Located in one of the most heavily used rooms in the house, kitchen countertops attract plenty of attention. So it makes perfect sense that you would want to get this surface right. Few countertop materials are as beautiful and long-lasting as natural wood. Not only that, wood butcher block is one of the least expensive countertop materials you can buy, and it's often cheaper than granite and many other types of materials. Best of all, you can install butcher block countertops yourself.
What Is a Butcher Block Countertop?
Butcher block is a laminated wood surface in which multiple strips of wood are glued together. Butcher block can be made from all types of woods, from maple to cherry and oak and even bamboo. Wood countertops, including butcher block, are relatively easy to fabricate, install, and finish on a do-it-yourself basis.
Butcher block counters have one quality that elevates them over many others: do-it-yourselfers find it easy to shape and install the material. Bulky and hard to cut, quartz and stone countertops are best left in the hands of professionals. Even solid surface or laminate countertops, though easier to work with, are most often installed by the pros. You don't even need to glue down butcher block countertops to securely fasten them. L-shaped corner braces can do the job of attaching butcher block countertops to cabinets and islands. As for sealant, mineral oil works best for butcher block. Just those two factors alone can make installation clean and simple for experienced DIYers.
Raw, close-grained (for a smoother look) butcher block slabs can be special-ordered from many home improvement and even some flooring companies. Now that you've warmed up to the idea of installing butcher block countertops, you can choose from three looks:
- Edge grain: The most popular, strong, and affordable form of butcher block for countertops, this rustic look is made from continuous lengths of wood boards cut on their edges and with the grain.
- Face grain: This butcher block appears smooth, flat, and streamlined, but it does show marks from chopping and cutting, so it's infrequently used for kitchen countertops and instead can be used in other spaces, such as laundry rooms.
- End grain: Strong and the most expensive type of butcher block, this chunky wood is crafted with the ends of wood showing as small rectangular blocks in a unique pattern that disguises knife cuts or marks from chopping, making it an ideal countertop material.
Butcher block is hardwood, and hardwood is difficult to saw and drill. For sawing, always use a new, sharp saw blade and make your cuts slowly. Rushing the cuts will cause the saw to hang up and even kick back toward you. Always use eye and hearing protection. Do not wear gloves while using rotary saws.
Equipment / Tools
- Cordless drill and drill bits
- Tape measure
- Circular saw
- Speed Square
- Portable work light
- Table saw or a circular saw equipped with a track system for precise long cuts
- Mineral oil
- Clean cotton rags
- Long strips of cardboard and painter's tape or 1/8-inch to 1/4-inch hardboard project panels
- Utility knife
- Oscillating electric sander
- Eye and hearing protection
- Hot glue gun (optional)
- Electric belt sander (optional)
- Raw butcher block slab
- 8 1 1/2-inch zinc-plated corner braces
- 32 1-inch brass Phillips drive wood screws
- 1x10 board (optional)
How To Install Butcher Block Countertops
Create a Template
Rather than measuring out the dimensions of your butcher block countertop with a measuring tape, you will achieve more accurate measurements by creating a template.
One way to do this is with long strips of cardboard, each strip with a perfectly straight edge. However, it is usually worth spending a little bit more to purchase a thin, inexpensive type of wood called a project panel since wood is less flexible than cardboard.
Lay out the strips on top of your existing countertop or on top of the kitchen base cabinets to form the perimeter of the countertop. Connect the strips with hot glue. Cutouts can be marked off by the template strips. Be sure, though, to connect any cutout templates to the larger perimeter cutout. Use a minimum of two strips to connect them.
Cut the Butcher Block Countertop
For precise long cuts of large materials, it is best to use a table saw or a circular saw equipped with a track system.
However, if you wish to control costs, it is possible to use a straight board as a guide for your circular saw. One way to do this is to use a 1x10 pine board as a guide. Make sure that the board is no thicker than 1 inch so that the circular saw's motor can pass over it. The generous 10-inch width ensures that the saw will not hit the clamps holding the board to the countertop.
Install the Countertop
Place the butcher block countertop on top of the base cabinets. Have a partner hold down the countertop firmly or place a heavy, padded weight on top.
Access the cabinet from underneath, bringing your portable work light, braces, screws, and drill with you.
Attach the L-shaped corner braces from the bottom of the butcher block countertop to perpendicular wood elements in the cabinets. Attach at the ends of the countertop. Most base cabinets will have wood braces running at one or more points through the middle of the cabinet on longer cabinets and on sink-base cabinets. Attach the braces to these elements, as well.
Sand and Finish the Countertop
Use an electric sander with fine-grit sandpaper to smooth the surface of your butcher block countertop before sealing. Lower-intensity oscillating sanders are best for surfaces that are already in good condition. Rougher surfaces will benefit from the wood-scouring power of a belt sander.
Butcher block countertops sealed with polyurethane will scratch and eventually lose their coating. One tip is to forgo the heavy sealants and stick with mineral oil only. Rub the oil into the top surface with clean cotton rags. Be sure to apply oil around the inside and bottom of any sink cutouts before installing the sink. With sinks, water can soak into the sides of the cutout. Oil or another type of sealant will prevent or inhibit the water from soaking in.
What is the downside of using butcher block countertops?
Butcher block is beautiful, but there are a few downsides to the material. Even when it's sealed, you can't leave pools of water or moisture on the countertop and you'll need to watch for deep scratches or knicks that can attract bacteria. In addition, you can't put hot pans on butcher block or it will scorch or potentially crack the countertop. Lastly, it's not always as easy to wipe down and clean as other countertop materials.
Can I use glue to install butcher block countertops?
There are two camps on the subject. Some fabricators do not think it's wise to glue down butcher block because it will inhibit subtle movement which could lead to cracks, or it will block the breathability of the wood. Other experts suggest wood adhesive to make sure the counter stays in place. If you are placing the counter on top of a solid, flat surface, you may want to add furring strips to the surface on which you can use adhesive to secure the butcher block while allowing the wood to breathe.
Why does butcher block need to be sealed within 48 hours?
Wood countertops are susceptible to any type of moisture, even the humidity that's in your home. It's best to saturate the butcher block with food-grade mineral oil to make it water-resistant and safe for food prep. You should oil it every day for the first week or so after installation, then oil it once a week for a few months until you can achieve a schedule of oiling the wood one to two times a year for maintenance. Oil all sides, plus the top and bottom of the countertop, not just the top.