finnhill

Butcher Block countertop question

finnhill
December 2, 2019

Does anyone have butcher block counters around their main cooking and washing up areas and you 100% regret installing them there? I'm building a new house next year and really want butcher block (I won't have an island) but my husband is telling me that I'll regret it. Thanks in advance. If you have positive comments about this subject I'd love to hear those as well.

Comments (32)

  • Chisos

    following

  • PRO
    Joseph Corlett, LLC

    You could undermount a sink in butcher block successfully, but I'd epoxy the end grain and keep spills wiped up religiously.

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  • Sarah

    I’ve had mine for 11 years & still love them! I don’t cut on them, I only oil them about once a year & they are still going strong. I have a top mounted sink & gas stove. I’m careful to wipe up spills. Unpainted metal will stain FYI (I have an old scale that stained it. So I just Keep the scale on top of its stain- problem solved!)

    Mine are from Ikea, cost me $350 for the whole thing. I’d do it again!

  • HU-527663426

    My parents installed all butcher block counters in their kitchen in the 80’s. They had an under-mounted sink. The didn’t have an island. My Mom chopped right on the butcher block everyday. I don’t understand why you’d install that and not chop on it; isn’t that what it’s for? She oiled it periodically, I think with mineral oil.

  • tatts

    Well, IKEA "butcher block" counter tops are not end grain, so you really can't cut and chop on them. They're fine for what they are, but they are not real butcher block. Neither are the butcher block countertops sold in the home centers nor the formica plastic laminate ones (the image embedded under the melamine surface isn't even an image of real butcher block) . The formica fakes will last longer and take less care.

  • Shannon_WI

    That they're not end grain should have nothing to do with whether you can cut and chop on them if they are wood. Some people believe that end grain wood cutting boards or counters are better for knives than edge grain, but there are plenty of people who dispute that. No consensus on that. Regardless, if someone wants to cut/chop on their non-end-grain butcher block/wood counter, they can with no problem. However, if someone wants their wood counters to stay looking as good as possible (it appears the OP does, since her question is concerned with the effect of cooking and washing up on them), then she should not cut directly on them, regardless if end grain or edge grain.

  • wannabath

    End grain vs non end grain does make a difference not in how it cuts but how the top gets damaged. End grain tops are stronger and resist damages more.


    Remember wood used to be used to make boats. So if it is properly sealed or coated it will do just fine as a counter. You can seal the around the sink regardless if it is end grain or not.


    By the way if you want a better wood selection at lower costs Floor and Decor also sells wood counter tops in more species than IKEA.

  • Hillside House

    IKEA’s countertop is edge grain, and still very much butcher block.

    OP, I had butcher block counters installed in my last kitchen. We lived there two years before we moved, and a friend of mine bought the house from us 3 years ago. They are still in great shape. We had them around the sink and range, and, with four kids ranging from 6 to 13 as our primary clean up crew, we certainly didn’t baby them.

    Having said that, their price was a major part of the appeal. In our new house, we had a bigger budget and went with quartz in our kitchen, but we did still do butcher block for both our pantry and mud/laundry room counters, and we use the utility sink in there a ton. Again, no regrets.

  • live_wire_oak

    Mineral oil is not an appropriate choice to seal against water damage around a sink. It’s fine for a wood counter used as a cutting surface though. You have to pick your function and trade off. Either you have a decorative wood counter that has a tough and waterproof coating and you don’t cut on it, or you have a food safe mineral oil finish that you can use as a prep surface, and don’t have a sink in that. End grain is the ONLY real butcher block. Everything else, isn’t. And behaves entirely differently.

  • bry911

    "That they're not end grain should have nothing to do with whether you can cut and chop on them if they are wood."

    This doesn't make any sense really. I have been making butcher blocks since I was a teenager and there is a tremendous difference.

    Butcher blocks are end grain, if it is not end grain it is really just a wood counter. Which is still great, but has completely different benefits. End grain is self healing while edge grain and face grain is not. With end grain you are separating the wood fibers rather than cutting them, separated fibers will come back together over time, cut fibers will be cut forever.

    I don't love this analogy but it works, think of a paintbrush, lay it flat on your counter with the bristles following the grain your wood will follow. Take a sharp knife and cut across the bristles in all the directions you might cut on your counter and then look at the damage to the brush. Now stand it on end and cut every direction you you might cut on your counter. Notice there is no damage to the brush from the latter, and massive damage from the former.

    You can whack butcher block with a cleaver over and over for months on end and only the most recent marks will show. If you whack regular wood counters with a cleaver over and over again for months on end, you will have a convenient hole to access items in the top drawer.

