How to Make a Butcher Block Countertop
A DIY butcher block countertop is a solid option for kitchen counters and islands. With its warm wood grain evoking a country or farmhouse feel, a butcher block countertop is versatile, rich, and durable, plus it's one of few countertops that can be resurfaced.
If you have just a few basic power tools, you can make a simple DIY butcher block counter with pre-milled hardwood. If you have more advanced tools like an electric tabletop planer and a table saw, you can fabricate a professional-grade butcher block countertop worthy of any home.
Before You Begin
This butcher block countertop is 26-1/4 inches deep by 29-1/2 inches long. It uses soft maple furniture squares, each square measuring 1-3/4-inch by 1-3/4-inch by 30 inches long.
While hard maple is more commonly used to make butcher block countertops, soft maple is a close approximation that's easier to work with. Soft maple is dense and close-grained like hard maple, yet it cuts and planes easily, sands to a smooth surface, and finishes beautifully.
Furniture squares are long, narrow milled hardwood boards typically used for making table legs or other furniture parts. Furniture squares are precisely milled, so they are straight and true. This eliminates the need to rip boards through a table saw or plane them with an electric planer.
Be careful when ripping lumber in a table saw to avoid kickback, a condition where the wood is rammed back toward the user with great force, possibly resulting in injury. Use anti-kickback pawls (also called fingers) to reduce the chance of kickback. Use push blocks to keep your hands away from the blade.
What You'll Need
Equipment / Tools
- Belt sander
- Oscillating sander
- Table saw
- Circular saw
- Carpenter's square or drywall square
- 4 bar clamps
- Latex gloves
- Microfiber cloths
- Wax paper
- Benchtop electric planer, 13-inch (optional)
- 15 soft maple furniture squares, 1-3/4-inch by 1-3/4-inch by 30 inches
- Wood glue
- 2 two-by-twos, any type, each 30 inches or more
- Tung oil finish
Lay Out and Cull Boards
On a flat, level surface, lay out the 15 maple boards. Find the least desirable sides that have knots or imperfections and face those sides downward. Push the boards together. Ideally, the boards should be perfectly straight on each side, leaving no gaps between the boards, Gluing and clamping the boards can correct up to 1/16-inch gaps (side to side) but not wider than that. Cull out boards that are too imperfect to use and replace them with better boards.
Flip entire set of boards over so that their bottoms are facing upward. Press them together tightly. From left to right, use the tape measure to make a mark at 2-1/2 inches, 7-1/2 inches, and 22-1/2 inches. Use the carpenter's square or drywall square to draw lines across the boards at each mark point.
Cut Boards or Leave Solid
Depending on the butcher block counter style you'd like, you can either cut the boards into smaller boards for a randomized look or leave the boards solid for a more orderly appearance.
With the electric miter saw or table saw, cut the boards so that the butcher block counter has a randomized look with boards of different lengths.
- 5 pieces, each at 5 inches
- 5 pieces, each at 7-1/2 inches
- 5 pieces, each at 10 inches
- 5 pieces, each at 15 inches
- 5 pieces, each at 22-1/2 inches
- 5 pieces, at 30 inches (uncut pieces)
Leave Boards Solid
Another option is to leave all of the boards uncut. This option is easier since it eliminates a number of steps, plus the countertop will be stronger since it has fewer seams.
Spread wax paper that's 36 inches by 36 inches, or large enough to cover the butcher block with some extra room. Lay out the 15 rows of boards on the work surface again, this time with the bottom marks facing down. Arrange the boards so they have a random appearance, with a few conditions:
- All boards in a single row should total 30 inches
- All joints should be staggered, For example, you'll want to avoid having two 15-inch boards in adjacent rows. Instead, switch out one of those 15-inch boards for two 7-1/2-inch boards.
- Place two of the 30-inch boards on each side for better support.
Rotate Boards to Side
Turn every board to the side (90 degrees). All boards should be turned in the same direction. Keep the boards together.
Add Glue to Boards
Pour glue into the roller bottle. If using a chip brush, pour the glue into a disposable container, like a paper cup. Spread the glue across the sides of the boards. Do not overapply the glue; keep the glue thin. Where two boards meet end-to-end, pick up one of the boards and add glue to its end. Work carefully but quickly to avoid the glue drying on you.
Rotate Boards Back to Original Position
Turn the board back to their original position, with their bottoms facing the work surface.
Square up the ends of the boards. The rows now have different lengths, which will later be corrected by cutting off the ends. For now, though, make sure the ends are roughly squared up.
Add the two-by-twos to each side to protect the boards from indentations by the bar clamps. Add the four bar clamps. Tighten the clamps as hard as you can by hand.
Remove Excess Glue
Use the microfiber cloths to wipe glue off of the top of the butcher block counter. Gently tilt the clamped set of boards to the side. Wipe glue off of the bottom of the boards.
Let Boards Cure
For the glue to cure optimally, the room should be 70°F or higher and 50-percent relative humidity. While wood glue can cure in just a few hours, manufacturers tend to recommend that clamped joints cure for a full 24 hours.
When the glue has finished curing, remove the clamps and the protective two-by-twos.
Mark Cut Ends of Countertop
With the square and pencil, mark each end of the countertop square. You may need to cut back 1/4-inch on each end to remove the ragged ends of the countertop.
Cut Ends of Countertop
Cut off the marked ends of the countertop with a circular saw, table saw, or radial saw. Be careful with the cuts. For perfectly straight cuts with the circular saw, use a saw guide.
Finish Top of Countertop
Using a belt sander, sand against the grain to flatten the surface of the countertop. Switch to sanding with the grain to erase the sanding marking. Finally, switch to the oscillating sander with fine-grain sandpaper to smooth out the surface.
After cleaning thoroughly with tack cloth, apply layers of tung oil. For high-use butcher block counters in kitchens, build up several layers of tung oil for a hard, protective shell. It's important to use a food-safe sealer for a butcher block countertop.
How to Make an Advanced Butcher Block Countertop
Use advanced tools and higher quality wood for a flatter, harder, straighter butcher block countertop that's better suited for rigorous use in kitchens.
- Species: Use dense hardwood like alder, hard maple, teak, birch, ash, or walnut for a harder, more durable finish that's less prone to scratching and denting.
- Size: Use 6/4 (or 1-5/16-inch) lumber in widths ranging from 4 to 10 inches and in lengths up to 8 or 10 feet.
- Table Saw: The advantage of a table saw is that you can rip the lumber into strips. The width of the cut represents the thickness of the butcher block countertop since the boards are turned 90 degrees. For example, a 6-inch-wide piece of 6/4 alder can be cut into four strips of equal width, each strip just under 1-1/2 inches. This makes the butcher block countertop about 1-1/2 inches thick.
- Planer: For a perfectly flat surface, you'll need to use a tabletop electric planer. A 13-inch tabletop electric planer is a standard consumer-grade planer size. While it will not run a full-size 26-inch countertop, it will accept boards that are up to 13 inches wide. You can plane each board individually and then laminate them. Or you can laminate two 13-inch-wide sections, plane each one separately, and then bond the two sections.
Woodworking Machines - Table Saws. Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety