butcher block countertops

Butcher Block Countertops: Everything You Need to Know

Butcher block countertops tend to be an afterthought for most people. That’s really unfortunate because they’re incredibly useful, stylish, and downright cool.

In this guide, I’m going to answer the most common questions people have about butcher block countertops, dispel a myth, and help you see why these countertops have steadily grown in popularity.

Let’s get right to it.

What is a Butcher Block Countertop?

First things first, what on earth is a butcher block countertop?

This type of kitchen countertop is made completely from wood, usually straight cuts of wood that are glued together into thick slabs. This creates a really durable and stable work surface for all your food preparing needs.

Also, unlike with granite, quartz, marble, and other countertops, you can cut directly on them.

Worth noting, butcher block counters are the easiest to DIY out of all the countertop options.

Butcher Block Countertop Construction Styles

There are three types of butcher block countertops: edge grain, face grain, and end grain.

wood grain directions
Image Credit: Architypes.net

1 – Edge Grain Butcher Block

Edge grain tends to be the go-to construction style because it’s less expensive but still relatively strong and stable.

Long boards are placed on their sides and joined in such a way that their narrow edges form the surface. The wood boards can be random-length that are finger-jointed or continuous lengths without joints.

2 – Face Grain Butcher Block

Face-grain construction style is a bit more susceptible to chop and cut marks because the wood boards are laid out flat with their full widths forming a surface with a streamlined look. This makes them less popular for those interested in using them as cutting boards, but gives them a beautiful look overall.

3 – End Grain Butcher Block

An end grain butcher block countertop is created from small rectangular blocks that are arranged so that the ends and all of their growth rings are visible on the surface.

By far, it’s my favorite grain because it looks really beautiful and is the strongest out of the three different types of grains. Knife marks are virtually undetectable, and an end grain butcher block counter can last a really long time.

However, all of that means it tends to be the most expensive out of all three construction styles.

What Wood Types are Used for Butcher Block Countertops?

butcher block countertop woods

A butcher block countertop can really be made from any wood you’d like, but several wood types have really taken hold and have become standard.

Maple and cherry tend to be what people like the most. Maple has a great hardness, positioning it to be a great choice and it also looks very impressive as a countertop. Cherry wins out oftentimes because of its rich color.

Some like to use exotic woods, which can get pricey and have some drawbacks. For this look, some opt for:

  • Bamboo
  • Beech
  • Black walnut
  • Hickory
  • Iroko
  • Mahogany
  • Oak
  • Teak
  • Tigerwood
  • Wenge
  • Zebrawood

Does Wood Hardness Matter for Your Countertop?

Yes. When thinking about what wood to buy, make sure to consider its hardness. Harder woods can take more abuse, last longer, and wear better over time opposed to softer woods.

The Janka Scale is used to evaluate the hardness of wood. It ranges from a scale of 0 (super soft) to 4,000 (so hard, it’s difficult to cut).

The Janka Scale was named after Gabriel Janka who worked for the Forest Products Lab of the United States Department of Agriculture. They wanted him to scientifically measure the hardness of woods, and he developed this wood rating scale that is now used worldwide.

Knowing the hardness of a particular wood is incredibly helpful when it comes to identifying whether it would be worth using for your butcher block countertop.

To find out the hardness of a particular wood you’re thinking about using for your countertops, head over to The Wood Database.

Can You Use Butcher Block Countertops as a Cutting Surface?

Yes, butcher block countertops can definitely be used as a cutting surface. In fact, this sets them apart from virtually every other countertop option on the market.

While some people will still invest in cutting boards due to portability concerns, it’s really not that hard to take what you cut on a butcher block counter and put it into a nearby bowl in order to move it.

Others get bogged down by the fact that certain knives will leave marks in the wood, but most of the time this doesn’t happen if you’re careful. Even when it does, I personally think it adds character to the countertop and enhances its appeal.

Do Butcher Block Counters Need to be Sealed?

butcher block kitchen island

This is where a lot of folks make a mistake, and a lot of misinformation is circulating around. Time to dispel a myth.

If you plan on using your butcher block countertops for preparing food, do not seal them. However, if you plan on using them for something like a bar top, go ahead and seal them.

Just remember, if you’re sealing your butcher block, you’re essentially covering that beautiful wood with a plastic coating. Yes, it will shine brilliantly, but the natural look of the wood will be compromised.

What I’ve found to be the best solution and a great compromise is to seal certain areas and not others.

For example, I would highly recommend sealing the area around your sink. If you don’t, water that spills over or splashes onto the countertop will cause the wood to look very unappealing over time, and it can eventually rot.

That said, for a kitchen island that you don’t plan to do much food preparation on, go ahead and seal it. The shine will add flair to your kitchen and draw everyone’s eye right to it.

Lastly, sealing is different than oiling. Sealing is dependent on whether you’re preparing food. Oiling is part and parcel of the necessary maintenance you must do to keep your wood countertops in good condition.

How Do You Properly Maintain Butcher Block Countertops?

wood countertops

1 – Oiling is Not Optional

It should go without saying that different woods need to be cared for differently. If you DIYed the installation, be sure to ask your wood supplier if there is anything special you should do when it comes to maintenance. If you hired a professional installer, then ask them.

At a minimum though, you need to oil your wood countertops every 6 months to keep them protected. If you use them a lot, then err on the side of oiling them every 3 months. Oiling will help prevent cracking and dulling.