    End grain is a bit harder to keep clean at first and oiling is more important. However, over time with heavy use end grain will be a bit easier to clean.

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    Creative Design Cabinetry

    I'll see how these look in about a year. I haven't had complaints from customers in the past. They just have to know that it is wood and takes a little more care.



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  • M Miller

    It’s interesting the end grain vs edge grain discussion. I was recently surprised by Cook’s Illustrated Magazine’s testing of wooden cutting boards. Most of what I thought I knew was contradicted in their tests. They “teamed up with the Autodesk Technology Center in Boston, using one of their robots to make 5,000 cuts on every board with a brand-new, factory-sharpened knife and pausing every 200 cuts to test the sharpness of the blade. To expedite the testing, the cuts were made at a fairly large force load, averaging 7 pounds, or about the amount of force you'd use to break down a chicken.”.

    I am copying and pasting their findings on type of grain:

    “The way a board is constructed, or its grain style, can play a role in determining how well it resists damage over time. In particular, end-grain boards, which are made from blocks of wood with their grain exposed on the cutting surface—are potentially more vulnerable to cracking and splitting. When using an edge-grain board, your knife slices against the grain. When using an end-grain board, your knife slices with the blocks' exposed grain. (Some folks think this makes end-grain boards gentler on the knife, but in our robot testing, there was no clear difference in sharpness between knives used on end-grain boards and knives used on edge-grain boards.)

    Ordinarily, you're cutting with such low force when performing ordinary kitchen cutting tasks that no real damage is done to the board. But if you make a forceful cut on an end-grain board—as you would when using a cleaver—you are at a greater risk of splitting down the grain line than you would be if you were using an edge-grain board. Indeed, when we hacked up chicken parts with a cleaver on each of the boards, the only board that cracked was an end-grain model. Cracks are worrisome not only because they forecast a shorter lifespan for the board but also because they can harbor bacteria.

    End-grain boards also absorb more moisture than edge-grain boards, increasing their susceptibility to damage. Matt Huffman, furniture maker and member of Fort Point Cabinetmakers, explained: As each block or plank absorbs moisture (for example, while the board is being washed), it swells, pushing against the surrounding blocks or planks. And as it dries out, it shrinks, pulling away. This process of expansion and contraction changes the precise dimensions of the wood and stresses the glue joints that connect them, making it more likely that the pieces of wood, both block and plank, will separate. The more water the wood absorbs, the greater the expansion and contraction. This was the case with the end-grain board that cracked; it drank up water so quickly that we could barely blot it dry, and it ended up separating along many of its glue lines.

    Huffman also explained that end-grain boards have one more issue: They consist of many different blocks of wood, and each block of wood expands and contracts in different directions. Good woodworkers can account for the movement of each block and compensate accordingly, but this doesn't always happen with mass-produced boards. As a result, edge-grain boards are often more durable than end-grain boards simply because they have fewer moving parts—literally—and fewer glue joints that can fail over time.“

  • bry911

    "This process of expansion and contraction changes the precise dimensions of the wood and stresses the glue joints that connect them, making it more likely that the pieces of wood, both block and plank, will separate. The more water the wood absorbs, the greater the expansion and contraction. This was the case with the end-grain board that cracked; it drank up water so quickly that we could barely blot it dry, and it ended up separating along many of its glue lines."


    I am really not that attached to any position. My island is edge grain Walnut because it looks better. Having said that I question the validity of any article that talks about glue separation. All modern glues are stronger than the surrounding wood. If movement loosens any pieces it will loosen end grain to end grain. Which don't exist in endgrain butcherblocks.

    Furthermore, wood is fairly stable within species. Walnut has a coefficient of change of .019 perpendicular to grain and .0274 face. That will not change even 2% across different boards. Since end grain cutting boards have more mechanical bonding and are always bonded to the same board, they should be more stable. Which, in fact, they are.

  • Mary Glickman

    My current home had butcher block when we moved in. I do not know what species of wood or the quality of the product, but I hated it. I had a coffee maker spill over one morning before anyone was awake and the coffee poured down all over the pots, pans, and shelves in the lower cabinet.

    Around the sink (basic top mounted stainless) it was impossible to keep clean and any water left marks and eventually started turning into little black marks. Definitely more high maintenance than I was willing to deal with.

    I love the look but it’s not for me. Perhaps there exists something that’s high quality and has something akin to a marine finish that would be easier to maintain...

