Installing and Maintaining Butcher Block Countertops

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By Jess
6 Jul 2023

We are in the process of multiple house projects right now including a patio, a front walkway, siding, wood storage, and a garage bed/bath conversion. The list keeps going, and I’m documenting all of them to share the process, but today I want to talk about butcher block countertops.

We recently had our RI house featured on Apartment Therapy and I got a ton of inquiries about our butcher block countertops. I can’t believe I have not shared a comprehensive post on them before. Not to worry, today I am breaking it all down. If you are considering upgrading your kitchen countertop with butcher block countertops, you’ve come to the right place.

Whether you are looking for something functional and long-lasting, want to save money, or are looking for something that adds a unique flair to your modern kitchen, this comprehensive guide will help you make an educated decision on whether butcher block countertops are right for you.

Installing and Maintaining Butcher Block Countertops

What is Butcher Block and How Does it Compare to Other Countertop Options?

Butcher block is a type of countertop material that is made by joining together strips or blocks of wood to create a durable and visually appealing surface. It is commonly used in kitchens and has gained popularity due to its natural beauty and functionality. Wood countertops will differ depending on the source. For example getting them from a lumber mill you can find larger pieces including slabs. Here’s a comparison of butcher block countertops with other common countertop options:

  1. Laminate Countertops: Laminate countertops are made of a thin layer of plastic or laminate material bonded to a particle board or plywood core. They are affordable and available in a wide range of colors and patterns. However, they are not as durable as butcher block and can be prone to scratches and burns.
  2. Granite Countertops: Granite countertops are made from natural stone and are known for their durability and heat resistance. They come in a variety of colors and patterns and offer a high-end look to a kitchen. However, granite can be expensive.
  3. Quartz Countertops: Quartz countertops are engineered stone surfaces made from a combination of natural quartz and resins. They are highly durable, non-porous, and resistant to stains and scratches. Quartz countertops offer a wide range of colors and patterns, and they require minimal maintenance. However, they can be quite expensive.
  4. Marble Countertops: Marble countertops have an elegant and luxurious appearance. They feature unique veining patterns and come in a range of colors, adding a sophisticated touch to any kitchen. Marble is resistant to scratches and heat when properly sealed, although it can still be susceptible to staining and etching from acidic substances. Marble countertops require regular sealing to protect them from staining and etching. Marble countertops tend to be the most expensive with higher material and installation costs.

Butcher block countertops offer a unique and natural aesthetic that adds warmth and character to a kitchen. They are durable, can withstand moderate heat, and are relatively easy to maintain with regular oiling or sealing. However, they are susceptible to scratches and stains and require proper care to prevent damage. Butcher block countertops are also more susceptible to moisture, so it’s important to wipe up spills promptly and avoid excessive exposure to water.

What is the best wood for butcher block countertops?

When it comes to choosing the best wood for butcher block countertops, there are several factors to consider, including hardness, durability, grain pattern, and resistance to moisture and bacteria. We used birch butcher block in our Rhode Island kitchen and maple butcher block in our Vermont kitchen. Here are some commonly used woods for butcher block countertops:

  1. Maple is a popular choices for butcher block countertops. It has a dense and durable nature, which makes it resistant to scratches and dents. Hard maple has a light color with a fine grain pattern, providing a clean and classic look.
  2. Birch butcher block countertops offer a beautiful and versatile option for kitchen surfaces. Birch wood is known for its light color, typically ranging from creamy white to pale yellow, and its subtle grain patterns. With its smooth and uniform appearance, birch brings a touch of elegance and warmth to any kitchen space. Birch is a hardwood that is moderately hard and durable, making it suitable for everyday use. It is also more affordable compared to some hardwood options, making it an attractive choice for those seeking an appealing and budget-friendly option.
  3. Walnut butcher block countertops are a luxurious and visually striking choice. It has a rich, dark brown color with a beautiful grain pattern. Walnut is known for its durability and resistance to bacteria. It is softer than hard maple but can still hold up well with proper care and maintenance.
  4. Cherry butcher block countertops are a popular option for its warm, reddish-brown color that darkens and develops a rich patina over time. It has a smooth grain pattern and medium hardness. While cherry is not as hard as maple, it is still a durable wood and can be a great choice for a unique and elegant look.
  5. Acacia wood is a popular choice for countertops due to its unique beauty and durability. Acacia is a hardwood that is known for its rich, varying tones and distinctive grain patterns, ranging from light golden hues to deep reddish-browns. Acacia wood is considered to be highly resilient. It has a high level of hardness, which makes it resistant to scratches and dents. Due to its hardness, acacia wood can be more challenging to cut and shape during installation. Therefore, it’s advisable to work with experienced professionals who are familiar with handling this type of wood.

