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Butcher Block is a surface made of wood pieces that are glued together to form a tabletop, a cutting board, a chopping block, or a countertop. The wood is usually teak, walnut, or sugar maple. It’s a heavy duty surface that is rapidly replacing granite and stainless steel as the surface of choice for kitchen counters. On average butcher block countertops cost $1,700 to $4,200 to install, depending on size and if you choose finished or unfinished (raw) material. To decide if this counter is right for you, read on to learn more about them.
The cost of Butcher Block depends on a few factors including size, type, and material, as well as if you are buying it finished or unfinished. For an average kitchen with about 30 square feet of countertop, the cost is between $1,200 and $2,520. The lower end represents what’s known as “builder grade” and the upper end is designer sourced.
Raw Butcher Block is unfinished. It has no edge or seal and can usually be found at stores that sell unfinished home furnishings. They can also be ordered from a number of online sources. Some typical prices are:
American Cherry, 1 ½” x 25” x 8’: $299.00
American Walnut, 1 ½” x 25” x 12’: $250.00
Builder Oak, 1 ½” x 25” x 8’: $180.00
Maple, 1 ½” x 25” x 8’: $360.00
Finished Butcher Block comes with an oil already on it and has an edge, usually straight (squared), radius (the top edge is rounded), or bull-nose (the top and bottom of the edge are rounded.
American Cherry, 1 ½” x 25” x 8’: $554.00
American Walnut, 1 ½” x 25” x 8’: $665.00
Maple, 1 ½” x 25” x 8’: $430.00
Add An Edge: usually around $35.00 extra
Butcher Block can be made from any wood, not just the three more popular ones mentioned above. Here are some wood types that many are made of (all prices are for unfinished “raw” wood):
Maple – Hard with a clear grain, flat-grain maple is one of the most popular choices. $83 per square foot.
Cherry – Cherry has a rich, red color. It is strongest when the end grain is facing up. $152 per square foot.
Zebrawood – Zebrawood comes from Africa and has distinct, attractive light and dark grain. This is a very dense wood, making it quite suitable for Butcher Block. $72 per square foot.
Bamboo – Like cherry, bamboo is strongest at the end grain. Bamboo can be darkened by steaming for variations in the finish. $123 per square foot.
Wenge – Another African wood, wenge is very dark and hides knife marks easily. It is resistant to warping and can be cut thin and laid flat. $76 per square foot.
Mixed woods – For visual “pop”, santos mahogany can be mixed with zebrawood and wenge in various sized blocks. The rich mixture of color and pattern is very appealing and hides knife marks extremely well. It also makes for a very strong surface. $123 per square foot.
Butcher Block is typically 1.5 to 2.5 inches thick. Blocks with the end grain showing as the surface, like cherry often is, are usually cut to 4 inches thick. A dedicated, free-standing Butcher Block is often as much as 10 inches thick.
Whether you order pre-finished or buy a raw length of it, you will have to install it. If time or personal ability is a concern, a contractor can be hired to do the installation. If you have bought your own, the contractor may adjust his guarantees slightly, since he or she can’t guarantee that it’s been measured correctly. Costs to have a professional install it include:
The countertop itself – This normally includes waste overage with enough extra material for future repairs as well as delivery within 25 miles for most suppliers. For 100 square feet, the costs can run $3,200 to $4,500.
Labor – A 100 square foot counter should take about 10 hours in the hands of a skilled team and includes acquiring the material and equipment, planning, preparation, set-up, and clean-up. $580 to $770.
Job materials and supplies – These are the things necessary to install the countertop and include fasteners, caulking, sealants, glue, and other such consumable items. About $215.
Equipment allowance – This covers the cost for specialty tools such as pneumatic nailers, miter saws, belt sanders and electric planers. About $30.
The total cost runs from $4,025 to $5,515. Professional installers will want to measure the area first. This is normally included for free and helps make sure that your counter fits correctly.
When getting quotes, the following things are generally not considered part of the job. If they are going to be factors, discuss them with the contractor:
Working on any HVAC, electrical, structural, ventilation, or plumbing systems. This includes modifying or altering them in any way, or doing anything to bring them up to code. Work on these systems must be done by a specially licensed contractor and requires specific permits.
Having a general contractor supervise the project. This is usually done if multiple projects are happening at once, such as a major remodel or reconstruction. If a general contractor is requested, add 11% to 19% to the cost.
Sales taxes on purchased items.
Permits. Although installing a countertop is considered part of a remodel, it usually doesn’t require permits. Check with your local building authorities and, if a permit is needed, discuss with the contractor whose responsibility it is to get it.
