The latest trends for cottage inspired kitchen decor and a more cozy style of living have put butcher block tops at the top of many Pinterest inspiration boards. However, as with any other type of countertop, the pros and cons of a butcher block countertop make it best suited for some lifestyles. Before you go and buy yourself new kitchen worktops, check this extensive list and you’ll know for sure if they are right for your kitchen.
What Is a Butcher Block?
A butcher block is a type of kitchen worktop made of straight cuts of wood, which can be used as a cutting board, a countertop or even a table top. They are also a popular options for kitchen islands, particularly surrounding the kitchen hob. They come in a variety of materials (here you can read more about the best wood for butcher block countertop) and styles, and can be freely mixed with other materials such as stone, metal or even tiles and recycled glass worktops.
What Is a Thin Butcher Block and What’s the Difference Between It and an 8inch Butcher Block?
This is mostly a question for when you intend to use your butcher block countertop as a cutting surface for meat or vegetables. A thin butcher block is an alternative name for a cutting board, and they are much less resilient and need to be replaced regularly. A butcher block, made with end grain and at least 1.5inches thick, will self-heal over time and doesn’t need to be replaced regularly.
Many people, however, have a separate cutting surface and will keep the countertops exclusively as a surface because, at the end of the day, not everybody loves the cut and scratched look.
Pro: A Butcher Block Is An Affordable Type Of Countertops
If your budget is around $50 per square meter and you are willing to do the work of installing it yourself, butcher block countertops are the perfect choice. Wood worktops have the premium feel that laminate lacks, but they won’t break the bank. Unlike quartz or granite countertops, you can cut a butcher block yourself with a circular saw and they aren’t so heavy you can’t lift them on your own. A second pair of hands will make the job much easier though!
Pro: Lots of Different Style Options With Hardwood and Grain
If you want an affordable countertop that can be customised exactly to your tastes, a butcher block countertop fits the bill perfectly. You can choose from a large variety of different hardwoods, from sustainable and eco-friendly bamboo to classic warm maple butcher block countertops or darker teak and cherry. You can further alter the tone and finish of your countertops with the right choice of oil, varnish or stain.
In terms of grain you can choose between end grain and edge grain. End grain looks like a checkerboard, and can be used to prepare food as the cuts and dents will slowly re-fill themselves as the grain expands. Edge grain looks like a series of long strips of wood, like the sides of a 2×4 plank.
Pro: It Can Last for Several Decades
Provided you install, maintain and re-seal your butcher block countertops regularly, a wooden butcher block can last over 2 decades. Compared with other cheap countertops, such as laminate, that only last 10 to 15 years at best, this is a pretty good deal.
Pro: You Can Use It as a Cutting Block (but May Not Want To)
You can actually prepare food directly against a butcher block countertop, provided the top coat is suitable for this purpose. However, you will change the look of the countertop as it will become dented and scratched, and this may affect the durability. It will definitely affect how it looks, and that’s why most people outside professional or farm kitchens use a separate cutting board.
Pro: Durability and Style
Butcher block countertops last a long time, but they also age well. They are organic and naturally add warmth to any kitchen, and minor scratches and patina give them character as they age. They are also very user-friendly, as you can remove many stains yourself with basic kitchen products. If you think they look too tired, sanding and re-finishing them will make them look as good as new with minimal effort, and you can change the oil or lacquer used for a brand new look on a budget.
One of the biggest pros of a butcher block countertop is how endlessly versatile it can be in terms of shape and cutouts. Wood can be cut to many different shapes and sizes, and unlike granite slabs it’s not particularly expensive to create unusual shapes in your kitchen.
Sink cutouts, stove cutouts, funky edge details, angled cuts… Try doing that with a quartz countertop! Instead, a wooden butcher block delivers exactly the vision you had for your dream kitchen even if you are doing a DIY installation job.
Sink Options for Wood Counters
Wood countertops are not water friendly at all (see the first con of kitchen block countertops right below this one). This means seamless built in sinks such as the ones you can create with engineered stone or steel are out of the question. However, that doesn’t mean the sink options for kitchen block countertops are limited!
For ease of maintenance, an undermount kitchen sink is best as water won’t accumulate on the wood edge. But if you love the look of a drop-in sink, make sure the countertop is clear-coated (by yourself or from the factory) with a food safe sealant that is waterproof. Make sure to re-seal regularly, every two to five years depending on how much you use the area.
Co: It’s Ultra-Sensitive to Water And Humidity
Liquids and wood don’t mix well, and this is the first con of a butcher block countertop and the most important one because it can definitely reduce the longevity of the surfaces. Liquids can penetrate the wood, and cause joint separation, stains or cracks. This can be particularly noticeable near the sink!
However, as long as you are careful never to leave standing water on your butcher block countertop and wiping up spills promptly, you should see no side-effects.
Con: Butcher Block Countertops Ding Easily.
Wood block countertops are more fragile than say, stone or steel. If you use them to prepare food, expect dings and scratches. Same if you happen to drop a very heavy item on them. However, unlike granite, butcher block countertops won’t crack and you can also sand and refinish minor scratches easily.
Can You Put a Hot Pan on Wood Countertops?
