How to Choose a Butcher Block Countertop or Island Top

5 min read

How to Choose a Butcher Block Countertop or Island Top

What is butcherblock? Butcherblock simply refers to countertop or island top constructed of solid hardwood strips or squares glued together. While butcherblock was, and often is, used for cutting and chopping, it really gets most of its popularly from the warm natural color and vibrancy it can bring to a space.

When choosing a wood countertop or island top for your space the three most important questions are: First, what look do you want to achieve? Second, how do you plan to use the top? And last but not least, what is your budget for the project? Before answering those questions, it will help if we run though some of the basic characteristics of butcherblock tops as well as some of the options available.

Specifically it will be helpful to know:

  • Available Wood Types
  • Available Wood Grains/Constructions
  • Finishes
  • Options (sink cutouts, edge profiles and more)

Wood Types – There are four different woods available: Maple, Walnut, Cherry, and Oak. All are North American Hardwoods.

wood types

Maple is the most popular wood that we offer. It is the hardest of the four woods as well as the least expensive, making it a durable option that will work with most budgets. Maple has a light and uniform color that gives it the versatility to blend with light color schemes or accent a wide range of dark color schemes.

Walnut is our second most popular option. Walnut offers a rich dark brown color that is neutral enough to blend with dark cabinets or floors and is stunning as a contrast with light colored or white cabinets. Walnut is the most expensive of the countertop options as the wood is relatively scarce.

Cherry offers a warm red tint that works really well as a contrast with white cabinets. It falls between Maple and Walnut when it comes to cost and is the softest of the four options making it slightly less durable with heavy use. While the vivid color makes it a bit more difficult to work into a color scheme, it is absolutely beautiful in the right setting.

Oak is slightly darker than Maple and has a more prominent grain pattern as well. It is similar in cost to Maple.

Wood Grain/Construction – John Boos offers three methods of construction: Edge Grain, Blended, and End Grain.

wood grains

Edge grain tops are constructed of strips of wood laid on edge that run the full length of the top. The strips tend to be 1 ¾” wide. So a 48” countertop would be made up of a number of 48” strips of wood that are about 1 ¾” wide. Edge grain tops offer the most uniformity in color and grain, and are the most popular choice for countertops.

Blended countertops are actually identical to edge grain tops in that the top is made up of long strips laid on edge; the key difference is that each of those long strips is broken into a number of shorter pieces that are jointed together. Blended tops offer much more color variation for those that want more character in their top.

End Grain blocks are really what is most commonly referred to as butcher block. They feature many square pieces of wood arranged on end and glued together to give the distinctive checkerboard look found in tradition butcher’s blocks. These blocks are most commonly used as Island tops are as inset accents in another type of top rather than as a material for entire kitchen counter. End grain blocks are also most commonly the choice of those that want to use their top for serious cutting and food prep, as the knife is able to slice into the end grains more easily maintaining sharpness without as much visible marking.

Finish – John Boos offers two types of finish for your block or countertop: the Varnique Finish, or the Natural Oil Finish.

Finish

Varnique Finish is a smooth, satin, food-safe, finish that seals and protects the top, while allowing typical food prep, but not cutting. This finish doesn’t require any special maintenance, is easy to clean with warm water and soap, and is water and spot resistant. If it does happen to get cut or marked it is easy to repair with light sanding and a spot application of the finish (available as Boos EZ-DO).  

The natural oil finish is generally used for what is intended to be a cutting surface. The oil seals and protects the wood, providing a great food safe cutting surface. The natural oil finish needs to be maintained with re-application of oil every 3-4 weeks to keep the wood from drying. It is also easy to sand and re-oil a block with the natural oil finish, leaving it good as new.

Other Options – Butcherblock countertops can be manufactured in a wide variety of standard and custom sizes and shapes to make the perfect island, accent piece, or full kitchen countertop. John Boos offers a number of optional edge profiles, the ability to round or clip corners, sink cutouts and more. Two or more butcherblock tops can be fabricated to be joined easily in your kitchen (or wherever).

Now that we have looked at some butcherblock basics we can take a crack at the three questions with which we started.

What look do you want to achieve? This question is pretty subjective, but will be controlled by the overall color scheme of the space and how you want your countertop to fit. Will it be an accent or should it blend with the surrounding colors? Do want something that stands out with a lot of color variation? A low key prep surface?

How do you plan to use it? Are you looking for a fully functional cutting surface? If so you will want to go with the oil finish, and maybe an end grain block. If you are just looking for basic food prep or want to use butcher block in a significant portion of your kitchen, you probably want to get the Varnique finish.

What is your budget? The best way to keep costs down will be to choose a 1 ½” thick standard size edge grain or blended top in Maple. Switching to a more expensive wood like walnut or increasing the thickness will definitely drive the cost up, but can add a great deal of impact to your design. Custom sizes, sink cutouts, and other options can add expense, but will often save significantly on installation cost if you are working with a contractor.

Do you have a good idea of what might work for you? If so, it’s time to start taking a look at specifics. If you think you might just need a standard size or plan to cut a piece to size in the field, you can head right over to Standard Size Butcherbock Tops. If you are looking for something that might be an odd size or you would like a cutout or edge profile you can head to our Custom Quote Tool. If you are thinking of doing an entire kitchen, or a custom shape (Oval, Round, Semicircle) head over to our Project Quote Tool. If you still don’t know where to start or have questions please don’t hesitate to give us a call. Thanks for reading and good luck with your project!


5 Responses

el
el

September 13, 2019

Thanks for this breakdown. I was a bit lost until I read this page. Thank you.

Georgina Burgess
Georgina Burgess

September 13, 2019

Good information!

Douglas M Farley
Douglas M Farley

June 01, 2018

Very good information. Gets right down to basics. Wish I read this first!

Virginia Sharma
Virginia Sharma

April 08, 2018

This was very helpful and straight-forward. Thank you.

Jae Richardson
Jae Richardson

January 31, 2018

Very, very informative. Have butcher block countertops in my relatively smaller kitchen (20-year old maple / oiled tops). Thank you for helping to identify the wood type (maple), grain (blended) and finish (oil) currently in the space – blended, which I plan to use upon replacement. Up to reading your article, the thought was that all “butcher block” materials were interchangeable, with one overall description. Genuinely appreciate the more in-depth information!

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