Wood countertops - need your help!

Brandywine72January 6, 2014


We have finally decided (I think!) to go with wood counters instead of salvaged marble. I've done tons of reading and am asking the below questions to vendors but wanted to hear your answers too.

Attached are pics of our counter space. Plywood and granite slab are temporary. Our goal is for the floor, cabinets, and counters to meld into one sea of color; we want the visual interest and pops of color to come instead from large artwork above the sink and our salvaged light fixtures and hardware.

1. Have you used Rubio Monocoat on a counter?

(I know Waterlox is great, but I am concerned about the potential odor. Since cancer treatment I react soooo strangely to all kinds of smells and we used Rubio on our floors and I had no problems.)

2. Moisture barrier with dishwasher, is it needed and what would we use?

3. Do underside and topside of counters get stained/treated?

4. What is used to affix an undermount sink? How will those expoy/bonding agents interact with the stain /treatment (likely Rubio) ?

What else do we need to know about or do to prevent mold around the sink? This is my greatest concern with wood. So many great photos of wood countertops on houzz are just islands without sinks in them, which worries me.

5. Should we get long planked butcher block or use a whole slab of a tree that has no glued pieces other than the big seams? Pros and cons of each?

6. What is a good wood to use? I assume something hard?

7. What light colors of wood would take well to my custom rubio to match the floor and cabinets?

I custom mixed Rubio color. The floor is 160 year old salvaged heart pine and I'm excited about how well we matched them to our cheap-o Made In China cabinets. I have left over custom Rubio mix and think a light color wood could achieve a better match than something like a dark Walnut.

8. Where would the seam go in the L return? What considerations need to be made with seams?

9. Where should we get our wood from? Looking into John Boos, Grothouse, and local mills and salvage yards. (We are not fans of big box shopping otherwise we'd go for Ikea or Lumber Liquidators. The pics I have seen of both on this site are gorgeous)

  1. What should we look for in a contractor or carpenter who is doing the work? We are not handy, don't have the time, and can afford to hire.

Thanks so much!


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Here is the second picture. Note, the cheapo sink and faucet are also temporary. All appliances will remain the same.

    Bookmark   January 6, 2014 at 1:26PM
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My walnut countertops are almost 18 months old. They were made by a local cabinet shop, out of our wood. I have an undermount farm sink. I always dry off my waterspots around the sink, but DH and DS do not. So far, I don't have any darkening, etc, around the sink.

I used Osmo Polyx, and have added coats every 4 months or so, because some areas get dry looking. It does not have very much odor to me.

Good Luck!


    Bookmark   January 6, 2014 at 1:44PM
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I recommend that you call Rubio and ask them some of your questions. We also have Monocoat on our floor, and I called them when we were having a wood countertop installed but it's been long enough now that I probably don't remember everything they said correctly. They were very helpful on the phone and I think they could advise you on details like the type of wood that would be best for their stain, etc.

We have an oak IKEA countertop finished with their Behandla oil and I like it a lot. You might want to rethink the undermounted sink if you're using Monocoat, but they can tell you for sure. Our sinks are topmounted. We used IKEA's diffusion barrier between the dishwasher and counter. The top, bottom, and edges of the countertop will need to be finished (the bottom doesn't have to have as many coats as the top, if you use something that takes multiple coats). Our L corner has a butt joint straight across, no mitered diagonal. As I understand it, a mitered corner can have more trouble with separation than a straight butt joint (might depend on the installation technique). Our counter was installed by the Ikea cabinet installers, but a handyman with some carpentry experience could do it; however, our installers told me that if I wanted to do an undermounted sink I'd need to hire a carpenter who had the proper tools to finish the cut edge. That might be a reason to hire a real carpenter to install your countertop. I am not a woodworker, but I understand that big wide solid planks with no seams (assuming you could find one wide enough, and I don't think they exist any longer) are much more likely to warp than pieced butcherblock.

One final note, just my opinion -- since your cabinets and floor are the same color, do you want a countertop that's also the same color? I would want some contrast there. The light granite looks great with your wood, so perhaps an unstained maple? (I am a fan of not staining a working surface so that when it's damaged or cut you won't have to try to match the stain later on. Again, just my opinion.) Your cabinets and floor are beautiful!

    Bookmark   January 6, 2014 at 7:31PM
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Our countertops are sapele with waterlox, made by a local cabinetmaker/woodworker. We've had them almost two years now, and there are some dents (sapele is fairly soft), but otherwise they're wearing beautifully. I clean with a damp sponge frequently, and I don't leave water puddled anywhere, including around the sink. Family members aren't as fussy though, and still there isn't any sign of water-wear (eg., mold and the like). I have an over mount sink.
I'm very sensitive to chemicals and fragrances. The waterlox is very smelly during curing (a few days), but by a week after the last coat, there was no detectable smell. Actually, for me the Osmo has a much more noticeable lingering smell (we used Osmo on the cabinets). My finished-interior cabinet had a marked odor for nearly a year, though it's gone now.
I took a look at Rubio Monocoat's website, and found that they have a specific product for countertops -- 'Monocoat Oil Plus 2C'. Sounds like it incorporates hardening agents to give it the necessary water resistance.
Your cabinets and floor look beautiful! Our cabinets are alder, lightly stained with a slight reddish tinge to harmonize with our fir doors and windows. Floor is unstained oak. Our cabinets are probably a little lighter than yours, but similarly hued, and I think the natural dark reddish brown of the sapele makes a wonderful counterpoint. Sometimes I catch myself just staring happily at the beautiful wood. True mahogany would have a similar effect but I believe it's a good bit harder.
The joint...we just did a butt joint at the corner (whole thing is just an L), to save time and money as our project needed to be done. It's very, very smooth and doesn't bother me at all, though I thought it would.

