Pros & Cons of Butcher Block Top on Island

ajones.sdDecember 7, 2011

We are getting ready to remodel our kitchen and I love the look of butcher block with a varnique finish for our island top. This will be a heavily used island with our main sink centered in it. I have two young children and need something durable. I will likely put Ceasarstone on all other countertop surfaces. If you have any experience with a top like this I would love to hear your thoughts, both good and bad. Thanks!

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We have butcher block on our island. I kind of hate it but part of that is my fault. When installed, it was initially finished with polyurethane. Mistake. Poly is a film finish, it forms an impermeable barrier on top of, but not into, the wood. So with a few months of use, it was already torn up, with nicks and cuts that compromised the water protection and looked terrible.

Second mistake: DW hired guy to sand off all the poly. But without my knowledge, he also then put on a coat of mineral oil. I hate that finish. It's lousy protection. Leave a strawberry or spill some jam on it and instant stain. I don't care how many times you re-oil it, the finish is never effective. And who really wants to re-oil their counter every week or two?

To me there is only one good solution: if you're going to do BB counters--Waterlox. It's a tung oil based finish. It is absorbed into the pores of the wood, so the finish can't be compromised the way that poly can by a knife cut. It is also a flexible finish so it doesn't crack or peel with use, or as the BB expands and contracts with changes in humidity. It's a totally natural product, harvested from the nut of the tung tree.

Waterlox finishes also look great because the wood looks and feels natural--no shiny poly finish. It's incredibly tough, stain resistant, and durable. Our entire lake house has hardwood floors finished in Waterlox, it's been 4 years since they were done and they are immaculate. When they finally do need refinishing, just clean with soap and water and reapply--no sanding.

As you can tell, I'm a fanboy. I cannot imagine using any other finish. One of these days I'll get my tops sanded down yet again and this time make sure we get the Waterlox on.

    Bookmark   December 7, 2011 at 5:17PM
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My parents have a mineral oil butcher block on their island and have had it for 25 years. It has made it through one kitchen reno and probably will make it through the next one.

They use it to cut on every day. It still looks great. It has been sanded a couple of times in the past. They use mineral oil on it and it is no big deal - I think it is maybe once a month, if that often? My mom just puts it on after she cleans the kitchen at night and lets it soak in til morning.

Can you cut on waterlox? I would think it would have similar issues as poly because of the shine. Although it is not really "shiny", there is a sheen - which is why my builder suggested we NOT use it on our walnut island (he recommended Velvit - has no shine and doesn't have the tabletop finish of the Waterlox). Also, I am not sure Waterlox is food safe - we aren't going to cut on our island so it doesn't matter to us but if you were going to cut on yours I think mineral oil might be the best bet.

    Bookmark   December 7, 2011 at 6:53PM
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Oh, clinresga - just fyi. If there was a stain on the butcher block, my mom would spray a little clorox clean up on it, leave it a few seconds til the stain faded away, and then rewipe with a wet, soapy cloth. Might not be the best solution for wood, but like I said it has survived 25 years and still looks fantastic.

    Bookmark   December 7, 2011 at 6:57PM
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I have a walnut island top with the mineral oil finish. I really like it, I haven't had problems with staining like the pp, BUT...I am getting mine refinished with waterlox, also. For the way we use our island, it just makes more sense. I am not a huge cook, and wouldn't be chopping on it anyway. We use it for homework, kids casual dining, entertaining (setting up bars and buffets)...the waterlox would be much better for that. Plus, I am tired of my newspaper getting oily when I read it there. But other than the oil finish...I really like everything else about my walnut island. Guests oooh and ahhh over it! :)

    Bookmark   December 7, 2011 at 7:00PM
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Thanks for all the great information thus far. I should clarify that I'm NOT planning on cutting on it, I will use a cutting board.

    Bookmark   December 7, 2011 at 7:10PM
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Just wondering ajones why you wouldn't cut on it - an end grain butcher block is a perfect cutting board and really looks good even though you cut on it. If you want a walnut flat grain, yep I can see it. But the butcher block cutting board island at my parents is SO appealing and really looks great. . .

    Bookmark   December 7, 2011 at 7:25PM
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PLease reconsider and think about the Boos Mystery Oil Finish. We have had our island about 10 years with the oiled finish, and just LOVE IT.

We cut on it, put hot pans on it, roll dough on it, eat, do projects. Everything. It is fantastic. We are very active cooks and have 2 kids. I personally think it is the most amazing counter.

    Bookmark   December 7, 2011 at 7:29PM
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I am another who has had a butcher block island for more than 20 years. It has been a love-hate relationship. I loved the look but hated the upkeep, particularly when my kids where small and there were more important things to do.

