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Woodworking Planshow to Woodworking Plans for From types of wood to maintenance, our experts help you weigh your options before putting in a wood kitchen countertop.

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A beautiful wood kitchen countertop storage island puts thick edge-grain butcher block center stage.
Photo by Jamie Salomon

After being eclipsed by showy stones like granite and marble and maintenance-free engineered materials like quartz and solid surfacing, natural-wood countertops are enjoying a real revival. Constructed from pieces of hardwood laminated together with glue for strength and stability, they provide a warm, organic landing surface in a kitchen, one that is wonderfully forgiving, gentle on dishware, and able to absorb the noise of a busy household. Wood can also be revived if damaged; if it gets dinged, stained, or gouged, you can refinish it.

Why go with wood countertops?

The majority of wood countertops are made from traditional butcher block, and while they may see some mild meal prep, they’re rarely used for chopping these days. They’re favored more for their looks. Less expensive woods often line the kitchen as a handsome, budget-friendly surface; pricier species top islands or breakfast bars, where they provide a welcome textural contrast or a furniture-like finish.

The variety of woods available is impressive, from subtly grained maple to deep, rich walnut to dramatic mesquite to exotic iroko. Yes, wood is a good choice, but it does require some attention. This Old House’s guide to buying, installing, and maintaining these countertops will ensure that the surface you select will look and perform beautifully for years.

Butcher-Block Backstory

Photo by Museum of the City of New York/Byron Collection/Getty Images

Up until the 1880s, butchers worked on thick rounds of sycamore, which were prone to splitting. In the early 1900s, it was discovered that pieces of hard maple glued together in big blocks provided a stronger, more durable surface that better stood up to meatcutters''{"":""}''{"":19503612,"":""}''{"":""}''{"":19504158,"":""}''re strong—and soft. Unlike with stone, there''re green. Most companies offer sustainably grown, Forest Stewardship Council-certified woods, including exotics. And while wood counters last for years, once worn out, they can be recycled.

Similar to shown: 1½-inch edge-grain teak; about $175 per sq. ft., uninstalled; devoswoodworking.com

Wood Kitchen Countertop Cons

Photo by Russell Sadur/Getty Images
  • They move. All wood expands and contracts with changes in atmospheric moisture, so there is the potential for these countertops to cup, warp, and gap if not properly constructed, installed, and maintained. The thicker the counter, the more stable it will be.
  • They require maintenance. Unfinished wood counters need monthly oiling. DIY clear-coated surfaces may require refinishing every five years or so. Factory-finished counters may never need recoating, but if they do, you''re not fireproof. Wood and stove burners don''re Made

    Woodworking Planshow to Woodworking Plans for Edge Grain

    Illustration by Arthur Mount

    The most common type of butcher block is made from boards placed on their sides the 1 last update 2020/05/30 and glued so that the narrower edge forms the surface. The strips may be continuous lengths with no joints, or random- length pieces that are finger-jointed.The most common type of butcher block is made from boards placed on their sides and glued so that the narrower edge forms the surface. The strips may be continuous lengths with no joints, or random- length pieces that are finger-jointed.

    Best for: Large areas, like a long kitchen counter or island top. Because wood only moves in one direction, across its width, edge-grain butcher block is more stable than other wood countertops. It can also be less pricey.

