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 counters are one of the least expensive countertop materials you can buy.
Butcher block counters have one quality that elevates them over many other counter materials: do-it-yourselfers can easily work with them. 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. But butcher block countertops can be shaped and installed by do-it-yourselfers.
What Is a Butcher Block Countertop?
Butcher block is a laminated wood surface in which multiple strips of wood are glued together sideways. Wood countertops, including butcher block, are relatively easy to fabricate, install, and finish on a do-it-yourself basis. Raw, close-grained butcher block slabs can be special-ordered from many home improvement and even some flooring companies.
Butcher block is hardwood, and hardwood is difficult to saw and drill. For sawing, always use a new, sharp saw blade and take 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)
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.
It can be tricky to drill upside-down while holding a bracket and drill. One tip that frees up a hand is to place a strong rare-earth magnet on the countertop, directly above the brace. This holds the brace steady, allowing you to better manage the drill and screws.
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.