Our Butcher Block Counter Knowledge

Written by DIY, Renovation

Disclaimer: this is long, with lots of text. I forgot to take photos of a few steps since we were so busy at the time. But if you are looking into using butcher block for your own counters, hopefully you get a lot of good information out of this.

The biggest DIY project for our kitchen was by far the butcher block counters. If you missed it, you can go back and read about our finish choices, renovation weeks 1 & 2, week 3, and the big reveal to catch up. We had guys doing most of the main kitchen renovation part for us, with our skills coming into play on things we could handle. On our to-do list was painting the ceilings, walls, and trim, putting together the cabinets, installing the cabinet hardware and sealing the butcher block counters. After our guys got to a good stopping point, we took over doing all the stuff on our list. With both of us working full time, this list was not a drop in the bucket. But we would have been able to get it all done in a week if we really put our heads down every evening and weekend.

However… sealing the butcher block counters took two weeks by itself. Therefore, the counters were the determining factor for when the guys could come back to finish, which left us finishing the kitchen TWO DAYS before Thanksgiving! I still can’t believe we cut it that close. Needless to say, we have a lot more knowledge about DIYing butcher block counters to share now.

First nugget of knowledge for you! We had originally purchased our butcher block from IKEA with our cabinets, sink and quartz counter tops. They were having their 15% off kitchen event on purchases over $1,500 I believe it was. So the price was right! IKEA seems to have a few wood counter choices, but most are wood veneer over a plywood core. So if you want solid wood, be sure you get the right one. The other thing to keep in mind – the longest length they sell is 10 feet. We got into a little snafu which I wrote about here, and ended up returning the counters. 10 feet just wasn’t quite long enough for our sink wall and I didn’t want a seam on one end, which would be incredibly obvious. But we found Lumber Liquidators had a really great selection of solid wood butcher block, including a 12 foot piece perfect for what we needed. We got both our pieces of butcher block for the sink wall and dining room wall from here so the wood would be similar in color and build.

The next step was to cut them down to length for the spaces they were going in. BOOM! The dining room wall section is done! At least until sanding time. Our guys did all the cutting since they had all the saws out already. It was quicker to just have them do it for us and they didn’t mind. The trick here is getting it really snug. You can always sand off a little additional if it’s a smidgen too tight.

Next, for us anyway, was measuring out the sink cutout. Again, we had our guys cut this for us since we don’t even have the correct saw for this. Even they were a bit nervous because they had never cut for an under mount sink before. So here we have this $300 piece of wood, which has to get cut almost perfectly to line up correctly in the cabinet so the sink is centered, is centered on the window, AND it’s an under mount sink. The reason that makes things harder, is because the cut edge will be showing and you want it to line up as close to perfect as possible with the edge of the sink. If it was an over mount sink, you would just need to cut a hole out that was wide enough for the sink to sit in but small enough for the lip of the sink to sit on top, with no cares about the edge being perfect or not.

Since we didn’t do this part ourselves, I can’t tell you anything very specific for how to measure everything out. I do know most sinks are supposed to come with a template for this exact purpose. Be sure to have the measurements of your own sink handy, and then measure, measure, measure, measure…. measure……. and measure again. And maybe again. Draw out the shape of your sink on the wood, keeping the mark on the outside of where you will cut so you don’t have marks on your finished counter. Our guys used a router saw in each corner to start, then used a circular saw to cut the straight lines. The corners of our sink are not very curved, so the router cuts ended up being perfect by themselves. The guys took a decent amount of time to do all of this. They spent a good part of the day measuring and re-measuring and then an hour or two just cutting verrrrrrrrry carefully. Once the sink hole was cut, we had to measure and cut the holes for the faucet and our instant hot water faucet. Again… measure, measure, measure! You wouldn’t want to have just gone through painstaking precision cutting the sink hole and then have your faucet off center. Be sure the faucet isn’t too close to your wall or the back side of your cabinets.

Whew! Now that you’ve almost had a heart attack and everything turned out ok… hopefully… you can get back to zen while prepping your beautifully cut butcher block. There were a couple weak spots and divots in the wood where there were small knots. We filled these with stainable wood filler and let it set according to package directions. And now… yes… this is where ALL the sanding happens. I highly recommend goggles and a face mask to keep the dust away from anything important. I used an orbital sander for the majority of this since everything is flat. I started with 220 grit and finished with 400 grit to get everything velvety smooth. I hand sanded the sink corners since I don’t have anything electrical to assist me for curved areas.

Ok, so now your arm feels like it’s gonna fall off, and if you used a power sander like me, everything you touch feels oddly soft… But your butcher block is buttery smooth! So it’s all worth it. Now you can start thinking about sealing your butcher block. Because why go through all this trouble and then not protect it from moisture!!! Are you a crazy person!?!?! There are a few options out there for sealer, including just waxing the wood. From the research I did, I found that if you go with natural wax it looks beautiful, but you will have to re-wax more often than if you use sealer. As for the sealers, one brand kept popping up over and over again on other blogs I trust. Waterlox original tung oil sealer and finish. It isn’t sold at any of our local hardware stores, so I ordered what we needed online. I used the Waterlox website to help me figure out how much I would need and what products to buy. Their site is very full of helpful information and a shopping calculator to make sure you get it right the first time. Desired finish and type of wood made a big impact on how many coats you need to do or what products you need.

To get the finish we were looking for on our maple counters, we needed to do three coats of the original sealer/finish which is glossy. Then do one finishing coat with the satin finish we wanted. We included the underside of the counter into our calculations for the original glossy sealer since we wanted to make sure no moisture can penetrate the wood from anywhere! We have our dishwasher under our sink wall counter as well, and that puts out pretty humid hot air regularly. So we purchased a gallon of the original glossy sealer/finish and a quart of the satin finish.

