Cutting boards...My favorite subject.
Best wood, hard maple, where maple syrup comes from. Other woods that are good, cherry, walnut, ash, pecan. The genreal rule of thumb on choosing a wood for a cutting board is use the wood from any tree that bears an edible fruit or nut or has an edible sap, like hard maple. Rubber tree wood is used in the orient, is a close relative of maple and is a safe wood.
Bad wood, a lot of the exotic woods contain oils that can be toxic to humans, spalted wood is caused by a bacteria that is toxic to humans, any wood the bugs won't eat like red or white cedar, teak because of the silica it contains which will dull a knife, bamboo is generally considered not a good choice because if its hardness and all the resins and glues used in the manufacture of the boards, soft woods with a lot of resins and pitch like pine and oak which is very porous.
Nylon and plastic boards are used by a lot of poeple. They tend to be harder om the knife edges, leave deep scars where an edge contacts the board, the scars are hard to completely disinfect even in a dishwasher, stains easily and once thrown in a landfill will last for all eternity.
Sanitation is easy to accomplish. Wash a wooden board with warm water and a good dishwashing detergent, rinse thoroughly then dry. One dry, apply mineral oil. Or, spray with a mixture of Clorox and water, 1 teaspoon of Clorox to a quart of water, then rinse and dry. Or, use a 1:1 mixture in vinegar and water, Spray on, rinse if desired, dry and oil. Never use boiling water, it can loosen or dissolve even the best glues. And, never set a hot pan on a board. The heat will melt the glue as well causing the board to split at the seams. The heated pan will also sap the moisture from the wood causing it to shrink and that will also split a seam.
Use mineral oil to coat a cutting board surface remembering to oil the sides and bottom on occasion. The organic oils, vegetable, canola, olive and the like, all contain fats which can go rancid over time. Mineral oil is a super refined petroleum product and is used in a lot of the everyday products you use. From baby oil to transmission fluid, mineral oil is a staple. Look for it in your local grocery or drug store, it is sold as a laxative, the bottle should have on the label USP or laxative and the contents should look crystal clear. If you wish, a little bees wax can be added for extra water repellancy, not water proofing. Beware of the oils that contain that "mystery" ingredient which is supposed to make it work better. Nothing beats mineral oil for cost and usefulness.
Finishes. As stated above, mineral oil is the best. Some manufacturers use resins to hardne the surfaces of their board wihich makes them harder on your edges. Film finishes like some of the board finishes simply sit on top of the surface and will flake off with use. Personally, I don't want polyurethane flakes coming off into my food.
When to oil? There is no set schedule and a board can easily be over oiled. You will know when it has been over oiled because the mineral oil will drip from the bottom of if exposed to sunlight, the oil will wick to the surface and pool. Oil when the area used most looks a litttle lighter than the surrounding area. Heat the oil in a double boiler and apply to the surface of the board moving it around with your fingers. Once the board stops absorbing the oil, buff with a paper towel and you are ready for the next use.
I'm sure I have missed something. If anyone has a question or a comment for me, I would be happy to address it either here or at boardsmith at triad.rr.com.