Butcher block countertops can be made from a wide variety of wood types and grades (or finishings). All butcher block worktops are made in a similar way, cutting the wood to shape, sanding and buffing it, polishing and then sealing it before proceeding to install it. But the type and grade of the wood is what will give your butcher block the desired look and feel, so it’s worth spending some time choosing one you love. Different woods also mean different butcher block countertop prices, and more exotic woods will carry a premium.
What is the Best Wood for a Butcher Block
There is not a single “best wood for butcher block” because depending on your tastes and priorities certain types of hardwood will be better than others. For example, if price is a priority then cheaper woods from quick growing trees like birch can be preferable, whereas for the eco-conscious customer bamboo or reclaimed wood would be the top choice. If your main thing is fair trade, then look for woods that are guaranteed to come from managed forests and with respect to the local people working them, even if it involves higher costs. Or you may prefer to choose based on the colour of the rest of the kitchen, such as the cabinets and floors. A small kitchen would benefit from a lighter wood, whereas a very large one can go for elegant, darker hardwood countertops without looking opressive. Here is a small overview of some of the most common wood for a butcher block countertop.
Maple Butcher Block Countertop Wood
Maple is a traditional choice of hardwood for butcher blocks, with fine grain and generally light colours. It has a smooth texture but it’s very resistent and durable, so a good choice for almost any kitchen and one of the most popular types of wood.
Oak Butcher Block Countertops
Red oak is popular in the northeastern U.S. because it fits great with colonial style homes, whereas white oak has a medium tone and fine grain that make for beautifully neutral butcher blocks. Oak butcher block countertops with white cabinets look understated and classic, for example.
Bamboo Butcher Block Countertop Wood
Bamboo may sound like a strange choice for a hardwood kitchen countertop, but it’s actually really practical and has impeccable green credentials. Bamboo is actually a herb that grows incredibly quick, so there is no damage to the environment. At the same time, bamboo countertops are naturally anti-microbial, resistant and durable.
Birch Butcher Block
Birch worktops show off the rings caused by the quick growth of the tree. Fine-grained and pale, it has a satin-like sheen that will darken with age. It can be found at major retailers at relatively unexpensive prices.
Teak Butcher Block
If you are after a centerpiece for your kitchen, teak is one of the hardwoods better suited for a dramatic statement, particularly against solid coloured countertops. The wood is highly textured with light and dark brown grain.
Cherry Butcher Block Countertops
American or Black Cherry has a naturally deep red or light red-brown colour that darkens with age to a deep brown-red colour in a variety of textures, from straight to wavy or curly streaks. It’s not the most durable type of butcher blocks, but it’s definitely beautiful. You can also find it in a lovely light, creamy pink colour with dark wavy streaks.
Hickory Butcher Block Countertops
Hickory has a warm, reddish tone once sealed that looks amazing. This is a very heavy and hard wood, and so very durable, with a lot of beautiful texture.
Other commonly used woods for butcher blocks are pine, poplar, beech or alder. Depending on your location some will be more available and affordable than others, as importing wood is generally expensive.
Wood Grades For Kitchen Countertops
The grade, or quality, of a butcher block countertop depends on how the different blocks of wood are glued together. Wood is very strong when parallel to the grain, and the bonding is also stronger when using the face and edge grain, but less strong on the end grain.
There are 3 wood grades.
Edge grain is the cheapest, second stronger and most stable of the three, and as such the most popular. The surface is made with the long and narrow edges of the boards, so it has a striped pattern.
Flat grain on the other hand is arranged so the surface is formed by the width of the boards, which means less of a pattern than with edge grain.
Finally, end grain grade uses smaller blocks of wood placed so the front of the wood (the bit that would go at the end of a board) forms the surface. As such it shows a lot of pattern with the knots and grow rings, and since the pieces are very small it’s very strong. However, it’s also the most expensive and the one with more room to get damaged by water being absorbed into the wood and expanding it.
As you can see, deciding what is the best wood for butcher block countertops is not easy because there is not really a bad or a absolutely superior type of hardwood. However, price and desired end result will help you choose the one more suitable for your needs.