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  • Butcher block counter top

    I'm planning to build a butcher block counter top (10' X 26"), but unsure of what kind of wood to use. I was thinking hard maple, but after doing some research I'm not sure I would be able to get the finished color I'm looking for, which is a darker burgundy(ish). Apparently maple doesn't take well to darker colors.

    Does anybody have any suggestions on how to get the color I'm looking for and still get an acceptable level of hardness? I live in a remote area in Canada, so exotic woods are pretty much out of the question due to the shipping costs. My options in the local area are maple, cherry, oak, birch, poplar, walnut. We are not big fans of heavy, prominent grain and are looking for a fairly uniform coloration of the finished product. I plan on using 2X2 or 2X4 rough cut, which is a little hard to find around here. There's lots of hardwood 1" around, but 2" seems to be kind of rare. There is some thicker "live edge" stuff around but it's still green, and how does one go about making a square edge on it?

    I have a pretty good general idea on how to build it and have some basic woodworking skills, but have no idea about the little things that can make or break a project like this, such as: moisture content of the wood, what type of glue to use, how to square the boards, what type of stain and top coat to use, how to ensure long term stability, etc. I have a planer, table saw, a router and basic hand tools and clamps available. My financial status would be classified as "Embarrassed" at this point in time, so unless absolutely necessary, buying anything other than the wood itself and some basic hand tools is not an option.

    Any help would be greatly appreciated!
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  • #2

    Re: Butcher block counter top

    couple thoughts.

    there was a good article in the magazine not too long ago on wooden countertops, you should find that first to get a good primer.

    Second, there's a few basic operations that you will need to be able to do in order to build your butcher-block style countertop.

    First you will need to be able to mill the rough lumber. (Once you pick your lumber, that is. Sounds to me like Walnut would be your best option, though it's usually about twice the price of maple. ) This means planing and jointing it. If you already have a planer and jointer, then you will be fine. If not, then you need to figure out a solution. Theoretically you could do both these operations by hand using hand planes, but that takes both handplanes and the expertise to use them, and you don't mention whether you have that. Depending where you get your lumber, some places offer milling services, but that will probably just mean that they will plane it for you, and maybe joint one edge. You might try going to a retail store that sells already dressed wood, but that will cost much more. Or maybe you could do some combination - you could buy the rough lumber, have them plane it, and then joint the edge yourself with a handplane. I've also jointed an edge with a router and a long guide (I use a piece of square steel tube I picked up from the local machinist shop for a few dollars).

    Once you have your lumber milled, you will have to rip your staves to width. "Butcher block style" counters are not actually butcher block. True butcher block is with end grain up. Just google image search "end grain cutting boards" and you will see what that looks like. What's usually sold today as "butcher block style" counters is actually a stave-top counter, with solid wood cut into staves (strips) and laminated together edge-grain up. You can go almost any size stave you want, really. You can go with a narrow stave (which will make a more stable counter) or a wider stave (which looks better to most people), or you can go assorted random widths (which I've been doing lately, to positive feedback). Either way, you'll need a good table saw to do this cutting. I started with a 1.5hp ridgid contractor saw, and it really couldn't handle cutting the maple staves. That was a large part of the reason I upgraded to the 3hp General. If you don't have a powerful enough table saw, this could be a problem. Make sure as well that you have a good sharp blade on for this. I like to use a glue line rip blade for staves, as most of them then can be laminated together without additional jointing.

    Once your staves are ripped, you need to get ready to laminate them together. You will need lots of clamps for this. I use pipe clamps. First thing I do is arrange my staves in the order that looks pleasing to me, then tighten a couple clamps on it to see how well all the joints go together. If I'm lucky, my glue line rip blade did its job, and they will all be nice neat joints. Usually there's a couple that need attention though, so I mark those, and take those individual staves out and go run them over the jointer again. Once I get them all fitting nice, it's time for glue up.

