Verrryyyy long counters: can we use butcherblock?

collins designAugust 15, 2013

Hi everyone,
It has been a long time since I've been here. Hope everyone is well!

I am helping my mom design a major renovation of her new house (a whole-house gut-to-studs reno of a dilapidated 1780 Cape Cod right down the street from me!)

She is using Ikea cabinets with some customization, and has her heart set on wooden counters. However, she just made a design change that solves a gazillion problems EXCEPT introduces a new snag: the counter is very long. 18 feet!!! Yikes. What about seams?

I've checked around and the longest lengths available from Boos or Lumber Liquidators are 12'. Even my fab local custom guys, who made my cherry plank counters, don't think it's a good idea to glue up a 18' length. Ikea birch (also possibly in the running depending on how the budget goes) only come up to 8'. So any way you look at it, it seems there'll be seams ;)

She is using an Ikea drop-in (top mount, self-rimming) sink, and does not like the look of apron sinks, which might have solved the problem. She also doesn't want to break up the counter with another material... she's really in love with having this loooooooong expanse.

If it matters, she prefers plank-style to the thin strip butcherblock style.

Thoughts about seams? Creative solutions?


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I would cut seams on them sort of like dovetails and hook them together to create a tight and intentionally noticeable seam. I would plan where they ended up pretty carefully because of this.

    Bookmark   August 15, 2013 at 3:00PM
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collins design

Hi palimpsest,
Thanks! Can you elaborate about how you envision the seams? To me dovetail means that interlocking tooth way drawer sides are joined, but I don't think that's what you mean. I get the part about placing them intentionally, and that may look fine -especially since this is a sort of scandinavian-modern interior in an old house. (White slab Ikea doors with floating open shelving above; and my mom's furniture includes Aalto chairs, simple cherry Thomas Moser, oriental rugs, contemporary art, Panamanian kuna molas.)

    Bookmark   August 15, 2013 at 3:32PM
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You might try William Rogers, they glued me up some beautiful
2 -1/4" thick Mesquite that i used for bar counter tops. Not sure if they can do 18 feet, but it's worth a try...shipping may be $$$ on something that large though. Maybe a local woodworking or cabinet shop? it can be done...

Here is a link that might be useful: Custom wood counter tops

    Bookmark   August 15, 2013 at 3:45PM
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collins design

Thanks! I actually called my local guys back and they said they CAN do it, but there'd be ssome scattered butt joints since maple only comes 12' long. That's why he said they couldn't do it, before. But that's fine with me. Now just waiting for the quote, which I suspect will be excessive since he said 18' will be a logistical PITA.....

    Bookmark   August 15, 2013 at 3:50PM
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That[s pretty much exactly what I meant, so if the one-piece quote is pretty high, here is a picture of a Lane Acclaim Alta Vista Table

    Bookmark   August 15, 2013 at 4:17PM
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I also want butcherblock and am worried about water damage near sink (even if I use waterlox). So, as recommended by someone here, I've been looking at "Elkay drainboard sinks". The problem I have is that I want undermount. Since your mom is already happy with "drop end" (I think you said), you should do a google search.

Apparently there are several variations but one would be for you to basically have a 2 ft deep section cut out of the middle of the counter where the sink and side stainless drainboard reside. Everyone on this forum seemed to LOVE them. I don't remember any critics.
Here's one thread I found but there are many more

    Bookmark   August 15, 2013 at 5:08PM
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One way to do it is to have a "full counter depth" sink like IKEA's Domsjo sink, that interrupts the counter surface and lets you use a shorter chunk.

    Bookmark   August 15, 2013 at 7:35PM
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I can't recommend the domsjo sink with wood. It can be a pretty good sized nightmare. It's a slight up mount and there's an area underneath the rim that has trouble drying.

It's just a little short front to back if you're not using tile leaving you with a big fat caulk line, or too close if you're using a 3/4" deep short backsplash like boos sells.

It would work ok, though if you could do two pieces of stone on either side.

BUT, if the 18 foot long wood top is big bucks, your mom might like a sink like trailrunner's - soapstone with a high back and just a little proud of the front of the cabinets.

