Drumroll please ….
We ended up choosing butcher block for our counters [which was probably already obvious from the post title]. (Read more about our dilemma in choosing a countertop material here)
Why would I choose this? After all, I originally ruled them out as too high maintenance, and too “country” of an aesthetic. But it came down to two things:
[but mostly it was #1]
We got a few quotes for different materials. They were about what we expected — between $2,500 and $3,500 total [including templating, fabrication, & installation] for our 27 sq ft of counter space. And then we priced out butcher block. Specifically, Ikea’s butcher block, since I knew we were going to DIY it, so I went for the cheap stuff just in case I screwed it up. And the total was … just over $300. Yes, it was about 1/10th of the cost of other materials. But that’s fudging the numbers a bit– to do it ourselves, we would need a few tools, specifically a circular saw and a jigsaw. So add in that cost. And we’d need to buy the materials to stain & seal it, so add that in. Still, all told we were looking at an option which was only 25% of the cost. [And, allow me to point out -- I am still being a bit intellectually dishonest. It's not truly the cheapest option. The cheapest option would be keeping our current laminate. It's not technically correct to claim I am "saving" money by just deciding to spend less]
Here’s how we rationalized it:
- We’re saving lots of money [*see above-mentioned caveat]
- We get to try our hands at DIY-ing it
- It is just an interim solution until we can afford the kitchen remodel of our dreams
- If we mess it up … well, chalk it up to a learning experience
- It could bring some much-needed warmth to the kitchen (with tile floors, stainless everywhere, and soon-to-be-white cabinets, it will be the only wood in the room).
So that’s our decision and we’re sticking too it [and we'll be the first to admit we've made a mistake if it turns out to be a bad choice].
And here’s how we did it:
Part 1: Measure
First, we measured and re-measured our current countertops, to get both the total square feet, as well as the exact layout. Knowing the pieces we would buy came in two lengths (73″ or 96″ , both with the standard countertop depth of 25 5/8″), we mapped out how we would cut all of the shapes out of each piece and determined that we would need two of the longer-length blocks to get all of our pieces.
You should probably be impressed by our amazing technical drawing capabilities. Do you SEE how precise those measurements are? Down to the 5/8″!
Next, we went to Ikea. We decided on the Ikea Numerar butcher block countertop, in oak. Why oak? Well, we knew we wanted to stain in darker, and oak has the best grain of the choices. The other wood options (birch and beech) would be great for lighter counters, and I’ve seen many people successfully use those.
The 8ft-long blocks barely fit into our car — we had to fold down the front passenger seat to get the full length inside the cabin, and I got to ride home squished in the back, behind the drivers seat. You can get them delivered, but we wanted to bring them home NOW, not wait.
Next, we set up our brand-new saw horses, and got out our brand-new circular saw. Then we did some practice cutting on junk boards to get the hang of it.
Part 2: Prep & Sand
So we got out the big boards, set them up on the saw horses, and got to sanding [they come with a light finish that would need to be removed before staining]. Perhaps it was overkill, but we sanded once with 80-grit, and then the second time with 220-grit [both with an orbital sander]. The wood was silky-smooth at this point.
Then came the [exciting and terrifying] part where we actually cut out our countertop.
Part 3: Cut
Here’s the part where I’m deviating from accepted protocol [Warning! Try this method at your own risk] — we cut our countertops to size based on measurements alone, without removing our current countertop, and without testing them on top of the existing cabinets. Pretty much everyone else suggests cutting them DURING installation, once your current counter is removed, so you can ensure they fit properly. We knew we wanted to stain them BEFORE installation, however, so that’s why we chose our non-conventional method.
This schematic might actually be better than my pencil-on-paper measurement sketch
As you can see, we needed 3 pieces: two long sections (1 & 2) that would join in a mitered corner, and one small rectangular section (3) to fit to the right of the range. We used the measurements of our current countertop for each side, and didn’t worry about measuring an angle — we figured if we marked the long side [back] and the short side [front], then drew a straight line between them, we would end up with the right angle [*this could have turned out horribly, horribly wrong, so again: proceed at your own risk]. We wanted a miter joint [vs. a perpendicular joint] because it looks a little nicer, and hopefully more professional.
Doesn’t this guy look like he knows what he’s doing? Hey, he’s wearing protective eyewear. We should at least get points for safety.
About the only smart thing we did was to leave about an extra 1/8 – 1/4 of an inch outside of each cut [knowing we'd have to sand them down, anyway], which allowed us some wiggle room if our measurements weren’t exactly right. We also [rightly] decided to save the sink-hole-cutout for the final installation.
Once the counter was down to the right pieces, it was a lot easier to move around [the 8ft pieces were HEAVY!]. Knowing it would be a whole week of staining & curing, we made our countertop a nice, cozy, long-term home in our dining room.
Part 4: Stain
I decided to skip on pre-stain conditioning, since oak isn’t a very porous wood, and I knew I wouldn’t mind some unevenness in color, so I put the stain directly on the bare wood. After color-testing a few stains that I had around (two traditional Minwax, one General Finishes gel stain), I decided I liked the Minwax Dark Walnut stain the best. The mahogany was a little too red, and the gel stain didn’t bring out the grain enough. I did try mixing the walnut and mahogany together, but the walnut color was so dominant it didn’t seem to make a difference.
From left to right: Minwax “Red Oak”, Minwax “Dark Walnut”, General Finishes “Antique Walnut”
You may be wondering “But, if you wanted the walnut color, why didn’t you just get a walnut butcher block to begin with?” And that is a valid question. The answer is, “Because of cost”. I was [am] viewing this as an experiment, and if I had spent 3x the money to get a nicer wood, I would be too nervous to attempt it myself, and not so blase about whether or not it will work out. So I figured this was my way of testing the waters before diving straight in.
I followed the directions on the can — apply using a rag or brush [I went with a brush], let sit for 10-15 minutes, then wipe off excess with a rag. The can suggested allowing at least 6-8 hours before recoat; we ended up waiting 24 hours before putting another coat on. I will be honest — I was a little nervous after the first coat. It wasn’t as rich as I wanted, and looked a little “cold” in tone. But the second coat made a huge difference.
So we had the countertop stained, now all we had to do was remove our current countertop, ensure the new pieces fit (crossing our fingers!), remove & replace the sink, and then start the wood-sealing process. Piece of cake, right? More on that later …
Anyone else used the Ikea butcherblock? Been considering it (and if so, are you more or less inclined after reading other people’s experiences?)? Should you DIY a countertop, or is that something best left to the professional installers?