    For glue up, I usually glue up 2 13" sections. This is because post glue-up I will want to run it through the planer again to get a flat surface, and my planer is only 15". I glue all the staves with titebond 3. A small foam roller works well to spread that much glue quickly and evenly. Then I clamp them up. I use a pipe clamp about every 6", alternating being on the bottom or the top of the counter. I also use a couple clamps I made by putting threaded rod through the ends of two pieces of angle iron, which I can tighten with wing nuts. I sandwich the counter between the angle irons and tighten the nuts. This helps ensure that the counter is clamped flat, but being cupped by the pipe clamps.

    A day later, I take the two 15" sections out of clamps and run them through the planer to get them totally flat and smooth. Then I carefully glue those two sections together, taking care that the main joint is flush.

    The next day, I can trim the counter to length, use the router to put a roundover on the edges, and then sand it through the grits up to 220.

    Then I apply finish. A lot of people use various commercial finishes, like waterlox. I use a blend of tung oil and bees wax. I rub in 3 coats, lightly sanding with 380g in between.

    Bottom line, from planers to jointers to table saws to routers to pipe clamps to everything else, there is a lot you are going to need here.

    I totally encourage you to do this, as I think its fun and rewarding (hence why I do it myself). If your financial situation is as dire as you say though, and you truly have nothing to start with, I should mention though that these days you can get stave top counters from places like ikea for less than I can buy the lumber to make a similar sized top. As much as I hate to say it, and I hate to discourage people from actually building something themselves (which will inspire infinitely more pride in you), buying one might be a better option for you.

    Good luck!
    rfielder likes this.

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    • #3

      Re: Butcher block counter top

      Mike... check on the availability and price of Ipe, otherwise known as Brazilian walnut. This wood is very hard, dense, and dark...... often sold for decking. There will material available in Ottawa undoubtably. A lumberyard in Pembroke may be able to order this. Roy
      Wally in Calgary likes this.
      Are you solving the problem, or becoming part of it?

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      • #4

        Re: Butcher block counter top

        I'm not so sure about the ipe, Roy. I made a couple counters out of it a few years ago. It turned out looking fantastic, but what a nightmare to work with.

        Click image for larger version

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        First off, it weighs a living tonne, so I had to make it only 3/4" thick, with 1.5" edges, which then required a build up underneath the whole thing. Second, cutting and milling it was ridiculous. It toasted every blade it touched! Finally, the glue up was difficult. I had to wipe down all the edges with solvent to strip the oil, and then use a special west system epoxy, rather than regular titebond. And even then I had some joint failures that had to be touched up subsequently.

        It oiled up beautifully, but personally I'd never use it for a counter again.
        nnieman likes this.

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        • #5

          Re: Butcher block counter top

          Agree 100% Ryan. One of the most cantankerous wood I have ever used. Still have a lot in stock but only use it sparingly for jigs and high wear areas.
          Chris
          I only excel at fixing my my goof ups

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          • #6

            Re: Butcher block counter top

            I think you're looking for walnut.

            It's expensive but its a lot closer to the colour you're going for than maple.

            I don't like to stain countertops, they see a lot of wear & will need to be renewed.
            Not so hard with a clear coat, a lot of work if it's stained.

            Nathan
            eilliac likes this.

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            • #7

              Re: Butcher block counter top


              KJP Select Hardwoods
              Nepean, ON (613) 225-6926
              The WoodSource
              Manotick, ON (613) 822-6800




              http://www.kjpselecthardwoods.com/

              https://wood-source.com/

              http://bytownlumber.com/location/ottawa/

              http://mcraelumber.ca/

              Nathan

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              • #8

                Re: Butcher block counter top

                callee did a great writeup on the steps needed to build a countertop. It isn't a hard process - you are basically building a large cutting board - but getting good, flat surfaces and doing large glueups are key.

                And I'll also dissuade you from even thinking about Ipe. It is an oily wood which can cause problems with glueups. And if it ever decides to warp, there is nothing you can do about it.

