What You Need To Know Before Purchasing Butcher Block Countertops
If you’re thinking of buying butcher block countertops for your new kitchen, workshop or office there are some important considerations you should keep in mind. Natural wood countertops are sturdy, strong and aesthetically pleasing and it seems that they are making a resurgence with both style and design conscious consumers but also with environmentally conscious shoppers. There is a certain warmth and charm that emanates from wood that can’t be duplicated with Stone or Laminate which makes butcher block countertops a natural choice.
The History Of Butcher Blocks
Before the late 19th century, cooks and butchers mainly used standard tree stems for cutting on meat or any other cooking item. Although the tree stems could handle the slashing force of the knives, they were very unstable and could topple easily. Additionally, the cuttings on them harbored dangerous and harmful bacteria due to the decomposing of the organic matter. Since they were a significantly dangerous health hazard, people had to look for better alternatives to the tree cutting tops. Although numerous expedient solutions have been developed since then, butcher block countertops are a particular favorite to both consumers and butchers. They have everything one would look for in a meritorious countertop – excellently functional and aesthetically satisfying.
Just like traditional countertops, butcher block countertops come in different types. Their construction varies slightly but they suit a variety of kitchen decors and the personal style of the respective users. The main difference in butcher block countertops are the colors and textures available.
Different Types Of Wood Used In Butcher Block Countertops
The number of different types of butcher block countertops available directly corresponds to the number of different woods and trees available in the forest. That being said not all trees are created equal. You are always best to stick with hardwoods when selecting a type of wood for your countertop. In North America and throughout the rest of the world you will have a wide selection of butcher block countertops to choose from. Some of the more well know woods used in the construction are Ash, Beech, Birch, Cherry, Hickory, Alder, Pine, Oak, Walnut and Maple. You will also have the ability to choose a number of mixed butcher block countertops such as a mixture of Maple and Cherry, Maple and Walnut to mention just two.
One of the most popular selections of butcher block countertops is the Maple butcher block. Just as the name suggests, it is made out of strictly maple wood and elegantly finished to reveal it’s smooth natural grain. Its stylish light brown color is easily adaptable to a wide range of kitchen decors and color themes. Individuals who want a lighter shade of brown could go for the ash counter tops. Just like Maple wood, it has a distinct, pleasant natural grain. Ash is particularly ideal for kitchens which have Oak, Lyptus or Mahogany cabinets.
Next to Maple one of the most popular choices of butcher block countertops is Cherry. It’s red brown color slightly differs with the rest, making it an idyllic choice for people who prefer a less traditional kitchen décor. Additionally, it has an exceptionally stunning grain which is durable. Unlike other types of wood, Cherrywood grain does not change with age. Another countertop which particularly leans towards red is the Red oak. It has an exceptionally heavy and distinct grain which can be effectually used in large kitchens, the distinct heavy grain creates the illusion of a larger surface which can make a larger space feel more cozy.
If budget is a concern you can lean towards an Ikea Beech countertop, not only are they cost effective but they are particularly suitable for darker or duller kitchen colors, lightening them up a gifting them a bit of life. Ikea countertops come untreated so you have the option to stain it to suit your needs or simply seal it with a mineral oil if you choose. I have used Ikea butcher block countertops for both my workshop and bathroom vanity and both have worked out well at a reasonable price.
Environmentally Friendly Countertops
For the most environmentally-conscious individuals you can go for reclaimed wood or Lyptus wood countertops. The latter is the latest in butcher block countertops styles which are increasingly developing. The wood is popular among environmentalists because of the eco-friendly method used to harvest it. Unlike most trees, the stump does not dry and die immediately it is cut. It instead develops into another tree. This process can be repeated up to five times upon which the stump permanently dies and fails to develop into another tree.
All domestically grown trees, if harvested from sustained logging methods are grown and replanted in cycles. I for one would never buy buctcher block countertops made from exotic woods, particularly if they originate from the rain forest or any other vulnerable area throughout the world. Here in North America we have a well maintained program of replanting trees to minimize the affects on the environment so stick to native tree species in your region.
Butcher Block Countertops – Pros And Cons
We’ve already mentioned the numerous benefits to the environment that butcher block countertops offer but their advantages don’t stop there. If you have done any research are have gotten a quote on stone countertops you know how expensive they can be. Amazingly butcher block countertops can be substantially cheaper than high quality stone countertops.
Another big advantage you will find with butcher block countertops is their flexibility, you have a wide variety of woods to choose from so you have a wide variety of textures and colors to choose from. If the wood’s natural color doesn’t suit you, you can stain it any color you like. Of course staining your butcher block countertop is not mandatory, you can leave it the woods natural color and seal it or simply oil it as is.