How to seal butcher block countertops

I get a lot of questions about how to seal butcher block countertops. We’ve done this several ways and learned through trial and error. Ultimately what has worked best for us (and we’ve done it twice now) is sealing the wood countertops with Saicos Premium Hardwax Oil. It’s a phenomenal product that we’ve also used on our hardwood floors. The matte sheen is food safe.

  1. Gather your materials: You’ll need sandpaper (120 grit), lint-free cloth, sealer, a paintbrush.
  2. Prepare the countertop: Start by ensuring that the countertop is clean and dry. Sand the surface with the sandpaper to smooth out any rough areas or remove stains. Wipe away any dust or debris with a damp cloth and allow the countertop to dry completely. If you do a lot of projects yourself, Craig swears by the Festool Sander with dust extractor.
  3. Apply the sealer: Use a paintbrush to spread the sealer evenly across the entire surface, working with the wood grain in a thin coat. Allow the sealer to dry before the second coat (approximately 3-5 hours).
  4. Let it cure: Allow the sealer to cure according to the manufacturer’s instructions. Saicos takes several days to fully cure.
No more boring appliances, customize your kitchen with @cafeappliances Pictured is the Dual-Fuel Double Oven with Convection Range in Matte White with Brushed Bronze Hardware in Jess Kirby's kitchen

Care and Maintenance for Butcher Block Countertops

Maintaining butcher block countertops requires regular care to ensure their longevity and to keep them looking their best. Here are some maintenance tips for butcher block countertops:

  1. Daily cleaning: Wipe the countertops with a damp cloth or sponge to remove any spills, crumbs, or debris. Avoid using harsh chemicals or abrasive cleaners as they can damage the wood.
  2. Avoid excessive moisture: Wood is susceptible to water damage, so it’s crucial to clean up any spills immediately. Avoid leaving wet items or standing water on the countertop for extended periods. Wipe down the surface thoroughly after cleaning to remove excess moisture.
  3. Sanding and refinishing: Over time, the surface of your butcher block countertops may develop scratches, stains, or dents. To restore their appearance, you can sand the surface and reapply a countertop sealer. Our wood countertops are still in great condition and we have not had to do this!
  4. Heat and cutting precautions: Avoid placing hot pots, pans, or appliances directly on the butcher block surface, as this can cause burn marks or discoloration. Always use trivets or heat-resistant pads. Additionally, use cutting boards when chopping or slicing food to prevent deep scratches on the countertop.
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What Are the Typical Costs of Butcher Block Countertops?

Are butcher block countertops expensive? It depends. Compared to some other options, they are much more affordable, but the cost is heavily dependent on the type of wood countertops and the cost of installation. We decided to go with butcher block countertops in both of our homes because of the affordability, ease of installation and their visual appeal.

Butcher block countertops are a natural and unique choice to add to your kitchen and can be a great addition if you are looking to add charm and character. It’s important to take into account the cost, maintenance, and installation of the countertops and whether they are the right fit for your kitchen in comparison to the other options available.

After installing butcher block countertops in two homes (here and here) I can confidently say it’s a great choice with a warm and inviting aesthetic that’s also functional and practical.

Disclosure: if you buy something through the links on this blog, we may earn an affiliate commission. We only feature products we would personally recommend. Thank you for your support.

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