Other good piece-ins are stone or other heat proof material where the cooktop is, or an area with a 18" to 24" piece of marble for baking.

A stainless fabricator can "make up" an integrated sink and drainboard piece that is counter depth. Or just use a plain stainless section. You might be able to find an older stainless top from a restaurant and get it remade with a sink or you could get lucky and find one with a sink already in it. I liked the suggestion for the elkay integrated sink with drainboards, but you still may need to mount it in a counter.

Any of those would let you insert a piece of different material without it looking weird.

PS - I'm having fun with my NXR.

    Bookmark   August 15, 2013 at 8:30PM
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I made my own BB Countertop that's 16' 10" long. The pieces were anywhere from 8' to 12' long. It can be done.

Now, I'm sure your mom's not going to haunt the reuse centers to make her own.

A fabricator can use a pocket hole jig and create a long bb. However, the straight seam would give it away. The idea of the dove tails appeals to me, because it's a nod to the length and craftsmanship.

Looking at my counter and run of cabinets? She's gonna have a looooooooong space! :)

    Bookmark   August 15, 2013 at 10:40PM
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I love the idea of the dovetailing that Palimpsest suggested. Or it could have bow ties hooking the runs together, where the wood was very contrasty. A take off of the dovetailing idea. Or an inlay along the dovetail in a contrasting wood. It might be too fussy though. But I really like the idea of crafting a joint.

This post was edited by enduring on Thu, Aug 15, 13 at 23:08

    Bookmark   August 15, 2013 at 11:06PM
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Welcome back Stacey ! We can't ever fully get away, can we ? Keep getting sucked back in. : )

    Bookmark   August 15, 2013 at 11:11PM
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hey stacy...I can hardly wait to see that house !! What a treat for your Mom.
Here is my sink...hope you have solved the problem but if not maybe this would work even though you say she doesn't want an apron front sink. Love the pic pal posted..that is gorgeous. c

    Bookmark   August 16, 2013 at 3:26AM
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collins design

bmorepanic, I didn't know you got an NXR! Congrats! - I realize the Domsjo you're talking about is referencing the suggestion above, to use the farm sink one. However, your cocern about the lip caught my eye. The sink my mom wants (and is about to order TODAY) is the Ikea Domsjo small single bowl inset. It's just a drop-in, self-rimming sink. (pic below) But it has that same lip. Ikea shows it on their wood counters all the time. I have an undermount sink in wood in the kitch that's fine, and a top-mount ceramic in the bathroom witha caulked seam that's also fine, but of course does not get as much splashing as a kitchen sink. I wasn't anticipating any issues if that area is well caulked (the wood itself will be varnished, not oiled. Can you elaborate on your concern and whether it's theoretical or from personal experience? Thanks!!

    Bookmark   August 16, 2013 at 7:28AM
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Palimsest, that is beautiful and I see what you mean. I wonder, though, how much labor that will add. Her carpenter is a friend of mine, I'll ask him what he thinks...

    Bookmark   August 16, 2013 at 7:30AM
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collins design

Thanks for all your kind words, folk, and welcoming me back :)

And for the good ideas. I knew I could count on your for outside-the-box thinking.

While the drainboard, or stone-one-sides ideas are great ones (I suggested, actually, insetting a gorgeous piece of slate she found on the property yesterday) she REALLY has her heart set on this long expanse of wood. She specifically chose a cooktop rather than a range, and a smaller, drop-in sink, because she does not want the visual expanse broken. It is an aesthetic idea she has had in her head from the first day she started planning this house, and she does not want to let it go! I'm hoping I can find a way to help her realize these dreams in a manner that's still fairly practical and budget-friendly...

    Bookmark   August 16, 2013 at 7:36AM
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It is from experience, not theoretical. And with ikea wood tops. Before I get started, I really like the Nxr. I started to look at it because of you, so I'm grateful.

The difference between what I want and the budget I have is always an issue, so I understand a little.

I stole these pics from the internet to use as examples. The long BIG caulk line at the edge is solution two (lime) and the designs on the front corners is a different issue (green). I have the farm sink version.