    Bookmark   January 6, 2014 at 7:56PM
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Also, as northcarolina said, you must seal all sides of your countertops with at least 1-2 coats of whatever finish you use (we did two coats for the underside). Otherwise, the unfinished wood on the back side will differentially shrink and expand and warping will occur.
We didn't add a moisture barrier around our Bosch dishwasher and haven't had any issues.

    Bookmark   January 6, 2014 at 8:05PM
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Thank you everyone for your replies! So helpful.

Since posting this, I found a woodworker/furniture maker on Etsy who has made wood countertops and happens to live a few blocks from me. What are the chances? Here is a link to his work, which says cabinets but he also made the countertops. Any thoughts?http://lynfordwoodshop.com/kitchen-cabinets.html

Regarding plank sizes and what northcarolina wrote, there are some places here where I can get a 25" wide tree slab, but I had not thought about warping. Thanks for the heads up on that. What about if the planks are 5-8 inches wide and we use 3 or 4 across? Do you think that eliminates the warping issues, or do you recommend a true butcher block where it is lots of little 2 inch type pieces?

I hear what you are saying about too much of one color, but my gut is telling me to go for it. I was worried that having the floors and cabinets the same color was going to be overkill but I actually love it. We'll see if my gut is right or wrong on this one...

I called Rubio and need to call back again. I spoke with a very nice woman who just didn't know as much as Jason, the guru who works there and answered every single question about my floors this summer. He rocks. I will post any info I find out from him in case others can use it in the future.

Another odor thought is I could ask the carpenter to stain/seal in their workshop and keep it there a few weeks prior to installation so it could off-gas. Don't know if that order of things makes sense or not.

    Bookmark   January 7, 2014 at 12:20AM
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That's beautiful work on the woodworker's site! If you hire him, you could ask him about the warping potential of wider planks (glad I'm wrong about wide ones being available, if you want them). And if your gut is telling you to get same-color countertops, then you should definitely do it, no question. I'm afraid I had missed what you wrote in the first post about the sea of color in the background. It sounds like the upstairs of my grandparents' house, which was completely paneled in wood, including the ceilings. I remember it as being very warm and cozy.

The woodworker, whomever you end up hiring, might have some strong opinions about the finish to be used, but if you decide on Waterlox then I think letting him do it at his shop would be a great idea. I had to throw away my Waterlox sample, it was so bad (smelling). I just couldn't stand the idea of having it my house for even a few days while it cured. I know it doesn't strike everyone the same way. Ikea's Behandla oil has an odor too, but it didn't bother me the way Waterlox did. The Waterlox finish looks nothing like the Monocoat finish (or Behandla for that matter), so do be sure to see some samples in person.

Good luck with it all!

    Bookmark   January 7, 2014 at 1:21AM
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Glad to get your take on the woodworker's site. I am so new to all of this - it is good to get another opinion.

Of the hundreds of kitchen photos I have looked at online, this one is by far my favorite and my inspiration.

While our kitchen is never going to look like this one because it is gorgeous white, I am trying to figure out how to emulate what I like most about it. I love that it doesn't look so much like a kitchen but more like a living room or hang out room. Everything looks like furniture to me, which I love. We kept the cabinets and appliances from our old kitchen because it seemed so wasteful to get new ones. (Though not my taste, the previous owners renovated only 3 years ago.)

Any other thoughts you have of things we can do to make our kitchen have this vibe would be so appreciated. I've gotta think about sinks and faucets next I guess, as well as hardware.

    Bookmark   January 7, 2014 at 8:55AM
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There are reasons that all wood countertops aren't very popular. You may love them, but when you go to sell potential buyers will be deducting the cost of new tops from the offer they make on your house.

    Bookmark   January 7, 2014 at 9:23AM
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I put in quite a few wood tops and have some out there over a decade. Get more folks asking for em and much less resistance when I suggest them. I've worked with most of the vendors and one local craftsman over the years.

As to the op's question- The counter fabricator I work with now uses Rubio or something like it- Engrain Wood Countertops. They are NOT inexpensive and not somewhere to go for DIY but I will no longer use anyone else for wood tops. If a client wants an odd brand they are on their own, have had too many issues in the past. My hi end cabinet brand (QCCI) has cabinets using something like it as well. (no one will say what they use specifically). Point is the stuff is reliable.

I"ve been putting in Engrains oiled tops for 4 years now and simply love em. They deal with undermount sinks using a flawless epoxy job around the rim and below. I've done lots of islands with sinks and even did one kitchen entirely with Cherry tops, two undermounts about 3 years ago ....it still looks great.

