Build a Butcher Block Countertop
By Monte Burch
Butcher-block kitchen countertops have traditionally been very popular and these days are often used as companion tops with other materials, such as solid-surface tops. In addition to their aesthetic appearance, they can receive hot pans without damage. You can make up your own butcher-block countertop, or the same technique can be used to create cutting boards, or a top for a roll-around cart. The steps in creating the top are fairly easy, but the project does require some special tools, especially for the larger size tops. The top shown is actually one of two tops, with one placed on either side of a kitchen stove. This allows placing hot pans or dishes directly from the stove or oven on the countertop to cool.
First step is to obtain the wood. Traditionally hard maple is used, because it’s extremely hard and has dense wood grain. Because of the shipping weight, it’s best to obtain the wood locally. It is also nice to be able to select the pieces you desire. If you have a planer, you can cut the cost by purchasing un-surfaced lumber and running it through the planer. Regardless, it’s important the surface be extremely smooth or you’ll have glue-up problems. These tops are made up of lumber glued face to face, and the lumber must first be ripped into the widths needed to create the thickness desired. You should add about 1/4 inch to the width. This allows for removing any unevenness in the glue-up process.
The top shown was constructed in two sections, and then the two sections were glued together. This allows for smoothing and surfacing both halves, and then simply sanding down the joint once they are glued together.
Hard maple can be difficult to rip. In fact, some of the pieces I used featured uneven grain that shut-down even a 2-horsepower table saw when used with a planer or fine-toothed blade. I used a bandsaw to “resaw” the pieces into rough size, and then ran them over a jointer to achieve a more even “face.” Butcher blocks are also traditionally constructed of random length pieces. I used a full length piece to begin and another one to end each half. This allowed for more even and easier clamping of the pieces, with the longer pieces holding the shorter ones tightly together.
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