Started with a single domsjo as the main sink with caulk between the edge of the counter and the sink (on the vertical sides). No water in the cabinet. The slight edge under the sink grew mold. Rip out, replace.

Next - the big, fat caulk line.

The wood counter expands and contracts at a different rate than the sink. It's compounded by the heat from the dishwasher - even tho that is insulated. The caulk line at the counter is slowly pulled off the wood by the differential and water leaks in around the caulk. Water "pileups" from sink oversprays water wiped into the cracks - its a small sink. Mold, mold and more mold.

I think the same thing would happen to your mom with the drop in version in terms of water problems on wood. The edge is very tall and the sink is very small. The bowl interior is like 15" x 18" or so - the sides are slanted, so the bottom is smaller than it looks.

The other two things about the domsjo are the reach to the faucet and the design of the front. Because a domsjo is about 26-27" from front to back, the faucet ends up a couple of inches further back than it would with "normal" drop in or undermount sink.

Those front corner designs pretty much guarantee that water wraps around the lip, some is lead back to land on the counter under the lip - the rest of it drips all over the door.

We're heading towards undermount below as a sink - even tho I'll have to make a new, modified sink cabinet. I figure two strikes and the domsjo is out.

Here is a link that might be useful: Elkay Gourmet ELU2317L

    Bookmark   August 16, 2013 at 9:35AM
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Perfect plank will get you up to 16feet. Does that help? Another forum member recommended them but I have no personal experience.

Here is a link that might be useful: Perfect Plank

    Bookmark   August 16, 2013 at 9:48AM
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collins design

Thanks, homepro01... we need 18 feet though! So long!

bmorepanic, thanks for this thorough description. I will tell my mom about it. I feel bad for her though because I'm always telling her, "no that won't work"! One question: do you think this is an issue mainly with the Ikea sinks for some reason, or any drop-in sink? She could certainly look at other white drop-in sinks if that would help.

Anyone else have thoughts about drop-in sinks on butcherblock? Should I start a separate thread to solicit experiences, do you think?


    Bookmark   August 16, 2013 at 9:57AM
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Ah ha! Hey, bmorepanic, what do you think of this theory: a normal drop-in sink would not have as many isuses as an apron sink? I just found a blog where 4-5 people responded to the author saying they had butcher block and drop in sinks for years without any issues at all. I wonder if, because yours is two separate pieces of counter (or at least not connected at the front) there is more movement and therefore more problems? In this installation, there would only be the hole cut for the drop-in, so the potential for different movements would be less. What do you think?

    Bookmark   August 16, 2013 at 10:03AM
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As the size increases, everything gets more difficult and expensive

1 - Fabricating gets more difficult and expensive because you need larger shops and larger equipment.

2 - Shipping gets more difficult and expensive because you need bigger trucks, forklifts and crating.

3 - Installation gets more difficult and expensive ... because it takes more installers to handle the weight of the piece.

Can she fit an 18-foot rigid piece of anything into the kitchen? Can it go through doors and around corners and get into position?

    Bookmark   August 16, 2013 at 10:35AM
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collins design

Hi lazygardens
I don't think getting it into the house is an issue. There's a straight shot through a window in line with the length of counter, in a worst-case scenario. If we have it made locally it'll only have to be transported about 10 miles, so I guess we could just rent a Uhaul for that. And I haven't heard back from the local shop yet, but they did say they'd have to move some of their equipment out to the parking lot for some steps in the process, because the shop is too small. So we'll see how much the price goes up!

    Bookmark   August 16, 2013 at 10:58AM
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I totally get that she has a vision of one long unbroken expanse. I googled images of long wooden counters and came across one that is 21' and looks like it will be gorgeous! (I put the link below BUT I understand it's a long shot she'll find someone to make something similar.)

I know she doesn't want to break up the expanse with different materials, but what about a section that is the same wood in a different pattern? If there is an area that has a particular function, e.g. this is where she'll prep, or roll out dough, or whatever, then that section could have the wood strips going perpendicular to the rest of the counter, or be a checkerboard, or whatever. Maybe a section that is specifically used as a cutting board and therefore one big chunk of wood, where the rest is long planks to either side. I know it's not her vision, but it might be close.