    End Grain

    Illustration by Arthur Mount

    Blocks of edge-grain wood are turned on end to form a the 1 last update 2020/05/30 grid that''ll pay about 40 percent more than for edge grain. Because it''{"":""}''{"":19504636,"":""}''{"":""}''{"":19504692,"":""}''{"":""}''{"":19504744,"":""}''{"":""}''{"":19504798,"":""}''{"":""}''{"":19504849,"":""}''{"":""}''{"":19504894,"":""}''{"":""}''{"":19504918,"":""}''{"":""}''{"":19504975,"":""}''{"":""}''{"":19504994,"":""}''{"":""}''{"":19505010,"":""}''{"":""}''{"":19505023,"":""}''{"":""}''{"":19505059,"":""}''{"":""}''{"":19505081,"":""}''{"":""}''{"":19505119,"":""}''{"":""}''{"":19505151,"":""}''{"":""}''{"":19505165,"":""}''{"":""}''{"":19505541,"":""}''t see heavy use. But slabs''{"":""}''{"":19505639,"":""}''s more likely they''{"":""}''{"":19505933,"":""}''t peel.Blocks of edge-grain wood are turned on end to form a grid that''ll pay about 40 percent more than for edge grain. Because it''{"":""}''{"":19504636,"":""}''{"":""}''{"":19504692,"":""}''{"":""}''{"":19504744,"":""}''{"":""}''{"":19504798,"":""}''{"":""}''{"":19504849,"":""}''{"":""}''{"":19504894,"":""}''{"":""}''{"":19504918,"":""}''{"":""}''{"":19504975,"":""}''{"":""}''{"":19504994,"":""}''{"":""}''{"":19505010,"":""}''{"":""}''{"":19505023,"":""}''{"":""}''{"":19505059,"":""}''{"":""}''{"":19505081,"":""}''{"":""}''{"":19505119,"":""}''{"":""}''{"":19505151,"":""}''{"":""}''{"":19505165,"":""}''{"":""}''{"":19505541,"":""}''t see heavy use. But slabs''{"":""}''{"":19505639,"":""}''s more likely they''{"":""}''{"":19505933,"":""}''t peel.

    Woodworking Planshow to Woodworking Plans for Oil-Wax Blend

    Made from mineral oil and beeswax or paraffin wax, this finish formula adds another layer of protection against moisture and helps seal the oil into the wood. Apply liberally with a clean cloth in the direction of the wood grain, let sit for 20 minutes, remove excess, and buff to a satiny finish.

    Clear coat

    Urethane, acrylic, or resin-curing-oil finishes provide superior protection against water, stains, and wear and are food-safe once fully cured. But reviving a worn or damaged top means stripping it and refinishing. Proprietary finishes offered by some companies cannot be matched but may never need recoating.

    To Stain or Not to Stain?

    Woodworking Planshow to Woodworking Plans for Photo by Lisa Shin

    Pro2ProTip: “To get a uniform look with stain, apply a prestain wood conditioner with a brush or cloth first. It temporarily fills in the grain, so the color will be absorbed more evenly.” —Dan Vos, owner, DeVos Custom Woodworking, Dripping Springs, TX

    Adding a stain can enhance the color and grain of a wood countertop, but you''{"":""}''{"":19506435,"":""}''{"":""}''{"":19506658,"":""}''{"":""}''{"":19506734,"":""}''{"":""}''{"":19506784,"":""}''{"":""}''{"":19506842,"":""}''{"":""}''{"":19506898,"":""}''{"":""}''{"":19507405,"":""}''{"":""}''{"":19507674,"":""}''s natural beauty.

    Similar to shown: 2-inch end-grain cherry, maple, and mahogany butcher block, about $250 per sq. ft.; brookscustom.com

    Modern Cottage

    Woodworking Planshow to Woodworking Plans for Photo by Thomas J. Story

    Bamboo gives light-colored cabinets and bright accents updated flair.

    Shown: 1½-inch caramelized parquet prefab island top, about $26 per sq. ft., and ¾-inch vertical-grain prefab-panel tabletop, about $17 per sq. ft.; teragren.com

    Updated Craftsman

    Photo by Alex Hayden

    Simple, sturdy cabinetry in rich, earthy colors calls for for 1 last update 2020/05/30 a warm, neutral-colored wood island top.Simple, sturdy cabinetry in rich, earthy colors calls for a warm, neutral-colored wood island top.

    Similar to shown: 1½-inch edge-grain beech, about $78 per sq. ft.; Heirloom Wood Countertops; homedepot.com

    Refreshed Farmhouse

    Photo by Wendell T. Webber

    Tight grain and a robust reddish hue make a cherry counter and backsplash a focal point in a space washed with white.

    Woodworking Planshow to Woodworking Plans for Similar to shown: 1½-inch edge-grain American cherry prefab work top, about $300; lumberliquidators.com

    Rustic and Eclectic

    Photo by Jason Varney

    Woodworking Planshow to Woodworking Plans for Salvaged fir floor joists repurposed as a plank-grain top add character to a space that blends industrial and old-world elements.

    Similar to shown: 2½-inch reclaimed fir, about $60 per sq. ft.; windfalllumber.com

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