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How to help a timber chopping board last a lifetime

Restoring a timber chopping board with vegetable oil and steel wool. Little eco footprints.

I like the idea of useful everyday items being beautiful. We don’t need to decorate our homes with ornaments or nick-nacks when the bowls, spoons, or chopping boards we use hold meaning and make us smile.

My favourite chopping board is a beautiful solid piece of jarrah from the south-west of Western Australia. It was bought while on holiday with money gifted from friends. It brings to mind many fond memories and is still in great condition despite being used almost every day for 10 years. With proper care, there’s no reason why it shouldn't last 100 years or more.

Properly cared for timber chopping boards improve with age.

Their well-worn surface has character and they are just as hygienic as new timber chopping boards. In contrast, plastic chopping boards become a haven for bacteria once marked with knife-cuts.

A good-quality timber chopping board will easily outlive a plastic one. We have a timber chopping board that belonged to my husband’s grandmother. There’s no way I’d use a plastic board of a similar age.

To ensure your wooden chopping board lasts a lifetime or two it is important to care for it properly.

Hand-wash your timber board in warm, soapy water. Dry with a tea towel and leave to dry even further on a rack.

Never leave a timber chopping board submerged in water and don’t put it in the dishwasher. Soaking or washing in a dishwasher will cause the wood to swell and later contract as it dries. This movement can cause timber to crack or delaminate along glue joints.

Store your board in a dry location.

One of reasons timber does not harbour bacteria like plastic is its ability to expand and close small cuts. It is somewhat self-healing. But this ability to self-heal decreases as the timber loses natural oils or becomes badly scratched.

Every month or so your timber board will benefit from some extra love to replenish oils and smooth out cracks.

Apply a generous amount of food-grade oil and rub in with fine steel wool. I use vegetable oils such as rice-bran oil or olive oil because that’s what I have in my cupboard. Other options include walnut oil or grapeseed oil. Some suggest using mineral oil rather than vegetable oil because it’s less likely to go rancid. But I prefer not to use a petroleum product on something I prepare food on.

Rub the oil in with fine steel wool until the surface feels smooth and scratch-free. Depending on the condition of your board, this can take five to 30 minutes. Think of it as meditation time.

Set the board aside for a while so that the oil can soak in. Repeat if the board was extra dry. Wipe away any excess oil once you have finished.

If the board is splintered or extra rough you can sand with fine sandpaper prior to applying the oil.

A plastic board will probably be easier to care for. You can toss it in the dishwasher. But you’ll be replacing it every few years. And I doubt it would warm your heart like my favourite timber board.

Originally published in the Newcastle Herald Monday 6th April 2015.