With kitchen design trending toward natural materials wood countertops are again popular. The “butcher’s block” kitchen counter was a top choice not too long ago and is earning its way back into 21st century kitchens.
Before ordering a butcher’s block countertop, understand that all butcher’s block is wood, but not all wooden counters are butcher’s block. Use the wrong terminology and you might wind up with something you didn’t expect.
Butcher block is created by gluing straight lengths of wood into thick slabs. They provide exceptionally sturdy and stable work surfaces. You’ll find butcher block creations in sizes ranging from small chopping blocks to large kitchen island tops and complete kitchen counter installations.
A butcher block can be made from almost any wood. Maple is the top choice for countertops because it is hard and has a clear grain. Popular today are counters formed from cherry and red oak because of their rich colors. However, look for countertops made from almost any species of wood including unusual choices like bamboo and exotics like wenge and zebrawood.
Wood Countertops Combine Form And Function
There’s no doubt that wooden kitchen counters offer warmth and luxury appearance. They provide a true natural appeal. But, are they as functional as alternatives like granite, quartz or natural stones? Wooden counters are not ideal for every situation. Like all the others, they have advantages and disadvantages. Your personal preference, lifestyle and budget dictate what’s best for your kitchen.
One big plus favoring butcher block styles in a busy kitchen is that unsealed surfaces are ideal cutting surfaces. These countertops earned their name from centuries of use in hard-working professional settings. They are not as easy to clean as a mobile cutting board and over time repeated cutting leaves marks. To some that adds character, for others it’s a blemish.
Are there sealed and unsealed butcher block tops? For a kitchen countertop it is important to use unsealed, oil-finished wood. Sealed tops are not meant for food preparation. They are neither food nor knife friendly. In addition, most designers say using sealed wood covers up the natural warmth of the wooden surface with plastic. Sealed wood provides a high-gloss shine and works as a desk, eating area or bar top.
Location is an important consideration when deciding to use wood, a wood-look laminate or an alternative. Manufacturers warn that installing unsealed butcher block is not recommended as a sink surround. They report that after repeated exposure to water splashes and spills wood is likely to discolor and may even rot.
The Pros And Cons Of Wooden Kitchen Counters
Are wood countertops the right choice for your new kitchen? That answer depends on the look you want and how much work you’re willing to put in to keep the counters looking new. To appreciate the natural beauty of wood requires cleaning and maintenance.
First, consider these advantages of modern wooden kitchen countertops:
- Wood has a special beauty– it adds warmth and rustic charm. Most people who choose wood choose it for looks alone.
- Warmth – touch a wooden countertop and a granite top, the stone almost always feels cold.
- Quiet – wood absorbs sounds and is quieter when working in the kitchen.
- Environmentally-friendly – many wooden countertops are currently made from reclaimed materials. Wooden kitchen counters are recyclable, too.
- Variety – there are many kinds of wood from which to choose, including maple, cherry, oak, birch and teak among hardwoods. Bamboo (although it is technically a grass) offers a unique option, too. Wood stains and finishes add customization. There are several styles, too – block, parquet, face grain, end grain, etc.
- Designer-friendly – wood works with almost every style from traditional country to French, Old World, contemporary and modern to eclectic.
- Hard working – wood makes an excellent work surface. It is easy on knives (although without care they are not easy on it) and resist scratching.
- Repairable – a wooden surface, unlike stone or laminate, is repairable. Nicks and burns can be sanded and the surface re-oiled to become as good as new.
- Healthy – wood has natural antibacterial and antimicrobial properties.
Wood Is Not For Every Kitchen Remodel
Wooden countertops give a kitchen a special look. However, they are not for everyone. While most perceived disadvantages of wooden surfaces are overcome with routine maintenance, they are not ideal everywhere. Before making your decision, consider the disadvantages of wood:
- Prone to damage – not all wood is equally suited for use as a work surface. No wood is stronger than stone. Wooden counters are prone to scrapes and dents. While the butcher’s block concept makes them popular, it’s best not to do your real cutting on the countertop. Water damage is another concern. If not sealed water puddled on wood can seep into it – that’s why glasses leave rings on wooden tables when you don’t use a coaster.
- Require maintenance – wood needs more routine maintenance than other countertop choices. It needs to be oiled and/or sealed. It should be treated two or three times a year. If you want a countertop you install and forget about, wood is not your best choice.
- Refinishing – with a lot of wear your countertops may require complete refinishing, just like hardwood floors. Depending upon the type of wood and how it is finished, you can expect a high-quality wooden countertop to last 10-20 years, though.
- Atmosphere sensitive – depending upon the humidity in your home, wood can swell and shrink. These reactions to conditions in the room lead to cracks.
- Health concerns – while studies show wood has some antibacterial and antimicrobial properties, when poorly maintained it is susceptible to mold and bacteria.
Points To Consider For New Kitchen Counters
As with any kitchen setting, keeping the surfaces clean and dry is a priority. Everyday care should include:
- Keep counters clean with mild soap and water.
- Don’t allow spills to sit on the surface – reducing stains, etc.
- Follow manufacturer’s recommendations for finish care no matter what type of material it is.
Specifically for wood countertops, avoid these mistakes:
- Never use bleach to sanitize the surface – it discolors wood.
- Never use cooking oil – vegetable oil, olive oil or canola oil – on the surface because the spoil and invite bacteria.
- Avoid scrubbing pads, steel brushes and any abrasive tools or materials.
- If you cut on the countertop, don’t use serrated-edge knives.
When you’re ready to evaluate all your kitchen countertop options, Sims Exteriors & Remodeling is ready to walk you through the many choices. Call 608-825-4500, or email us. We’ll evaluate your space and discuss all the pros and cons. We know a kitchen remodel is a big step and you want to do everything exactly right. And, we understand the value of unique wood countertops in your Madison WI area home.