What Oil Should You Use?

Please don’t think I mean cooking oil. Using that will damage your wood. I’m talking about mineral oil.

Mineral oil will penetrate the surface of your butcher block countertop, condition it, and lock in moisture. Unlike some sealants, it’s 100% food safe and super cheap. It’s preferable to plant and seed based oils because those can get gross and rancid while mineral oil won’t.

Some assert that mineral oil will raise face grain to the point where it actually feels velvety and weird, but not everyone has experienced that. Use your judgment if you have face grain. Try oiling a smaller area that is out of the way from use to see if this happens for you. If it doesn’t, go ahead and oil your entire countertop.

2 – Wipe Up Spills and Clean With Soap and Water

Make sure to wipe up spills and clean your butcher block countertops daily. Doing this will help prevent damage to the wood due to absorption.

In truth, cleaning this kind of countertop is really not much different than any other. For spills, take a damp rag or paper towel along with a drop of soap and wipe them away the moment you notice them.

When the day is done, wipe them down with a clean wet rag and you’re all set. No need for a chemical-based cleaning product, it will just dry out your wood and make it easier for permanent stains to settle in. Good ol’ soap and water does the trick quite nicely.

3 – Disinfect Them as Needed

Although butcher block countertops are for sure sanitary, it’s a good idea to disinfect them every now and then anyway.

To disinfect your butcher block wood countertops, use diluted vinegar. Take white vinegar along with water and put some in a spray bottle. Use three parts vinegar and one part water for your mixture. Spray this concoction on the wood, and wipe it up carefully with a dry towel.

If you need something more intense, go with a mixture of salt and lemon. Sprinkle coarse salt on top of the counter and scour it with a cut lemon. Just use gentle pressure and rub the lemon all over the butcher block surface. After, take a damp towel and wipe away the residue.

Doing this monthly will help naturally keep unwanted bacteria away.

Can You Put a Hot Pan on Butcher Block Countertops?

Believe it or not, wood countertops can withstand a lot of heat. It’s incredibly unlikely for a hot pan to burn your countertop.

The only real way you’ll burn your wood countertop is if you subject it to prolonged, direct heat from something like a scalding hot pot filled with oil. While not guaranteed to burn or stain your countertop, it should be avoided. For cooking of this nature, have some trivets around.

One of the coolest things about butcher block countertops is that if for some weird reason they do burn due to heat, you can easily sand them down and buff a burn ring right out.

How Much Do Butcher Block Countertops Cost?

butcher block kitchen

Butcher block countertops cost between $70-$150 per square foot. For around $200 per square foot, you can get one of the exotic hardwoods I mentioned earlier and it will be fabricated into a countertop by a craftsman.

Obviously, that’s a bit pricey. However, several manufacturers sell off-the-shelf butcher blocks in standard countertop depth sizes with variable lengths. If your kitchen layout allows, this is a far cheaper route to go.

Most importantly, if you’re handy, all you have to do is buy the wood slabs and do all the cutting yourself. If you DIY butcher block countertops, you can literally slash your costs in half, sometimes more.

Where to Buy Butcher Block Countertops

Tracking down a wood countertop fabricator is a bit harder than finding a granite or quartz fabricator, but it’s doable. Start by heading to your local lumberyard and ask them to point you in the right direction. They’ll help you find a wood fabricator in your local area.

If you have a Lumber Liquidator in your area, check out what they have in stock and find out what they can do for you. You might be surprised. You can also buy wood online from John Boos. They have a good reputation and they have good quality wood.

The last option is to head to IKEA. Personally, I hate IKEA and wouldn’t buy much, if anything, from them. However, a lot of people love their stuff because it is incredibly affordable and looks great.

If you’re looking for an inexpensive and standard sized wood countertop, IKEA could be a decent fit for you. The end result will certainly not be as high-quality as the product you’d get from a wood fabricator, but for some folks this route is still worth exploring. If you DIY the whole thing, then that wood is the only cost you’ll incur (assuming you already own the tools needed for the job).

The Pros and Cons of Butcher Block Countertops

Pros

  • Adds warmth and natural coloring to your kitchen
  • No clanging or clattering when you put down a stack of dishes
  • Wood goes well with many materials and patterns in a kitchen
  • Durable when maintained properly
  • Develops a great patina over time
  • Nicks and burns can be easily repaired with light sanding
  • Has natural antibacterial and antimicrobial properties
  • When sealed, they’re waterproof
  • Comes in stunning and unique patterns
  • Can be bought locally
  • Great DIY project that makes them very affordable
  • Surprisingly heat resistant

Cons

  • Not naturally waterproof
  • Less fabricators exist than for stone countertops
  • Can be scratched if not careful
  • Wood can swell, shrink, and even crack with extreme dryness or humidity
  • Excessive wetness could lead to rotting if not sealed or resealed
  • Requires oiling and a bit more maintenance than other countertops

Final Thoughts

Butcher block countertops have stood the test of time, and they continue to find a place in all types of kitchens, even those with really modern designs and appliances.

In fact, butcher block countertops mix incredibly well with nearly any other type of countertop surface. The warm beauty of the wood blends so well and adds really pleasing textures, colors, and patterns.

Wishing you tons of success in your quest for the best countertops for your kitchen!

If you’re serious about DIYing butcher block countertops, check out my post: Must-Have Tools of the Trade for Home Improvement DIYers.

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