Like any other project you undertake for your home, never just jump in. Consider your job carefully and look at what’s available. Some sizes are standard and can be purchased as-is. You can, however, buy it “raw” and cut it to the size you need.
Most homeowners buy their Butcher Block “off the shelf”. These pieces come in a few pre-cut sizes for ease of planning and to reduce waste. Those purchased this way is usually about 25 1/8 inch front to back. This allows for a 2-foot wide countertop with a 1 1/8 inch overhang. Typically it will be 1 1/8 inches thick. Lengths can run from 6 to 8 feet, including a little extra for trimming to fit.
Oak, 98” - $189.00
Beech, 74” - $129.00
Birch, 98” - $169.00
2 feet by 2 feet is also a frequently ordered size for most average sized kitchens. This is because some people use it for a specific purpose and only need a small area. These smaller “cutting boards” sell pre-made at most home improvement and décor stores for around $20.00 to $25.00.
Backsplashes are most often sold separately. The cost of the backsplash depends on the type of wood as well as the length. To give you an idea, though, a 4-inch maple backsplash 2 feet long costs about $25.00. For higher-end woods such as cherry the cost can go as high as $50.00 for the same size.
The standard size is 1 ½” thick by 25” deep. The length of the piece varies and starts at 12” and increases by 6” each step until 48”. After that the standard length increases by one foot per step up to 12 feet (144”).
You can actually save quite a bit of money doing it yourself. Of course, it’s going to take a bit longer and your chance for error increases significantly if you don’t install counters for a living. However, it is considered an easy to moderate job for the DIYer.
Measure the area. Remember to include the overhang and a little extra for waste and repairs.
Make a template for where your sink and faucets will go. You might be able to get the manufacturer’s spec sheets online. If so, include a copy when you order your countertop. Otherwise take very careful measurements.
Remove your old counter and install the new one. Most Butcher Block will need supports underneath for the increased weight. Follow the manufacturer’s instructions for installing the sink and faucet. You may need shims to level the new one. Tap them into place gently. Preserve your old countertop if possible and consider donating it to a second-hand building materials charity.
Cutting Butcher Block
You can buy raw, uncut and unfinished. Installing countertops with unusual angles or features can cost a bit more. Fortunately, unlike stone or stainless steel, Butcher Block cuts just like any wood does. You can leave the edges square or you can bevel them with a router.
Cut the opening for the sink. If you are installing a new sink, it should have come with a cardboard template. If you don’t have a template, take very careful measurements of your sink and cut a template. You might also be able to download the manufacturer’s spec sheet online.
Drill holes for the faucets.
Fill in any gaps with wood putty and sand the counter smooth. Start with 150 grit sandpaper and gradually move toward 220 grit. The surface should be smooth to the touch. If you have routed or exposed edges, sand them by hand.
Wipe it free of sawdust. You can use a vacuum brush, a soft cloth, or tack cloth. You want the surface as free of dust as possible.
Apply the finish. Important: If the surface is to be used for food preparation, you must use mineral oil or some such food-safe oil. If someone in your house has a nut allergy, avoid walnut oil and other nut-based oils. Whatever is in the finish will come off in the food.
Install the new counter as above.
Details differ depending on what kind of sink you have and how it mounts to the counter. Similarly, faucets come in various sizes and configurations. Answers about procedures can be found readily online, or your local hardware store might be able to give you advice on how to handle the peculiarities of your specific job.
Butcher Block comes in three basic construction designs. Each one is more or less suitable for certain chores. The prices below are for common types of wood with a single edge and no finish.
Edge Grain… 2x2 foot section, about $175
Edge grain is one of the most commonly purchased types of wood. Strong and affordable, it is made by laying long boards on their sides and attaching them so that their narrow sides form the surface. The look is similar to that of wood flooring and the wood can be cut in single lengths with no joints or else in irregular-length pieces attached at staggered intervals, called “fingering”.
Flat Grain… 2x2 foot section, about $123
Flat grain involves laying the wood flat along its wide edge and adjoining it to others along the narrow edge. It is more often used as table tops and other non-working surfaces because cuts can show terribly, but the surface often displays beautiful grain patterns.
End Grain… 2x2 foot section, about $299
End grain is made by cutting the wood into uniform cubed lengths, often 4 to 10 inches, and standing them on end before securing them together. While the most expensive of the three types, it is also the most desired because the end grains part to allow a blade to cut without showing scars very easily.
Butcher Block is called by that name for a reason. It has been used as cutting surface for centuries. Other uses include:
Kitchen counters – The warmth is hard to beat, especially if you’re planning a rustic kitchen. Compared to stone or Formica surfaces, wood doesn’t produce a loud clinking sound when dishes are set on it.
