What finish do you recommend for a cutting board made out of bamboo? – Bill Morris
Tim Inman: OK, now I’m feeling really, really old. The short answer to the question “What do you recommend for a bamboo cutting board?” is to say “Use it!” The longer answer is that bamboo is a naturally oily wood that is very dimensionally stable and very durable. I don’t think bamboo needs anything for use as a cutting board. A little wax or oil applied sparingly from time to time might make it look a little better, but the bamboo will be just as fine, in my experience, with or without the surface treatments.
So, why do I feel old on this question? You kids! Once upon a time long, long ago, when I was a skinny kid with a head full of hair and in college — which was a long time ago! — you could tell the science and engineering types on campus by the holster they carried on their belts. It was about 2 in. wide and a foot or so long. We were proud of our need for that holster; others probably felt grateful that they could use it to spot the nerds quickly. What was in that holster? The ancient equivalent of a calculator: a slide rule. Back in the day before digital, nearly all complicated calculation was done using the analog equivalent of proportionality. If you’ll hold two rulers together and slide them along with each other, you’ll quickly find that one plus one is two, or that two times three is six; and sliding rulers together will tell you this. The slide rule made this possible to several decimal points accuracy.
What has this got to do with the question? The slide rule – or “slip stick” as we fondly knew it – was made of bamboo! Being a very dimensionally stable wood and a naturally oily wood which self-lubricated, bamboo was the ideal material for slide rule construction. I’m sure they’re museum pieces now, and probably no STEM class even mentions the slip stick. But in the day, they were important. Even now, mine is right here beside me hidden away in the bottom of my desk drawer – right under where I keep my digital calculator. All progress ain’t bad….