Heat is a no-no with a butcher block countertop, and you should invest on trivets to put under hot pots and be careful about open fire stoves. Always install following the manufacturer instructions in terms of required clearances. Remember, they are most definitely not fire-proof!
Con: It Expands or Contracts As the Temperature Fluctuates.
Butcher block countertops move as the wood expands and contracts, which can mean trouble for improperly installed countertops. The thicker the countertop, the more stable it is. However, be careful to source good quality wood. Wood that hasn’t been dried properly will dry after installing, change size and could warp or create gaps with the seasons change.
It is true, a butcher block countertop is not maintenance free but I feel the maintenance aspect has been over-rated as a con of butcher block countertops. There is also a big difference between DIY unfinished butcher blocks and a factory coated one for example.
Are Wood Countertops High Maintainance?
I wouldn’t say a wood countertop is high maintenance, as long as you have expectations on how they will age. To an extent, scratches and dents are nearly unavoidable if you use the kitchen. Which means that in 5 years your worktops won’t look as new as when you first installed them, but that’s part of their appeal!
How To Care for Butcher Block
In terms of day to day maintenance, a butcher block is not more difficult than any other kitchen surface. If you prepare food directly on it, you should wipe it down daily with a damp cloth and a small amount of dish soap, and then follow up with a clean damp cloth to remove any standing water.
Are They Sanitary?
Butcher block countertops are as sanitary as you keep them. To remove germs efficiently you can spritz a solution of 1 part white vinegar (red will stain!) and 4 parts water. Wipe away after 10 minutes for fresh countertops that are sparkly clean. Avoid harsher cleaners than this.
If you don’t use them for food preparation, your main issue will be the occasional stain or odor. You can remove both by rubbing with a mixture of table salt and lemon juice. Wipe with a clean damp cloth afterwards.
Is Sealing Required?
A unfinished wood countertop will need monthly oiling to keep moisture away, which can be time consuming. If you opted for a DIY clear-coat you may need to renew it every 5 years or so, but a factory-finished one may never need to be re-sealed. If they do due to damage, you may need to pay to get them refinished back at the factory.
How To Seal Wood Countertops
A popular but high maintenance way to seal butcher block countertops is using a butcher block oil, the same product you would use for a cutting board. However, you will need to reapply often to keep the water-resistant seal, and they tend to be more fragile than using a commercial finish.
Waterlox is a popular brand of food safe water-resistant sealing for butcher block countertops, and it comes in a variety of finishes (from high gloss to stain and matte). This is a water based finish and it’s eco-friendly and suitable for home use, but the entire process can take a few days because it will require several coats. We go more in-depth about sealing butcher block countertops with waterlox and other finishes in our dedicated article.
If you follow the instructions you will only need to do this every few years, and your wood countertops will look amazing. So it’s not very high maintenance in the long run.
Can Wood Counters Be Repaired?
There are many products designed to seal wood countertops, but in a pinch beeswax or paraffin wax can be used to seal splits and cracks, or even hide scratches and burns.
You can fix a scratch or surface burn by rubbing a paraffin wax stick in a matching shade, and then buffing with a cloth.
A deeper burn or cut may require you to sand the surface first. Start with a coarse sandpaper, then step up to finer grits and finish with a very fine grit. Then reapply oil or oil-wax blend to finish it back to its original looks.
How Do You Care for a Butcherblock Surface?
Day to day, you should avoid placing hot things on it and make sure there is never standing water or liquid on the butcher block surface. Regular cleaning with a dedicated household product for wood countertops will keep them hygienic, and special attention should be paid to this if you use an oiled unfinished butcher block countertop for food preparation. Bacteria will grow in porous surfaces such as unsealed wood.
How Often Should You Clean Your Butcher Block?
You should clean your worktops daily, or after finishing with food prep. However, this type of countertops don’t require a huge special cleaning event every week or anything of that sort. In fact, you should avoid deep cleaning with bleach or harsh chemicals, as they will spoil the finish. Better a bit each day.
How Do You Get Started With Butcher Block Countertops?
If you are wondering how to build and install a butcher block countertop, this video will make it much clearer. It is not something a total DIY novice should attempt, because it’s quite the project. But it’s definitely within the realm of possibility and if you can install an IKEA kitchen you can build a butcher block countertop yourself.
How Long Does It Take To Install a Butcher Block Countertop?
It really depends on your skill level, the size and complexity of the butcher block countertop itself and the tools you have available. But a competent DIYer should be able to install a Wood countertop within a few days.
Sealing it’s another thing entirely, and it may take longer because you need to wait in between the layers and it can get messy. But you can do other things while waiting, so it’s not like you need to actively be watching the oil dry.
Are Wood Countertops Right for You?
If you like a warm, cozy kitchen style and have moderate budget, wood countertops are definitely an option to consider. They can be made to fit with almost any kitchen style, and they are practical to use on a day to day basis. The maintenance costs are low, and you can do a very good DIY job installing and finishing them yourself.
However, they don’t have the luxury factor of slab granite or marble, unless you go for very exotic woods. And if you are the kind of person who will absent-mindedly set a hot pot on the counter, or forget to clean spills quickly, they can become old very quickly.