Some people have concerns about about scratching their butcher block countertops and this is a valid point. Back in the days where butcher’s used their block solely for cutting meat, their cleaver’s made large cuts in the wood. The same holds true today, if you want to avoid cut marks on your counter simply don’t use is as a cutting board, treat your butcher block counter the same as you would a stone or laminate counter. If you happen to get any minor cuts, scuffs, burns or chemical discolorations on your butcher block countertops they can be repaired fairly easily with a light sanding and retouching with oil or sealing compound.
Styles, Price And Design
Butcher block countertops come in a wide variety of styles, designs and prices ranges. There are three things that will affect the price of your countertops. The first is the type and grade of wood you select, the more common woods are the lowest prices, as you get into scarcer woods the price increases. Reclaimed and common woods such as Ash and Maple will be on the lower to medium prices range, higher end woods such as Oak, Cherry and imported woods like Teak will be more expensive.
The second factor affecting the price is the thickness and depth of your countertop, it only stands to reason that the thicker and deeper your butcher block countertops the higher the price. The third factor affecting your price will be the finish and edging details, the more ornate the edge the higher the price. You can get square cut and slightly beveled edges often referred to as Radius edge details. The square cut is a plain as you can get and is the lowest priced, Radius edges cost a little more. Higher priced and more ornate edge finishes are Bullnose, Classic Cut, Cove Edge and Roman Ogee.
Installation Of Butcher Block Countertops
The installation of butcher block countertops is a little different than stone, laminate and tile countertops. Because wood is a natural and porous material you need to realize that there can be some expansion and contraction as seasons change and the air becomes more humid or dryer. Wood expands when it’s humid and takes on moisture and it contracts when it is drier and moisture is reduced.
Quality manufacturers of butcher block countertops such as John Boos or The Hardwood Lumber Company will kiln dry their butcher block material to a 6% relative moisture content. Depending on the time of year you intend on installing your countertop you may experience some expansion. There is the possibility that it can expand in width 1/8 to 3/16 of an inch, the length will not expand. It is wise to have your new butcher block countertops delivered 1-2 weeks before installation so they have time to acclimatize to your home. Measure the width when they are delivered, about a week later measure the width again before final installation to see if it has expanded. A as a rule your new butcher block countertops will remain at their original dimensions during the winter and will expand a little during the more humid periods in the spring and summer. This expansion needs to factored into your installation.
Wood Countertop Installation Tips
If you find that your countertop has warped slightly upon delivery don’t panic, this is due to the change in humidity in the air and they will soon adapt. The best thing to do is to ensure that both sides (top and bottom) get exposure to air, the countertop will soon straighten itself out. To help with this process you can place the countertop on your base cabinets and ‘draw’ the countertop down with screws. Most manufacturers recommend at least 4 screws per run, 1 at each corner, remember no to do this until the countertop is acclimatized.
Setting The Countertop To The Cabinets:
The use of construction adhesive or caulking is not recommended as the sole method of securing the countertop to the base cabinets. Instead, the best practice is screwing or ‘drawing’ your countertops down to your base cabinets, always drill pilot holes first. Most manufacturers will also include ‘corner’ blocks with the countertops, these are pieces of wood you place underneath the butcher block, the screw goes into the corner block first then into the butcher block itself. The purpose of these corner blocks are so when the screw is as tight as it should be, the head of the screw will be ‘digging’ into the corner block and not into the bottom of the countertop, this will be useful in the future should you need to tighten it at a later date.
Cutting Your New Butcher Block Countertops:
There will be times when it is necessary to cut an end or side of your countertop to accommodate walls or obstacles. If you are installing your countertop in a kitchen you will likely need to cut a hole in the countertop to accommodate a sink. In any circumstance when you cut your countertop to expose untreated wood you need to seal it as soon as possible, if the area cut will not be seen or accessible in the future it should be permanently sealed with lacquer or polyurethane as quickly as possible.
Finishing Up With A Backsplash
A word on back-splashes; if you’re installing a matching wood back-splash it is always recommended to attach the back-splash to the butcher block surface and not the adjacent wall. The reason for this is that if the units expand and contract they will do so together. If you are installing a stone or tile back-splash leave a gap of 3/16 to 1/4 inch from the top of the countertop to the bottom of the tile, again for expansion. This gap can finish off with wood trim or caulking.
It’s Your Turn
You’re all set to make you final decision if wood countertops are right for you. They make a beautiful addition to kitchens, workshops, offices and more. You are limited only by your imagination, butcher block countertops have been around for centuries and when properly maintained will last you a lifetime.