The maintenance is simple and easy for the consumer, that it is food safe and has no VOCs is a big plus.

I personally like plank construction and would never use a full width board for a counter-EVER. That is problem enough for tables.

    Bookmark   January 7, 2014 at 9:45AM
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I just found bowling alley on an online salvage store. They have whole lanes that are 102 x 42 inches. The deinstallation was professionally done and the lanes seem to be in very good condition. Does anybody have opinions on using bowling alley? The store owner I spoke with described it as a rock hard maple. Because of the age, it is old growth. We could have the top surface sanded down and then stained probably with a clear penetrating oil. Thoughts? Ideas?

Jakuvall, Thanks for the Engrain recommendation. I have never heard of them before and like that their finish is matte and zero VOC. I will check them out.

Trebruchet, I chuckled upon reading your post. One reason we like wood is because it will decompose well in a landfill when the next people move into our house! Our neighborhood is so popular resale isn't an issue; it's a given that most homeowners here will update a kitchen when they move in. Plus, we plan on being here over a decade and no matter what trendy kitchen we put in now, I am sure it will look outdated in 10 years. It is all so wasteful, but it at least encourages us to do what we like in our house and not think about resale. Ironically most of our choices are about what is environmentally sensible rather than what is trendy.

    Bookmark   January 7, 2014 at 11:08AM
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We considered salvaged bowling alley pieces for our counters. The problem was thickness -- well over the inch and a half that the cabinets assume and that plumbing for the faucet would want. I don't remember why planing was a problem. Hardness and thickness? Cost? In any event, we went with waterlox and new maple.

And we went with wood (and zinc for one area) because it fit an old house and was cost effective (DYI zinc). The goals were better function, looks good, and didn't break the bank.

    Bookmark   January 7, 2014 at 12:26PM
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These are 2.5 inches thick. I had not even thought about how that extra inch impacts plumbing. Good think to think about! Thanks. I know they will be heavier on the cabinets than 1.5 inches thick, but considering that a chunky granite slab was on them prior to this renovation, I am assuming they can hold the weight. Then again, I know what happens when one assumes!

The cost of the bowling alley seems pretty great. About $900 for it cut to size and sanded and that covers all of our counter top space. That seems like a bargain compared to prices I have seen from fancy butcher block designers. I will see how it compares to a quote form the woodworker who is coming tomorrow.

    Bookmark   January 7, 2014 at 12:57PM
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I'm sure weight won't be a problem.

When I was faucet shopping I believe I ran across models that could deal with extra thick counters.

We wanted the standard 18 inches between the counters and the upper cabs so that our food processor could be left on the counter, tucked back when not in use. And I'm the cook (5'5"), and when I mocked up what the extra height felt like, it didn't seem comfortable. Maybe I would have gotten used to it?

    Bookmark   January 7, 2014 at 1:12PM
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Since you have a freestanding range the extra thickness of the bowling alley tops won't be an issue, but that wouldn't be the case if you had a slide-in range.

    Bookmark   January 7, 2014 at 4:21PM
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Trebruchet, Thanks for bringing that up. Our 3 year old kitchen aid freestanding range is a piece of crap that we may need to replace sooner than we would like because of control panel malfunctions. We want to replace it with an American made range like Capital or Blue Star that has all dials and no buttons or digital controls. I had not even thought about the difference between slide-ins vs free standing. Good to know about the extra counter height potentially not accommodating slide-ins. It sounds like I need to check into this before I get too excited about bowling alley.

    Bookmark   January 7, 2014 at 10:00PM
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Ha! I was going to suggest bowling alley countertops. It is what we are using and was recommended by our GC.

    Bookmark   January 7, 2014 at 10:09PM
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Louis, I'd love to learn more. How thick is the countertop going to be? Has it been an issue with faucets and/or the range? How are they being finished? I'd love to learn more from you.

    Bookmark   January 7, 2014 at 10:41PM
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I don't know much yet as we are still in the planning stages. Our GC has installed them before and says they worked great and saved a bundle. I know that they have to be sanded and resealed with food grade finish. I found a great deal on CL $4 a sf!! But it was all sold out from under me to a contractor who took all of it. grrr. We are only going to use it on our island but our GC did a kitchen and used in on the perimeter.

    Bookmark   January 7, 2014 at 10:48PM
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$4 sf? That is a steal. I am sorry that got sold out from under you. I can see why it would be a hot item at that price.

Interestingly, I had been searching for carpenters in my city in hopes of finding some that have done wood countertops. Today I searched under wood workers instead and have found more that way.

    Bookmark   January 8, 2014 at 6:59AM
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My GC made mine, buying the wood at a local mill, saving some cost there because that mill otherwise supplies the lumber yards closer to me. If the boards are planed up, all that's required are glue, a table, and clamps. I remember Christine who posts here made her own.

    Bookmark   January 8, 2014 at 8:45AM
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Springroz, do you have photos of your black walnut tops? Others have black walnut tops? Planning to do an undermount sink

    Bookmark   March 11, 2014 at 10:12AM
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