Cutting Board – It can be expensive to do a whole counter in wood, so some people buy only a small section and use it expressly as a cutting board. It has the advantage of being much easier to clean this way.
Islands – This is where most people install Butcher Block. Functional as well as attractive, the island is usually done very thick, as much as 10 inches, and usually has an attached knife rack for convenience.
Bar counters – Similar to the kitchen counter, the relative quiet of the surface when glasses are set on it combined with the warm, inviting feel adds ambience to your home “watering hole”.
Workbench – Because of its ability to withstand cutting, Butcher Block can be used on workbenches. Crafting tables especially, where razors and other cutting implements will be used, tend to last longer.
Tabletops – Many who install Butcher Block kitchen counters use the same type as a tabletop to match the look. However, it can move out of the kitchen and make attractive tops for end tables, side tables, and coffee tables as well.
This type of counter requires routine maintenance. Regular care helps keep the wood looking good and prevents it from absorbing stains from food. It also keeps the wood from separating or splintering.
Butcher Block needs to be oiled regularly. For the first year it should be oiled every month. After that you can oil it every 6 months. If you are using it as a food preparation area, you must use food-safe oil such as mineral oil. In fact, mineral oil is the oil of choice for the vast majority of people who own this counter as no element of it will ever turn rancid. The oils you can use are:
Food Grade Mineral Oil – It is a common ingredient in most sealers. As it is also sold as a laxative, you might find it cheaper at your local pharmacy than at the hardware store.
Pure Tung Oil – Pure tung oil is made from the tung tree and will cure to a durable, dark amber finish. You must use pure tung oil, however. Other tung oil products may have chemicals added to them. Tung oil may be a concern for those with nut allergies, so take this into consideration.
Raw Linseed Oil – A form of flax oil, only use raw linseed oil. Boiled linseed oil can contain metallic elements that aren’t food-safe.
Walnut or Almond Oil – You can find these at any supermarket, but do not use them if someone in your house has nut allergies.
Coconut Oil – Coconut oil is a solid at room temperature, but using a hair drier as you rub it in will warm the oil and the wood and make it take better. However, excess oil will eventually cool and become a waxy coating that is susceptible to fingerprints and other smudges.
Here are oils not to use:
Culinary Oils – Oils used for cooking, such as olive oil, flax oil, or vegetable oil, can go rancid and will contaminate any food prepared on the surface.
Danish Oil – Danish oil contains mineral spirits, petroleum distillates, and other chemicals that are not food-safe.
Stains – These products all contain chemicals that are harmful if ingested. Even if you seal over it, sealants wear off and allow the chemicals to get through.
Polyurethane – While polyurethane will provide a very strong protective layer for wood, these oil-based products contain harmful chemicals.
Some people use beeswax or paraffin to form a nice, shiny surface. This is fine for surfaces that are not used frequently, such as decorative wooden bowls and such. However, a surface that will be used regularly will see the wax or paraffin wear off very quickly and will not benefit from it at all. It is purely optional.
This material needs cleaning and sealing once a month for a year. After a year you can reduce this to once every six months.
Clean the surface with hot, soapy water. Using a scrubbing implement such as a general purpose scrubbing pad, remove any stuck on food particles. Rinse well with hot water.
Sanitize with white vinegar. You may already have a cleaning solution of water and vinegar. Spritz the surface all over and let it set while you perform the next step.
Add about ¼ cup of salt and some lemon juice. You want to stir these into a workable paste. The amount of lemon juice is not exact, but you’ll want it fairly soft in consistency similar to spreadable butter.
Using a scrub brush, scrub with the paste. This removes odors and helps clean stains. If the paste begins to dry out, simply add a little more lemon juice to return it to its consistency. Rinse it well and get as much water off of it as you can. It will need to dry thoroughly before the final step, so some people clean after the evening’s last meal and then let it sit over night.
Pour the mineral oil onto the surface and rub it in using a soft cloth or paper towel. As the oil soaks in, add more until the surface stops absorbing it. Always rub with the grain to ensure that the oil gets in completely. If it’s brand new, this may take several applications. After the first oiling, however, you will be doing only maintenance on the oil. When the surface no longer absorbs the oil, remove any excess oil with a cloth and your Butcher Block is now cleaned and sealed!
Butcher Block doesn’t sacrifice functionality for aesthetics. Beautiful, welcoming, and enduring, it can also be the work-horse of your kitchen without losing any of its charm. Whether you install it yourself or hire a professional, it’s sure to be a welcome and timeless addition to your kitchen!