                For a dark red color, I'll suggest Jatoba (aka Brazilian Cherry). Reasonably priced here, about the same as hard maple, but significantly harder. Somewhat heavier, too, but not as heavy as Ipe.
                Mark Kornell, Kornell Wood Design

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                • #9

                  Re: Butcher block counter top

                  It's pretty obvious we each have our personal choices. However although walnut is in the colour spectrum you're looking for, it's not very tough and dents very easily. Just setting down a pot a bit on its edge will leave a dent. If it were not for the challenges beginners have in effectively staining maple the dark tone you've mentioned, it'd be my first choice. Then, you didn't mention red or white oak, probably because of your comment about grain; however you could use mostly quartersawn wood, which would have a more tame grain and it takes stain beautifully, as well as being very durable. There's always cherry, which is somewhat harder than walnut, but closer to the colour you're wanting.

                  My two-bits.

                  Originally posted by nnieman View Post
                  I think you're looking for walnut.

                  It's expensive but its a lot closer to the colour you're going for than maple.

                  I don't like to stain countertops, they see a lot of wear & will need to be renewed.
                  Not so hard with a clear coat, a lot of work if it's stained.

                  Nathan
                  All the best,

                  Marty

                  President of Kingston Wood Artisans (formerly Kingston Woodworkers Ass'n) Website: https://kwoodartca.wordpress.com/
                  & member of the Kingston Woodturners Association

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                  • #10

                    Re: Butcher block counter top

                    Another issue with Ipe is the fact none of it comes to this country kiln dried and if you use a good moisture meter, it typically reads 18 to 20 percent moisture. As it dries its prone to splitting and checking. While extremely hard it has major issues both short and long term.

                    John

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                    • #11

                      Re: Butcher block counter top

                      Thanks for the responses! I'm glad I signed up this forum.

                      (I mentioned I'm building a 10' top in my OP. Its actually 15'. Typo)

                      I looked into the Ikea tops. The pictures look good and the price is reasonable, but they are only 3/4 thick and don't come in a color anywhere near what we are looking for. Would 3/4 not cause long term stability issues? We also got quotes from a couple of local places (Paramount Kitchens and All-Star). Both came in around 3,500, and again, color not available. I asked if we could get one unfinished and they said "probably", but it wouldn't lower the cost significantly.

                      I'm afraid Ipe, Brazilian Cherry and the other ultra hard woods might be too hard to work with the the tooling I have.

                      The quarter-sawn oak sounds interesting. What's it like to tool? I've never done anything with oak other than burn it in the wood stove LOL! Not bashing it, just never had the opportunity to work with it.

                      Also considering biting the bullet and building a laminate top. Cheapest solution by far, and we can get our color, but . . . its laminate .

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                      • #12

                        Re: Butcher block counter top

                        Do yourself a favour and build a nice laminate top. Then make a cutting board to go on top and it will be much easier to take care of. Look into Formica & Ideal Edge and see if you like that. It's a little more expensive but looks and wears great. Click image for larger version  Name:	SB4.JPG Views:	1 Size:	2.54 MB ID:	1114320
                        Click image for larger version  Name:	SB2.JPG Views:	1 Size:	2.62 MB ID:	1114321




                        Found it --
                        Last edited by Wally in Calgary; 04-21-2017, 10:40 AM.

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                        • #13

                          Re: Butcher block counter top

                          I've never been big on investing lots of money on countertops, just me. Like much else in the home, tastes change, and what appeals to the eye today, may seems gawdy/out of place/or just plain "ugh" years down the road.

                          I love the look of a superb butcher block looking countertop (even built an island with Maple top) but 15' of dark wood would eventually be too much for me, just my opinion.

                          sink money into quality cabinets, and then laminate countertop as mentioned. years down the road (if still @ that place) it's easy, and less $d still, to remove and replace with whatever else catches the eye.
                          [insert something witty here]

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