The hardest part (or maybe just annoying) of this whole thing for us was finding a spot in the house to actually seal the counters. The type of environment specified in the directions I believe only exists in a ventilated and temperature controlled paint room. Right when we were ready to start sealing our counters, the temperature dropped outside. If it hadn’t, our sunroom would have been perfect for cross ventilation. But alas… we had to do it inside. We couldn’t do it in the basement because there is no chance for cross ventilation which is very important since this sealer cures with oxygen exposure. We ended up choosing to do this in our living room, where we could open some windows and have the temperature a little more under control. The ceiling fans had to be turned off so there wasn’t a constant breeze pointing downward onto the counters. This would cause the sealer to create a dry film on top and extend drying time on the rest of the sealer trapped under the film. It was tricky to say the least, and we were not fans of having windows sitting wide open in 30 degree weather. But we got it done and only had to deal with a high energy bill for one month!

Finally! We are to the actual sealing part of this journey. For this part you will need the following supplies:

  • Rubber gloves
  • Lint free cloths
  • Gas mask
  • Stain applicator pad + extra pads (we used a fresh one for each coat)
  • Paint trays
  • Mineral spirits

Following the instructions for the Waterlox, we lightly dampened a lint free cloth with mineral spirits and wiped the counter down to get any fine debris off. Then we poured a small amount of the sealer into a paint tray. Remember, this stuff reacts to oxygen exposure, so you want to close the can as soon as possible and only pour out about what you need each time. We used a floor stain applicator to wipe on the sealer going with the grain. And there you have it! Each coat of sealer is very easy and quick to do! You just do a quick mineral spirits wipe down between each coat and a light sanding if you feel you need it. We found the sealer raises the grain of the wood slightly since this sealer penetrates the wood like stain. So we did do another light sanding with 400 grit paper to get back to that buttery smooth feel. The other thing to note, is your first coat will not look glossy once it dries. This is because it penetrates the wood. Each coat will build on top of the other. So don’t panic when the first coat looks weird.

So yeah, so easy right! Here’s the catch… You have to wait 24 hours between each coat. If you don’t have a well ventilated area or it’s too cold or too warm, then you need to extend the drying time between coats. And this is why it took us two weeks JUST to seal the dang thing. We started on the underside of the counters first, doing only three coats total using the original glossy sealer. We waited 48 hours after the last coat to flip the counters over and start the process again. Wipe down with the mineral spirits, and apply the first coat of sealer. This time we did the top surface and the front and sink edges, since we didn’t want any possible drips to occur and show on the top surface. If any dripping happened, at least this way they would be on the underside of the counter. Again, we did a total of three coats with the original glossy sealer, with one additional coat of the satin finish. So four coats total on the top and sides. Then we let it sit for 72 hours as directed. That’s when we had the guys come back to finish up installing the counters, plumbing and all the other punch list items.

The morning the guys came back, Jordan and I flipped the sink wall counter back over to have the underside facing up. Over the section where our dishwasher was gonna be sitting, we wanted to add a little extra protection from moisture. We purchased some exterior aluminum waterproofing tape meant for roofing and slapped some strips down on that section of the counter. While it was still flipped up-side down, our guys threw in the sink. They used silicone on the top edge of the sink and laid the sink over the cut out. After they got it lined up just how they wanted, they used stainless steel screws and clips to secure the sink to the counter. Then they just had to place it on the cabinets and caulk everything in place!

We absolutely love how they turned out and how the wood adds warmth to the room. While we were sealing the counters, I stained and polyurethaned the wood for our open shelf to match the counter as close as possible. I chose polyurethane to seal it because 1) I already had it, 2) there wasn’t as much waiting involved, and 3) the shelf wouldn’t be exposed to moisture like the counter.

The sink also turned out better than I even imagined! Look how sweet of a job our guys did on those cuts. Remember…. measure, measure, measure! Then measure again. And just when you think you’re done… measure one more time.

We are planning on having to re-seal about every other year to give this wood a longer life span. It’s not the most durable material out there for kitchen counters, but it is absolutely beautiful. And to be honest, I’m looking forward to seeing some light wear and tear in the future telling a little story about our home. It’s the imperfections that make natural materials the most beautiful.

So the real question is what did this all cost, am I right!? As I said before in our kitchen reveal post, I lost track of small material spending with all our receipts and returns flying around, so this is based on prices I’m looking up after the fact. I’m also not sure how much the labor cost was for this specific part of the project. Our labor cost was not itemized. But this will give you the cost if you decide to DIY your own counters, or the base cost if you opt to have a pro help you out like we did.

Cost Breakdown

12 foot maple butcher block $360
8 foot maple butcher block $260
1 gallon Waterlox Original sealer/finish $90
1 quart Waterlox Original satin finish $40
220 grit sand paper (various kinds used)
400 grit sand paper (various kinds used)
Drop cloth (had it)
Rubber gloves (had it)
Paint trays (had it)
Gas mask $30
Lint free cloths $10
Mineral spirits (had it)
Floor stain applicator $8
Additional pads (6) $36
Exterior aluminum water proofing tape $17
Clear silicone $9

$860 +/-

Under $1,000 for those two counters for us! If we could have done all our counters in butcher block, it would have come in under $2,000. The hard part would be finding a piece large enough for the island though. But compared to the $5,000 it would have been for us to do all quartz… it’s quite a savings!

So is it worth it? Yes… yes it is. We would totally do it all again! Not just for the cost savings, but because it adds that something special to the space with the movement of the wood grain and gives us those warm fuzzy feelings every day. Excuse me while I go continue cooking up a storm in our new kitchen and stare at our butcher block counters some more.

Last modified: December 12, 2017

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