kitchen island with a butcher-block surface
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How to Build a Butcher-Block Counter Island

This handsome and durable prep station is simple to build out of standard lumber or easy to find through kitchen retailers

If you're going for homey and cozy in your kitchen, skip the built-in cabinet-base island and instead make the central work area a furniturelike table with a butcher-block counter. Because these thick wood-slab tops have their edge or end grain exposed, they are stronger than wood laid on the flat. That means they resist warping and nicks better than laminate and almost as well as stone.

With this durability comes an old-fashioned warmth. The trend for wood and furniture in the kitchen is in full swing, and butcher-block islands mimicking 19th-century worktables are perfect for toning down the coldness of stone counters and metal appliances in modern cook spaces. You can bring this classic aesthetic to your kitchen by constructing a prep island from easy-to-buy materials or choosing one of the dozens of styles available through retailers and furniture makers. Whichever path you choose, you'll end up with an island that can be at the center of the cooking action and still take whatever you can dish out.


Steps // How to Build a Butcher-Block Counter Island
1 ×

Build It

 
Step One // How to Build a Butcher-Block Counter Island

Build It

overview illustration of a butcher-block kitchen island with labels
Illustration by Gregory Nemec

Butcher-block islands are perfect for toning down the coldness of stone counters and metal appliances in modern cook spaces. You can bring this classic aesthetic to your kitchen by constructing a prep island from easy-to-buy materials.

 
2 ×

Make the Legs

 
Step Two // How to Build a Butcher-Block Counter Island

Make the Legs

illustration of butcher-block island with legs highlighted
Illustration by Gregory Nemec

Glue and screw together doubled-up 34½-inch-long 2x4s into fat legs using 2¼-inch trim-head screws. (Note: Use poplar, found in specialty lumberyards, for all the parts here; it's more stable than pine.) Use a 6-inch-long block and a 27-inch piece to create a 1½-inch notch 6 inches from the bottom.

 
3 ×

Build the Bottom Shelf

 
Step Three // How to Build a Butcher-Block Counter Island

Build the Bottom Shelf

illustration of butcher-block island with the bottom shelf highlighted
Illustration by Gregory Nemec

Cut two 2x3s to the 43-inch length of the bottom shelf and two 2x3s to the 34-inch width. Glue and screw the pieces together on the flat, with the short ends sitting between the longer sides, using 3½-inch trim-head screws. Attach equally spaced 2x2 crosspieces within the shelf frame by screwing 3½-inch trim-head screws through the frame and into both ends of each crosspiece.

 
4 ×

Assemble the Frame

 
Step Four // How to Build a Butcher-Block Counter Island

Assemble the Frame

illustration of butcher-block island with the frame highlighted
Illustration by Gregory Nemec

Glue and mount the shelf inside the leg notches, and secure it through the legs with 2½-inch trim-head screws. To make the apron that sits between the legs, cut two 2x6s to 40 inches and two 2x6s to 27 inches. Attach the apron using surface-mounted corner brackets; shave a slice off the top corner of the leg to flatten it so that it fits against the bracket. Fill the screw holes and the seams between the 2x4s on the legs with wood filler. Let dry. Sand with fine-grit sandpaper, prime, and paint the frame.

 
5 ×

Install the Butcher-Block Top

 
Step Five // How to Build a Butcher-Block Counter Island

Install the Butcher-Block Top

illustration of butcher-block island with the butcher-block top highlighted
Illustration by Gregory Nemec

Butcher block is available by special order. Create a mounting surface for the butcher block by screwing three 31-inch 1x3 crosspieces on the flat between the long sides of the apron, flush with the top, using 2¼-inch trim-head screws. Using a drill/driver fitted with a ½-inch bit, drill two holes in each 1x3 crosspiece. Apply silicone caulk to the crosspieces and the top edge of the apron. Set the butcher block in place with an equal overhang on each side. Drive a 2-inch deck screw with a 1-inch fender washer up through each hole and into the block. This will allow the block to expand and contract slightly without warping, while still holding tight to the countertop.

 
6 ×

Cut and Install the Towel Rack.

 
Step Six // How to Build a Butcher-Block Counter Island

Cut and Install the Towel Rack.

illustration of butcher-block island with the towel rack top highlighted
Illustration by Gregory Nemec

Using a jigsaw, round the ends of two 4-inch-long blocks of 1x3 to make the sides of the towel holder. Bore a flat-bottomed hole with a 1-inch forstner bit halfway through the center of the curve on each block. Glue and screw one piece to a 1x3 mounting bar. Insert a dowel into the hole, put the second 1x3 block onto the other end of the dowel, and screw the block to the mounting bar with 2¼-inch trim-head screws. Screw the mounting bar to the apron using 2-inch deck screws.

 
 
 

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