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The Best Wood for Kitchen Utensils

April 08, 2021 0 Comments

The best wood for kitchen utensils

Thinking of upgrading your current cooking tools to wooden utensils? Feeling overwhelmed with the choices for wooden spoons and spatulas out there? If you don’t know where to start or how to find the most functional kitchen tools, you’ve come to the right place! When it comes to the best wooden cooking utensils, an important part is in the kind of wood used and the craftsmanship behind each item. So what are the best woods for kitchen utensils? Keep reading to find out!

Two Kinds of Wood

closeup of hardwood vs softwood grain

Wood can be classified in two categories: softwoods and hardwoods. What’s the difference between the two, you ask? Well, surprisingly, it has nothing to do with the actual hardness or softness of the woods at all. For example, Oregon pine produces a very dense wood although it’s classified as a softwood, and balsa wood is considered a hardwood even though it’s one of the softest woods around!

So what gives?

Stumped Between Softwoods & Hardwoods?

There are a couple differences between softwoods and hardwoods including grain structure and how the trees transport water. But the main “technical” distinction between these two has to do with their methods for reproducing. Generally speaking, all trees reproduce by producing seeds but there are variations when it comes to their seeds’ structure. 

Softwoods, aka gymnosperms, come from conifer or cone-bearing trees which produce “naked” seeds. Their seeds don’t have any type of coating (unlike in fruits or nuts). On the other hand, hardwoods (or angiosperms) come from deciduous trees which produce seeds in some type of covering. Fruit-bearing or nut-bearing trees are thus included in this category (except monocots like bamboo and palm trees).

Breaking It Down: Softwood vs Hardwood

Softwoods and hardwoods for making wooden utensils

Other than their seeds’ structure, there are some other differences that distinguish softwoods and hardwoods. Here’s a little summary of those differences:


Softwoods

Hardwoods

Seed Structure

No coating

Enclosed (in fruit or shell)

Examples

Cedar, fir, pine, spruce, cypress, etc. 

Maple, ash, aspen, jatoba, ebony, birch, cherry, oak, etc.

Density

Generally lighter and less dense

Typically denser and heavier than softwoods

Growth

Fast growth rate

Slow growth rate

Leaves

Needle-like leaves that are kept all-year round

Broad, flat leaves that are shed during fall

Cost

Less expensive

More expensive

Grain

Lighter in color

Wider variety and darker grain color

Common Uses

Construction framing such as walls, ceilings, doors and windows

Flooring, furniture, utensils, etc.


If you want more details, here are some other interesting facts about both types of woods. Softwoods are generally lighter and less dense and great for beginner woodworkers since they are easier to cut and carve (but don’t do so well with finer detailing). They also tend to grow faster which allows them to be grown in a variety of climates. They are more readily available and less expensive. Most softwoods are also lighter in color (with a few exceptions like redwood).You can actually figure out whether a tree is a softwood or hardwood just by looking at its leaves. Softwoods such as cedar, fir, pine, spruce or cypress have needle-like leaves that they typically keep all-year round. In contrast, hardwoods such as maple, ash, jatoba or ebony have broad, flat leaves that they shed during autumn. Pretty easy, right?

Hardwoods are on the denser, heavier side making them more durable and long lasting compared to softwoods. Most hardwoods have slower growth rates making them harder to acquire and thus more expensive. Compared to softwoods, they also have a wider variety of grain patterns which tend to be darker and more dramatic.

Softwood or Hardwood: Which is Better for Kitchen Utensils?

Beautiful wooden serving spoons made of the best hardwoods
Check out our Wooden Spoons for Serving

Now let’s answer the burning question: which is the best wood for kitchen utensils? Is it softwood or hardwood?

Here at Earlywood, we prefer working with hardwoods for a lot of reasons when it comes to our wooden spoons, spatulas, tongs and other kitchen utensils. While either type of wood can be used for utensils, we find that hardwoods have certain qualities that make them better suited for our wooden utensils.

Why are Hardwoods the Best for Kitchen Utensils?

Hardwoods for kitchen utensils

1. Durable and Rigid - Most hardwoods are typically denser, tougher and stronger than softwoods which means they provide more design freedom. For example, a hardwood spatula that is ⅛” thick will last for decades. A softwood spatula with the same dimensions will eventually erode away after repeated washings. Hardwoods are also less likely to split or crack when repeatedly exposed to water… which is a thing is you’re making cooking utensils out of them! 

2. Long Lasting - Why do you think hardwoods are commonly used in flooring or furniture? It’s because these woods can withstand wear and resist scuffs and scratches (which is exactly what we need for kitchen utensils as well). 

3. Beautiful and Striking - Exotic hardwoods such as jatoba and bloodwood have bold colors and distinct grains that make them stand out. From their heartwood to their sapwood, even from one grain to another, the variations in patterns are quite unique which makes them the perfect material for unique heirloom-quality utensils. 

Although we love using hardwoods for our kitchen utensils, they are not without their challenges. We take one for the team and suffer through the manufacturing difficulties because we are constantly striving to make the BEST wooden kitchen utensils out there. We are not striving to make it as easy as possible for us.

