End grain is a type of pattern produced by the growth rings in a piece of wood. It is the opposite of face grain, which occurs when woodworkers slice a section of wood off the end of a log. If that same log is cut lengthwise along the middle, the end grain of the wood will be revealed. To understand the difference between these two patterns, picture the growth rings as the veins of a tree. Face grain shows the outside of these veins, while the end one cuts provide a view directly into the center of these veins.
Because of the way most pieces of lumber are produced, the longer edges of each piece reveal the face grain of the wood. To examine the end grains, one must examine the short end of the lumber. By cutting against the grain and sawing off a section of this short end, woodworkers reveal fresh patterns.
While end grain is used in many types of applications, it's particularly common with wooden cutting boards. The ends of multiple pieces of lumber are fused together to create a checkerboard pattern. Not only does this result in an attractive and unique cutting board surface, it also maximizes the strength and durability of the wood.
One of the primary advantages of end grain is its unusual and interesting finish. It offers a look unlike any other type of wood grain pattern, and can vary dramatically by species and color. It also produces the strongest cut of wood, especially compared to more delicate face grain cuts.
Because of the difficulty in manufacturing end grain wood products, this pattern tends to come with a fairly high price tag. It's also harder for wood crafters to work with, and takes longer to shape and form. These patterns are also unpredictable, and can be difficult to match or replicate.
End grain patterns pose additional challenges when it comes to staining. Because this pattern exposes the ends of the growth rings, the wood tends to soak up stain very rapidly. This can cause the edges of the wood to be darker than the face, and often results in an uneven finish, To prevent this phenomenon, craftsmen often choose gel stains or shellac, which are less likely to soak into the growth rings than traditional stains. Others treat the ends of the wood with special products designed to dilute the stain and prevent excess darkening.