Another thought is a section that is either higher or lower, e.g. raised over the DW or lower for baking. But that would break up the expanse more visibly than changing the wood direction/pattern.

I like the idea of the dovetail joins myself.

Here is a link that might be useful: 21' long reclaimed wood counter

    Bookmark   August 16, 2013 at 11:05AM
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My sink run is 14 ft long, I have an Ikea oak butcherblock countertop and we seamed it at the sink. They tell you not to do that, but so far ours has been fine (1 year and a couple months). My sink is a Kohler Vault, which has a wide flat rim at the back. The rim covers most of the wood seam and honestly the seam gets less water/wear there than it would if it were across the middle of my prep area. My countertop was put in by my cabinet installers, who had lots of experience with Ikea products (and did an excellent job overall) but were not trained carpenters; a decorative seam would have been more than they would have wanted to tackle and I doubt they would have had the tools to do it correctly. If your mom is hiring a carpenter to do the countertop, she may have different options. But for my kitchen I elected to keep it inexpensive and simple and put the seam under a topmounted sink.

The installers screwed the countertop down tight at the sink (also something you aren't supposed to do but I haven't noticed any problems yet, and we do have humidity swings). The seam wasn't perfectly abutted so I filled it with matching wood filler and finished the whole top with many coats of Ikea's Behandla oil, which produces a hard film (I know because of the hard film it left on the wall :) -- it comes off with rubbing alcohol so no worries). You can see the seam at the front edge but it's not at all noticeable at the back.

No problems at all with my topmount sink, by the way. Our old one was cast iron topmounted with silicone caulk, and the caulk had mildew spots (granted it had been there about 25 yrs). I am not sure what my plumber used for our sinks but he chose the sealer specifically because of the wood top, and he said it wouldn't mildew like the other one did. And it hasn't so far (so little is visible I'd probably never know anyway). Our second sink is the round topmounted stainless one from Ikea. No problems with it either. Not on topic but in case your mom asks: I like the looks and function of the Vault very much, would definitely recommend the low divide for anyone who likes double sinks as I do, but wouldn't choose a square-cornered sink again if I had another good option (I wanted a flat-rimmed stainless sink and the Vault was the only one with a low divide that I could find at the time). The round Ikea sink is much easier to clean inside.

Here is a link that might be useful: Kohler Vault

    Bookmark   August 16, 2013 at 11:31AM
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I think you mother should undermount it instead with a small positive reveal. That way its clamped to the bottom of the wood. Drop in sinks always have issues with crud at the edges, so win-win. Cleaner look and works better.

Plus undermounting it will guard against rim chips.

    Bookmark   August 16, 2013 at 10:34PM
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I built a cherry countertop that was 12ft 2inches, it was a harrowing experience. I could not find any cherry material longer than 12ft so I created a "breadboard end" for the open end (not trapped against the wall) which gave me the needed 2 inches.
The limitation is the special glue-up jig/machine that larger shops use, they only are made up to 16 ft. Gluing up without the machine places you where I was, in the harrowing experience territory, where not only is the panel gigantic, but you have no mechanical aids to bring it together easier.
How about interrupting it with a cutting board section perhaps 30" or 3ft made from another material, like white marble, zinc, or stainless?

    Bookmark   August 17, 2013 at 8:49AM
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I agree about the drop-in sink. An undermount always seems cleaner and doesn't interrupt the eye.

I'm just admiring my home-made butcher block. If I'd have known it was supposed to be difficult to make, I probably wouldn't have. Instead, it was, "I can do this! Look at all that cool wood!"

I can't wait to see what you come up with!

    Bookmark   August 17, 2013 at 1:04PM
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I only scanned the thread but want to tell you I caught a few minutes of This Old House (I think!) last week in which they were installing, I kid you not, an 18-foot butcherblock island. It was fascinating to watch the fancy equipment basically do the job. You might google if you'd like to see the episode.

    Bookmark   August 18, 2013 at 2:45AM
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