First of all, let me admit that I am a plastic board person. The bacteria issue is just ridiculous. The entire food industry uses them and NSF (National Sanitation Foundation ) approves them. If you worry about bacteria in plastic boards, you'd better stop eating out. If you have a dishwasher, sanitizing a plastic board is a piece of cake, and if you don't, there is always bleach. My problem with plastic boards was their appearance in cooking videos. Many vegetables are light in color and cutting them on a white board doesn't provide good contrast. Why do you think all the boards on Food TV are wood? Because that's what professionals use in restaurants? Give me a break! There was also the supposed issue of plastic boards dulling the knives faster than wood. It never seemed to be a problem with my regular knives because I steel them daily, but now that I got a Japanese knife and spent hours reading very geeky knife forums, I bent down to peer-pressure and started looking for a wood board.
Cook's Illustrated, whose recommendations on equipment are usually solid, changes its mind on cutting boards almost every year. So, when I started looking at which board I should buy, I was scratching my head for about a month. Finally, I picked John Boos Maple 18 x 12 x 1.75-in. End Grain Cutting Board for $76. My past experience with a wood board was been terrible. In spite of all the TLC, it still ended up warping and splitting in less than a year of use. But that was a cheap board from Crate and Barrel. I was hoping that John Boos would last longer. I followed all the instructions to the letter. Didn't soak in water, dried immediately after hand-washing, oiled couple of times in the first week of use. The results? 4 days later, the board was warped, and it wouldn't stay put on the counter. What about the wet towel trick to prevent the board from sliding? That works great with plastic boards, but means death for a wood board. Contact with moisture means more warping and splitting.
While the board lasted, it was a lovely surface to work on, so I was hoping there was some way to reverse the warp. I contacted John Boos and they instructed me to wrap the board in plastic and put a heavy weight on it for 4 days. I tried that. It didn't work. Luckily, I bought this board from cutleryandmore.com, whose customer service was outstanding. They said they'd take the board back, give me a refund, and even pay for my shipping back charges. So that was the end of the Boos board, and I was back in the market.
I decided to take a look at restaurant supply stores on-line, and found a Winco 12 x 18 x 1.75 edge-grain board for about $32 including shipping. In theory, edge-grain boards are not as gentle on knives as end-grain boards, but they tend to warp and split a bit less since they absorb less moisture. After 1 month of use, my board is still in exactly the same shape as it was new. The working surface was a tad too smooth and slippery when the board was brand new, but now that I broke it in, it feels good. Is it really better on knives than my plastic board? Hard to tell, but the chopping motion does feel a little better. As all thick wood boards of this size, it's heavy, so I can't comfortable lift it up to swipe the vegetables into a pot or bowl. When I am dealing with small amounts, I can scoop them with a knife, but for large amounts, I have to dirty my pastry scraper that doubles as a food scooper. Not the end of the world, but not ideal. Washing this board is a bit of a pain because of its weight. Ideally, the weight would help it stay put on the counter while I am chopping. It sort of does. Sort of. I feel it shifting a bit, so I end up putting a dry terry cloth towel underneath.
In the end, I still reach for my plastic boards when I am making dinner. My favorite one is an 18x12x0.5 Winco plastic (polyethylene) board. Put a damp paper towel underneath, and you are ready to go. It's large enough to fit a lot of veggies, and light enough to lift comfortably to a bowl or pot. Doesn't nick much or grab the knife's edge. 10.5x111 OXO boards are not bad either. They are smaller and lighter than my Winco plastic board, so even easier to clean. The rubber feet wear out quickly and stabilizing them takes a lot more paper towel since it needs to go under the feel, not under the middle of the board. They do get nicked a lot more, and grip the edge a lot stronger. When I move the knife over a bit while rocking it back and forth on the board, I sometimes feel a snap around the edge. It just doesn't feel quite right. But with regular steel use, it's no biggie.