The image above shows the areas of wood that are used to make the two types of common cutting blocks – edge grain and end grain. The assumption that all wooden cutting blocks are the same is incorrect. Some wooden blocks are constructed of fused long strips of wood and others have checkerblock patterns.
When buying a new wooden cutting block, an important part of the purchase is to understand that cutting blocks are primarily classified as edge grain (long strips of wood fused together) and end grain (the checkerblock pattern). What's the difference?
The cutting surface is made from parallel fused pieces of wood from the edge. This is the most familiar pattern to many people and is usually how we envision a wooden cutting block looks like. Maple and walnut are the most typical, but there are other woods that are used. Edge grain cutting blocks are known to be more durable, easier to maintain, and more affordable. However, this type of block can dull knives faster than end-grain types an more susceptible to nicks and cuts.
To give a clearer picture of how the wood fibers (spaghetti) of an edge grain block are affected, we used a bunch of dry spaghetti to help you visualize. After prolonged use, the cutting block will show more marks and cuts because once the fibers (dry spaghetti as an example) are cut, they are permanently damaged. That is why it is important to keep the block oiled and protected with an oil.
The cutting surface is made from end pieces of wood. The easiest way to recognize an end grain block is by the checkerblock pattern. This type of block is more expensive than the edge grain type, but is known to be more forgiving on knives. The end grain blocks are "self healing" since the fibers (spaghetti) close back up after the knife strikes the block.
In the visualization above, the knife edge sinks into the fibers (spaghetti), so some of the shock is absorbed. When the knife edge is lifted off, the fibers (spaghetti) close back up, so in a sense, "self healing."