into a piece of wood to the depth of half its diameter. The amount of force required to accomplish this feat, as measured in pounds-force (or lbf) tells us a lot about a wood’s resistance – a proxy measure for its hardness.

The wood hardness of different types of wood will vary depending upon the orientation of the wood sample being tested. For example, testing hardness on the surface of a plank (i.e., perpendicular to its grain) provides a measure of the wood’s side hardness; whereas testing on either end of the plank measures its end hardness. Moreover, there can be variation in hardness across wood harvested from different trees of the same species and even across specimens collected from a single tree. The point of all this is that you should not view Janka readings too literally. Rather, consider them as measures of  wood hardness relative to others.

The chart below shows the wood hardness, i.e., Janka scores, for all 15 species of wood that Butcher Block Co. uses in making butcher block and plank countertops.

First, note that based on Janka scores, Brazilian Cherry is about FIVE times more resilient than Poplar. wood hardness chart

Hardest – As you can see, Brazilian Cherry is far and away the hardest of the wood types we use at BBC. It earns a Janka hardness rating in excess of 2500 pounds-force. Hickory comes in second, scoring just under 2000 lbf.

Very Hard – Next in order comes a cluster of six hardwood stalwarts: Maple, White Oak, Ash, Beech, Birch and Red Oak. All achieve Janka scores between 1200 to 1500 lbf.

Hard – Tier three includes Walnut, American Cherry and Mahogany, each registering about 1000 lbf.

Not so Hard – Softest among the bunch are Spanish Cedar, Knotty Alder, Knotty Pine and Poplar, at 500 to 700 lbf.

Considering Aesthetics

Of course, there’s more to consider than wood hardness when choosing a wood for new countertops. Odds are you’re searching for a wood that will look great regardless of its destination. Are you interested in a counter or island top that matches the room’s décor; one that slightly contrasts with surrounding cabinetry; or one that accents the room?

Of course, there’s no equivalent to the Janka score to help us standardize along the dimension of beauty, but we’re happy to share with you our own way of thinking about the aesthetic dimensions that distinguish any species from others.

In the image below we arranged samples of all fifteen woods along two dimensions; one of which is wood hardness, as already discussed. Along the horizontal axis wood samples are lined up in accordance with their relative hardness (although not to scale). And they are arrayed vertically into four tiers according to their respective visual impact. wood hardness vs aesthetics chart Most Visually Striking: Mahogany, Walnut and Brazilian Cherry

Attention-Getting: Spanish Cedar, American Cherry, Red Oak and Hickory

Subtle but Elegant: Knotty Pine, Knotty Alder, Beech, Ash, White Oak and Maple

Most Neutral – Poplar and Birch.

So for instance, if you are seeking a wood that’s harder than most AND visually interesting but not overpowering, you might want to consider one among the quartet of Beech, Ash, White Oak and Maple. On the other hand, if you do most of your food prep on a cutting board and don’t have kids on hand who are prone to toss around backpacks or laptops, you might feel comfortable sacrificing a bit of hardness (remember, it’s all relative) in order to achieve the look of your dreams exemplified by Spanish Cedar or American Cherry.

At Butcher Block Co. we appreciate the magnitude of the decision you face. We hope this guide will help you think through the decision-making process and find the wood that’s perfect for your new countertops.

During the month of April, Butcher Block Co. is offering our biggest-ever savings opportunity on BBC-brand butcher block and plank-style countertops: 10% OFF. Enter code: 10BBCCT. Good through April 30, 2017.

 

Ever Wonder Why Basketball Is Played On Maple Hardwood?

Ever Wonder Why Basketball Is Played On Maple Hardwood?

Everyone Knows March Madness Is Played on Hardwood. Ever Wonder Which Hardwood?

In 1891 parents in Springfield, Massachusetts challenged Dr. James Naismith to invent an indoor game that would condition and tire out kids during the long, cold New England winters. Famously, he nailed two peach baskets to the railing of the balcony in the YMCA gymnasium and changed history. The gym’s wooden floor was made of hard maple (acer saccharum).

More than a century later, rock maple remains the hardwood used by local Ys, the NCAA and all but one NBA team.(1)

 

So Why Rock Maple?

Maple flooring gained popularity in late-nineteenth-century America. Among other things, it was relatively abundant and hence, affordable. Plus, maple was known to be strong, durable and stable. Less likely to expand and contract in response to changes in temperature and humidity, maple is largely resistant to splintering. Measured on the Janka scale(2), rock maple is North America’s most resilient hardwood.

Moreover, maple’s exceptionally tight grain(3) prevents dirt and dust particles from seeping in between the wood’s fibers, making it an easy wood to clean and maintain. Finally, maple can be easily restored to look new again. These are all traits equally important for sports courts.

The ideal playing surface must be solid and consistent throughout to ensure that a basketball will bounce exactly the same (i.e., without recoil or dampening) when dribbled anywhere on the court, since even small differences can impact the game. But the ideal surface must also provide some degree of shock resistance or bounce-back, in order to minimize players’ fatigue and damage to their joints. Also, maple’s coloration is perfect for basketball, given the contrast between the game’s orange ball and the floor’s light to medium tans and browns. This helps make it easy for players to spot the ball on the court. The lightness of maple also aids in brightening arenas via the reflection of light off the floor.

 A Professional-Grade Basketball Court Will Set You Back $80 to $100k

The actual playing area of courts used by the NCAA and NBA measures 94 feet by 50 feet, but most incorporate a large perimeter, bringing overall floor dimensions to about 140 feet by 70 feet. The hard rock maple planks used are typically slightly thicker than ¾ of an inch, so it takes 80 to 100 trees to construct a single hardwood court. By the way, the NBA requires teams to replace their floor every 10 years.

The Big Dance Floor Will Be Offered to the Winner

Connor Sports (Elk Grove Village, IL) made the basketball courts used for 13 different NCAA conference championships. The modules that comprise these portable courts are shipped to regional tournament sites where they are assembled and eventually disassembled after play. Connor has also supplied the floors used in the Men’s and Women’s Final Four since 2005. These floors are also modular, but one-off custom designs that are offered for purchase to the winning schools who often display portions of the floor or cut the modules into smaller segments that can be sold to alumni or collectors via fundraisers.

The manufacturing process is remarkable; it even involves riding sander machines! Click the image below to watch this video on Youtube.

Here’s another time-lapse video showing workers installing the 2015 Final Four court – made of Northern rock maple harvested from Wisconsin – at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis.

The Smartest Bet This March Madness Is on the Floor, Not the Brackets

It’s estimated that $10.4 billion will be wagered on 70 million brackets this time around (only 3% of those bets will be legal). Be smart and bet safe: for certain, all games will be played on North American rock maple!

(1) The famed Boston Garden features red oak in a distinctive parquet design, instead of maple.

(2) The Janka Hardness Scale measures the amount of pressure required to mar a wood sample.

(3) “Grain” typically means the physical structure and appearance of a wood surface and traces to the orientation of the wood’s cellulose fibers – the remnants of once-living longitudinal cells.