How to Install a Butcher-Block Countertop
Warm up the look of your kitchen with this easy-to-install surfacing
Sleek granite and sharp stainless. It looks all luxe and modern—and maybe just a little bit, you know, cold. So what to do if you want more warmth in the heart of the home? Cozy things up with rich-looking butcher block. Not only are its well-oiled tones welcoming, it's easy to install, as This Old House senior technical editor Mark Powers shows on the following pages. Just order it to size, and then fasten it down. In hours you can turn a chilly steel-and-stone room into a charming cook's corner.
Shown: Walnut Edge Grain from The Grothouse Lumber Company, about $90 per square foot; glumber.com
How-to Install a Butcher-block Countertop Overview
Butcher block is merely slices of wood glued together into inches-thick slabs—a particularly sturdy and stable work surface in a kitchen. However, if you plan to put food on your butcher block, make sure to choose a product that has a nontoxic finish.
Installing a butcher block starts with ordering one to fit your space. Many manufacturers will measure and install a butcher block for you, but you can save on labor by making your own template out of a semirigid material, such as cardboard, and sending it to the factory. The manufacturer will then ship the butcher block directly to you for installation.
If there are any bumps or curves in the walls against the counters, you will need to scribe the template to fit them. Be sure to include any overhang you want the butcher block to have -as little as 1½ inches for a standard countertop or up to a foot for a seating counter—and keep it consistent and parallel to the front of the cabinets as you scribe. Then, before sending off the template, mark it up with information that's helpful to the manufacturer, including orientation, measurements, and decorative edge profile.
With proper installation, butcher block lasts many years. First, it needs a sturdy surface on which to rest. On most cabinets, which have no tops, that means installing blocking to provide support. On solid-topped cabinets, you can just add thin furring strips to raise the top enough for air to circulate underneath.
In either scenario, you should affix the butcher block to the cabinets using a flexible kitchen and bath sealant. But you must also screw it down securely while still accounting for the natural expansion and contraction of the wood. The best way to do that is to make an enlarged hole around the screw where it passes through the cabinet. That way, as humidity and temperature change, the top can shift slightly in any direction without getting ruined by cracks or splits.