  • nidnay

    Op.....depends on what you mean by “butcher block”.

    I have two wood counters in my home. BOTH have under mount sinks installed in them. One is on my island (rustic walnut....NOT end grain and a mineral oil only finish). It doesn’t see much action around the sink because the sink is a secondary prep sink (we have 3 sinks in the kitchen), but if water splashes on it, it shows as a whitish mark. It doesn’t particularly matter though, because I just add a bit of oil and the marks disappear. I would not want my main sink in this kind of wood with this kind of finish, because IMO it would be a nuisance to keep up with. As an island with a secondary prep sink in it, it’s great.

    We also have a wood top in our scullery. That one is maple, and again, it’s not end grain and has a mineral oil only finish. I absolutely LOVE working on this surface. It sees a lot of action and is used several times a day. Because it’s much lighter in color, compared to the walnut top, it just doesn’t show water marks nearly as much. I do oil it regularly and when I or my husband are finished at the sink, we do wipe off any water that may have collected around it.

    If I had to do it over again, I would install both tops with no reservations. Of course the one on the island doesn’t see much water activity, and the other one is in the scullery and not in our main kitchen so I’m not that concerned about little water marks. The only thing I would probably do differently would be to do a drop-in sink in the scullery with a nice large lip as opposed to the under mount. Would also be important to be sure that it’s completely siliconed and sealed thoroughly so that no water collects under that lip.

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  • Mary Elizabeth

    Hillsdale House and/or Sarah,

    What finish (type & brand, if you would) did you use on your wood countertops?

    Thanks!

  • PRO
    redesign

    I have wide plank mahogany countertops with an under mount sink. I have had no issues with water marks and love these counters. I do not cut on them and seal them with Waterlox. Any minor scratches can be sanded and resealed.

  • bry911

    I am just going to dip my toe into this discussion one more time. There are a lot of different woods out there and so it is difficult to discuss wood counters without talking about a specific type of wood.

    My two favorite are hard Maple and Walnut. I believe hard Maple is the only wood approved for use in industrial kitchens. It has the perfect cell composition and is actually very good at absorbing bacteria into the wood where the bacteria will die. However, Maple stains easy and shows wear a bit more than Walnut. I personally like to stain Maple cutting boards with coffee before oiling them. Just keep slathering it on and wiping it off until the board refuses to take any more, let it dry and then oil it. Once stained with coffee the boards are resistant to other stains and they really don't darken that much.


    With Walnut I usually don't do the coffee staining just because they get too dark and lose some of the richness but the same principal applies if you want to stain it. Walnut is much softer and more likely to scratch and dent, but also does a better job hiding scratches and dents.

  • dovetonsils

    Our house came with butcher block island with a drop in sink. It was a total disaster. Water collected at the raised edge of the sink and rotted the wood.

  • Ali Elyse

    @nidnay is a scullery kitchen the same thing as a butler pantry? And if not what’s its purpose?

    also which wood counter is your favorit?

  • AboutToGetDusty

    Nidnay, glad to hear you are enjoying your gorgeous kitchen! We start construction soon. I am torn. I really really want soapstone on my perimeter (and that's final) and black walnut with an organic oil finish on my island (with a 2nd prep sink). My concern is that on weekends I will have multiple family member cooks in my kitchen, and what if that 2nd sink, surrounded by walnut, gets too much action? I am a clean freak, but I can't say the same if I leave the kitchen and others are in there. And my biggest concern...I am beating up my beautiful sample with all sorts of things. It's pretty tough...but I can't figure out how to clean cookie dough/flour off the walnut successfully. Do you use your walnut island for baking and rolling out dough? Even if I use a mat, the flour gets everywhere. Not sure how I would scrub it off wood?!

  • nidnay

    @Ali Elyse....here is the official description for sculleries of the past:


    “A scullery was a room in a house, traditionally used for washing up dishes and laundering clothes, or as an overflow kitchen. Tasks performed in the scullery include cleaning dishes and cooking utensils, occasional kitchen work, ironing, boiling water for cooking or bathing, and soaking and washing clothes.”


    And today’s butlers pantry:


    ”A butler's pantry functions as a utility room and allows the host to both prepare and clean up food in an area that's out of sight to guests. Initially used as a pantry between the kitchen and dining area, the contemporary butler's pantry provides additional cabinetry and storage space.”


    Many of the newly built homes today have butlers pantries that are usually just a simple pass through to the dining room with a counter and possibly a prep sink. But the description above is more like what we have.