The Challenges of Working With Hardwoods

1. Accessibility - Hardwoods typically grow slower than softwoods, so they grow best in extremely fertile land with perfect conditions. Those conditions are typically found around the equator. Guess what… Montana is not near the equator. So, we always need our wood shipped to us. You can’t just head down to the local store and pick some up. If you want to read more about our sustainability practices, check this out.

2. Proper drying - Aside from the fact that hardwoods are more difficult to source, they also take a longer time to dry. Two of the woods we use (bloodwood and katalox) are so dense that they can’t be dried in boards thicker than one inch because it’s physically impossible to get the middle of the board dry. Some of our woods spend 3-4 months in a humidity and temperature controlled kiln before they are ready for utensils. This drives up the cost of hardwoods and thus makes them more expensive compared to softwoods. 

3. Not for Beginners - Hardwoods are definitely not for the faint of heart or the faint of tools! Since they are generally denser, they can be quite challenging to work with compared to softwoods. You must use carbide tipped tools or aggressive and hard abrasives. Most woodshops are not set up to deal with woods that blunt every tool they touch. Despite these challenges, hardwoods are still our top choice when it comes to kitchen utensils! Sure it’s way easier to settle for less... but we maintain high standards here at Earlywood and want to provide our customers with the best possible wooden utensils.. So just sit back, relax and enjoy your Earlywood utensils... Let us worry about the hardwoods!

The Four Hardwoods We Use

Hardwoods for kitchen utensils

There are literally hundreds of hardwood species to choose from. However, not all hardwoods are fit for making kitchen utensils. For example, red oak is considered a hardwood but it’s very porous which means it can easily absorb liquids (not a good quality for a wooden utensil). Other hardwoods such as walnut, sweet chestnut and fruit woods are high in tannins and can impart flavors into food so they’re not ideal for kitchen utensils as well. Some can naturally stain rags and countertops because of their natural oils. Some smell, some crack, some fade, some have toxic dust, some are endangered, some can’t be glued, some… you get the point.

So which hardwoods work best for cooking utensils? We tried and tested various hardwoods to find the best. Here are the four types of hardwoods that we use for our kitchen spatulas, spoons, tongs, and more:

Hard Maple

Jatoba

Bloodwood

Katalox

Other Names

Rock Maple or Sugar Maple

Brazilian Cherry

Satine

Mexican Ebony

Color Range

Creamy white to pale, light brown

Light to dark brown, with dark streaks

Bright pinkish red to darker brownish red

Dark purple brown to black

Texture

Fine, even texture

Medium to coarse texture

Fine, straight texture

Fine, even texture

Availability

Locally available

Imported

Imported

Imported

Properties

Dense and natural, smooth shiny finish

Very tough and dense

Super hard with minute pores

Hard, dense, heavy, essentially waterproof

Janka Hardness Rating

1,450 lbf

2,690 lbf

2,900 lbf

3,660 lbf

 

1. Hard Maple - Also known as rock or sugar maple, this hardwood is widely available in the American Northeast. Its sapwood has a beautiful, creamy white to light yellow color. This hardwood has a distinct clean appearance because of the smooth, even texture of its grain. It also has a natural shiny, satin-like finish when fully sanded and seasoned. 

Perhaps the only downside with hard maple is that it has a lighter look compared to our three other hardwoods. So it can pick up a stain here or there. After 3 or 4 washes though, even stains like blueberries and beets will work their way out.

 Wooden utensils in hard maple hardwood

Check out our Large Flat Saute in Hard Maple

2. Jatoba - This hardwood, also known as Brazilian cherry, is native to South and Central America. Its heartwood has a deep brown shade with beautiful darker grayish brown streaks. This is a very tough and dense wood that can last a long time with proper care. Once seasoned, it also has a stunning golden luster.

Over time, jatoba has a tendency to oxidize and turn darker especially when exposed to a lot of light. This can either be an advantage or disadvantage depending on your preference. Some people actually find that this darkening adds a bit of character and personality to their utensils!

Wooden utensils in jatoba hardwood

Check out our Large Flat Saute Tool Jatoba

3. Bloodwood - This lovely hardwood from South America is definitely a fan favorite. Its heartwood has a vivid and rich reddish shade. It’s a durable hardwood but it can be quite challenging to work with because it’s so hard.

For our fellow woodworkers just getting into the game, let us warn you… Bloodwood is not easy to work with! If you are going to give it a shot, make sure you pay attention to grain orientation. You will be glad you did.

Saute Spatulas made from Bloodwood

Large Flat Sautes in Bloodwood

4. Katalox - Mexican ebony from Mexico and adjacent countries is the toughest hardwood that we offer. Its heartwood has a stunning dark purplish brown to black shade. The color and darkness actually varies from wood to wood so you will most likely have a unique piece if you opt for this hardwood. 

Much like bloodwood, katalox is very challenging to work with. It’s hard and grain orientation matters. It also severely dulls tools. Definitely not ideal for beginner woodworkers!

Saute Spatulas made from Mexican Ebony

Large Flat Sauté in Ebony

 

Final Thoughts

If you stuck with us until the end of this lengthy guide, congrats! You’re officially a pro when it comes to the best wood for kitchen utensils. Now you know that nothing beats hardwoods when it comes to cooking tools. Which is your favorite hardwood? Share your thoughts in the comments section below!

Hand holding flat wooden spatulas with unique patterns




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