Solid wood countertops are also a viable alternative to granite or laminated countertops, and can give a country kitchen a rustic décor without sacrificing functionality. However, it’s important to note that wood countertops require maintenance and aren’t as sturdy as other countertop materials such as stone. High quality wood countertops made from hardwood, properly treated, can rival quartz or granite countertops in durability and resilience, but cheaper woods have a much shorter shelf life.
There are two main types of wood countertops: Softwood and hardwood ones. Hardwood is often used in kitchens, as it’s more resistant and durable, and the woods used are often oak, walnut, maple and cherry. Softwood countertops are more fragile and mostly used for decorative purposes and so they use wood that are less resistant but have beautiful grain and texture, such as birch or teak.
Hard Wood Countertops
Hardwood countertops are used in kitchens and bathrooms, and they need to be durable and water-resistant. To build them, rectangular strips of wood are glued together, creating a pattern of small rectangles, formed by the cut end of the wood strips glued together. This kind of surfacing allows the countertop to be used for chopping and cutting. After this process is complete, the wood countertop will be sanded, buffed and laminated to protect it from the elements and give it a smooth, shiny finish.
The best materials for wood countertops are:
- Brazilian cherry
- Maple (check out our buying guide for maple butcher blocks)
You’ll find that those are also the best woods for butcher blocks, which have a very similar requirements. While bamboo is technically not a tree but a grass, it has similar properties and it’s much quicker to growth. This has made it a really popular alternative to slow growing (and much more expensive) hardwoods like Oak or Teak.
In terms of looks, there are usually three types of wood countertop styles: flat grain, end grain and edge grain. But you can also add inlays, patterns such as stripes and checkerboard, and borders. You can combine different types of wood to achieve the results you are after, or finish it differently depending on the oil and stain used.
Price Of Wood Countertops
The cheapest wood countertops are usually made with particleboard cores covered in a hard wood veneer. IKEA has some very good examples at very affordable prices (around 11$ per square foot) but they are not solid wood countertops and they can’t be resurfaced. You will also need to deal with the installation yourself. Think of them as a very nice luxury laminate countertop.
Regular wooden countertops will be around $50 to $100 per square foot, including professional installation. Slightly savings can be made if you install them yourself, which is definitely a possibility unlike with granite countertops. You can also look for reclaimed wood countertops, which besides being eco-friendly are much cheaper if you are willing to put in the hard work to sand and resurface them.
If you are looking at luxury wood countertops using exotic woods and rare materials, you can go as high as $200 per square foot which is comparable to natural stone countertops.
Soft Wood Countertops
Instead of orienting the wood strips on their thinner side or the cut side, for softwood countertops the segments are oriented face up, in what is known as the plank grain method. This is so the grain of the wood is on display, but makes them fragile so they can only be used for decoration. As with hardwood countertops, they are varnished and laminated to protect them, but they won’t last long as a working kitchen surface.
Pros and Cons of Wood Countertops
Wood countertops are not for everybody, as they have their own distinct set of disadvantages, but they can also create a beautiful and warm kitchen in a way stone can’t. They have the following advantages:
- They are warm and look natural, fitting rustic style kitchens naturally
- Easy to work with and install, making them ideal as cheap countertops
- Easily repaired when scratched
- They get more beautiful as they age
- If they are looking old, you can sand them and refinish so they look like new again.
- Very versatile: You can choose food safe (mineral oil) or non-food safe finishes such as lacquer, depending on whether you intend to prepare food on them or not.
- They have some of the best eco-friendly credentials, alongside recycled glass countertops. Just research your supplier before buying!
And the disadvantages:
- The surface needs to be refinished regularly
- Water can ruin them unless you dry them off quickly
- Can be easily scratched and dented, compared with a stone countertop
- Acids can destroy the bonds between the wood strips if left on the surface
How to Care For Wood Countertops
Proper maintenance is key to keeping your wood countertops looking as new for longer. Always clean any spills and wipe your countertops after using them with a clean cloth. Try to keep them as dry as possible, and be mindful of water splashes after doing the dishes, for example. While a good quality wood countertop is water treated, this doesn’t mean you should abuse them.
Stubborn stains can be removed using half a lemon and rubbing the wood. If the stain is very stubborn, you can use salt and lemon to gently buff it away. For really stubborn stains, hydrogen peroxide and hot water (which you need to dry right afterwards) can also be used.
In terms of maintenance, you should oil your wood countertops regularly using a suitable mineral oil if you want to use them to prepare food. Usually doing this once a month is more than enough, and if you can leave the oil to absorb overnight it’s even better.
With proper care, a wood countertop will last for years, but it’s important to be careful as dropping heavy objects on them can cause dents. Even for hardwood countertops it’s advisable to use a chopping board to avoid accidents. Avoid using cleaners with acids and harsh chemicals, and schedule regular maintenance and refinishing to ensure your countertops stay water-proof and beautiful for years.