    We use it as a pantry, a food prep area, and for kitchen storage. I have all my small kitchen appliances plugged in and ready to use. We have a fridge, dishwasher, and sink in ours and a door to the garden outside. So, a lot more to it than today’s typical pass through butlers pantry.


    I call it a scullery because that’s what my architect wrote on our blueprints :)


    For aesthetics, I like the walnut. For actual kitchen work, I love the maple. Unlike what bry911 said, I find the maple much more forgiving and marks are less noticeable. I don’t think it’s all that attractive though (just my personal taste). The walnut top I find is the complete opposite of what bry911 said...to me it shows scratches and water marks very easily, and if I slide anything across it, it leaves a trail (rubber or felt padded things). All of this dissipates after a while, and completely disappears if I add a little oil. But, where the tops are located may have a lot to do with how noticeable marks are. My island which is in the kitchen, has windows basically all around it, so the way the light hits it highlights any defects. The top in the scullery however, has a wall behind it, so the surface of it is not being backlit. I do have under cabinet lights in there, but those lights shine DOWN on it and are not skimming the surface.


    Anyway, as a work surface, I LOVE the maple and really prefer it compared to stone. I can bang my dishes down and not worry about them breaking...and the top is tough and can take abuse. As far as the walnut island goes, we have most of our meals there and I much prefer to eat at a wood surface as opposed to cold, hard stone which is the main reason I chose that material. My perimeter counters are marble, and they’re beautiful, but they are hard and cold and I chose them mainly for their aesthetic value.

  • nidnay

    @AboutToGetDusty

    Exciting that you will be starting soon! Hopefully you’ll be posting on the building thread so we can all watch your progress.


    Honestly, I‘m not sure you’ll be happy with the oil finish. I do not use the island as a major prep area. We eat there and have parties and use it for serving etc., but I don’t prepare food on it. And as I said earlier, the sink is barely used. If you are a complete neat freak, you might not care for the look of oil. It’s not even like a poly finish. And if you‘re using dough and flour etc., you will have areas where it gets absorbed into the wood or dries it out and it will look blotchy. It wipes up fine, but will have a tendency to look blotchy until you add some oil. OMO, an oil finish is more rustic and relaxed. You might be able to start off with oil, and if you find you don’t like it, may be able to sand the entire surface down and apply a poly finish. Ask your wood guy if that’s possible after you already applied the oil.


    If anything sticks to my top, I just use a scrubbie sponge or a scraper and everything comes off. And for flour, I would just use a wet sponge to wipe it off. When I use a lot of water on the surface though, it usually needs some oil to even out the finish.

  • nidnay

    @AboutToGetDusty....just want to reiterate here that the natural light and the direction it’s coming from is key to the look of the counter. During the day, if I stand at my kitchen sink and turn around and look at the island, it always looks great....very rich with a very even finish. But if I stand on the opposite side with the entire top being backlit from the light coming through the windows, it will have a tendency to look a little uneven and blotchy. It’s kind of hard to explain.

  • AboutToGetDusty

    Nidnay, thank you - that makes sense. Because that's what I"m finding with my oiled sample that I keep beating up. We will have a wall of windows over one L of the perimeter, so I'm sure if I go with the walnut, it will look blotchy from certain angles. And I need to decide if I'm OK with that. I do like the oil finish because it is food safe and natural looking.

  • PRO
  • finnhill

    Joseph, was this water damage due to lack of sealing or drying up after dishes?

  • Sarah

    The finish I use on my counter top was the IKEA brand. I used that the 1st few years, then switched over to mineral oil from the drugstore (no brand, it was just super cheap & more convenient). It does the job for me just fine.

    After 11 years, my counter tops could use a sanding & deep oiling to get them looking sharp. I’ve added that to my never end project list!

  • tatts

    I just refuse to buy countertops that I have to "care for". I've got better things to do that chasing stray drops of lingering water and periodic sealing. The counters should serve me, not the other way around.

  • PRO
    Joseph Corlett, LLC

    finnhill:


    I think it was the large unnecessary replacement faucet escutcheon trapping water that wasn't immediately wiped up that caused the damage.

  • Shannon_WI

    What @tatts said! Life is too short to be a slave to your counters. I have granite counters that are just wipe and go. I don't seal them, don't baby them, and just use mild dish soap and dry, done. I love how butcher block counters look, and it's great that they are so reasonably priced. But so many other stressful things going on, I can't be stressed about my counters too.

  • SouthernBelle ~

    This has GOT to be one of the most interesting and educational/informative threads I've read while on houzz.com. If one is interested in butcher block that is.

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