When wood is cut and treated to make your cutting board, it’s dried out completely in a kiln so as to ensure the wood is as straight as it can possibly be.
What that piece of parched kiln-dried wood wants more than anything in the world is a good drink of water. And you can bet your bottom dollar that it’ll take it wherever it can get it.
If you think of your cutting board as a sponge, with the wood surface being made up of thousands of thirsty little pores, it’s easy to see why it absorbs water so easily and then becomes distended.
So if your board is constantly taking a soaking, particularly on the top surface, the chances are that it will begin to swell and this will lead to curvature.
The good news is, it doesn’t need to come to this in the first place. The best way to keep your cutting board from getting the bends is by keeping it as dry as possible, and by frequently greasing it with protective oil or wax.
Keeping it dry means not allowing large amounts of water to sit on the surface for too long, never letting the board soak in water. Once the board has been washed, you should dry it immediately with a dishtowel, then store it upright so both sides can air and dry out more thoroughly.
Also, when you’re washing the board, be sure to wash both sides, and not just the side you used. This way the whole board gets access to equal amounts of water.
Frequent oiling or waxing is essential to keep the pores of the wood waterproof. If you ever see the surface of your board becoming dry and brittle-looking, then you’ll know you’re overdue another lathering of the good stuff.
First off, breathe. You have options. Believe it or not, that heavy block of wood that looks like it could floor a quarterback is actually piece of soft, organic matter. It has the potential to be lovingly reshaped. You just need a little patience and oodles of cutting board affection.
There are several options for straightening out a bent board that range from simple to downright deviant, and depending on the depth of the curve and the thickness of your board as well as the value of the board itself, you might decide to play it safe with your options or jump head-first into the snake pit of more risky techniques.
Here are our top three solutions, from simple to maverick:
Since most of the warping of your wood will have occurred due to excess water on the top surface (unless it’s been sitting in a puddle of water), then you need to work on evening out the exposure on the bottom of the board.
If your board is only just starting to warp, the easiest way to do this is just to flip it over and work on the other side, ensuring that the bottom gets the same amount of exposure as the top. It’ll take some time, but your board should eventually even out.
Once it has evened out, try and turn your board over each day or week, or every time you use it.
This technique is a fix for a slightly more pronounced bend, and it should take a lot less time to straighten the board out than the flipping method.
Basically, fill a large bucket or plastic container with hot water and leave the entire board to soak inside, covered by the water. Let it sit for a few hours or even overnight.
When you take the board out of the water, dry it with a dishcloth, then put it on a solid flat surface and weigh it down with the heaviest things you can find in your house, like a pile of books or those dumbbells that have been sitting in the garage.
Make sure you have the whole board covered. The fibers of the wood will have softened from the soaking and should by this point be very malleable. The more weight you can put on your board to straighten it, the better.
Another great idea is to use clamps to push another straight piece of wood on top of your bent one.
Whatever your method of applying pressure to the board, leave it on until the board is completely dry, bearing in mind this could be up to three days.
Another, more drastic option is to try and steam your cutting board flat. But before you start, do be aware that this method carries the risk of cracking the board, due to the intensity of the steam.
If you’re feeling adventurous, then, get a large, tall pot and fill it less than half with water and place a steam basket, colander or even a frying pan splatter screen on top.
When the water starts boiling and steaming, place the board on top of the steamer with the curved side facing down. The action of the steam should even out the fibers of the board and straighten it out again.
Be sure that your board gets a good, even steaming, so if you’re not covering the whole thing at once, you might need to move it around.
Also, try and get as much height above the steam as you can so that the heat is not too intense. Keep an eye on the water level, so that it doesn’t all evaporate.
After one or two hours, when you feel your board has absorbed a good amount of steam, you can take it off and follow the steps of the post-soaking method where you weigh it down with something very heavy until it’s completely flattened again.