The Bad: around the sink, we often got black stains, tin cans would leave black circles and berries and wine would stain it. Bleach cured the stains but the black marks needed to be scraped and sanded. I did this several times over the years. Also, though I used a cutting board, other people assumed butcher block meant cutting board so there were lots of small nicks and knife marks. I did oil it with mineral oil but probably not enough. I have been looking forward to an easy care granite counter which will be coming next
Spring when I finally renovate.

The good: several months ago, I was fed up with the way it looked and knew we were a long way from granite, so my husband got out the belt sander and went to it. The sawdust was unbelievable and went everywhere but when it was done, the now almost new looking counter had a nice uniform colour. I used a food safe finish that I suspect is something like waterlox and it looks amazing. Water beads on it and foods wipe up easily with no staining. And no more black marks.

The wood is very nice to work on - warm and soft. So now I am wondering if I wouldn't like some in the new kitchen after all!. Good luck on your choices.

    Bookmark   December 7, 2011 at 7:32PM
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Our butcher block is on the island only, so I don't know how it would hold up with a sink in it. We have Waterlox and it's been maintenance free so far. We have a satin finish on it, so it's not really shiney, but very smooth, and easy to wipe clean. We don't cut on it. I guess when you've always had laminate in your kitchen, you have been trained not to cut on it, or sit hot things on it!

    Bookmark   December 7, 2011 at 8:58PM
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I guess I should show a picture of an island I fell in love with and why I think I want a butcher block top - love the look AND warms up an all-white kitchen. Honestly, I'm not even sure what type of wood they used. AND, I'm not sure if this link/picture will go through as I've never attached a link before, just browsed other questions/answers Let me know if it doesn't work. I really appreciate the thoughts from all of you.

Here is a link that might be useful: Butcher Block Top Island from Houzz

    Bookmark   December 7, 2011 at 9:07PM
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Hard to tell from the picture, but is that counter really butcher block? BB is defined as a surface composed of multiple strips of hardwood laminated together. That top looks like some solid surface. Again, from the picture I might have guessed stone! Especially with the complex edge profile.

If that's what you're going for, I think much of the discussion is less relevant. Despite the name ("a Cooks Paradise"), that kitchen strikes me as a classic interior decorator's show kitchen, never intended to be used for actual food preparation! Hard to believe that countertop was intended for every day heavy cooking/prep/serving.

If that's wood, it must be some kind of exotic/expensive wood, not the usual butcher block I was referring to.

@athens: thanks for the bleach tip. Should help me hold out until I bite the bullet and redo the top a third time.

@juliekc: that's a beautiful example of a well maintained top. Nice stuff.

    Bookmark   December 7, 2011 at 10:10PM
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That's the point, I do cook and have a young family so I want to make sure doing some sort of wood makes sense. Based on some research, I think the top I sent is black walnut. Honestly, no clue how much it costs. I'm budgeting for Ceasarstone so it might be out of my budget. Here is another picture though, that again is some sort of wood. I've got to be honest, it's about aesthetics and durability for me, not the idea of cutting on my island. I think based on what I've read so far, if I head in this direction, Waterlox is the answer for me. Thank you, again!

Here is a link that might be useful: butcher block top from houzz

    Bookmark   December 7, 2011 at 10:30PM
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Pretty islands--both of them. But I think cost and durability might be issues. Still, I'm really impressed by juliekc's top after ten years, and that has some of the same look as your second photo. Good luck!

(though I still LOVE my marble countertops at the main house most of all. Couldn't get me to trade them for anything!)

    Bookmark   December 7, 2011 at 10:54PM
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Just a clarification: I don't think Waterlox could fairly be described as "all natural". It has pretty strong chemical solvents and carriers in it. (That's why it is pretty stinky to apply and live with while it is polymerizing/curing.) The tung oil component is all natural, however Waterlox is not 100% pure tung oil.

Of course you can buy pure tung oil and that is an option if you choose an oiled finish. Some people have raised the issue of food allergies when using tung oil as it is a tree nut and may have cross-sensitivities for people allergic to other tree nuts or peanuts.


    Bookmark   December 8, 2011 at 11:46AM
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We have a Boos harvest table butcher block island and love it. Only had it for a year, though.

I did a blend of mineral oil and beeswax (melted on the stove together). Hand rubbed several coats and buffed off.

The color and protection are great. Water beads up and I can still chop on it. I refresh it every couple of months with a quick shot of mineral oil after a cleaning. I don't mind the maintenance, as I now have a permanent cutting board in the kitchen!

    Bookmark   December 8, 2011 at 12:43PM
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that top looks like mahogony or black walnut. beautiful! can't speak to durability.

    Bookmark   December 8, 2011 at 1:22PM
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I think that material on the countertop is quartz. My mom has brown quartz at the beach (she got it at Walker Zangar) and it looks exactly like that. It is honed and is bulletproof, although she does not cut on it.

Butcher block is usually end grain. We are doing a walnut island with long boards and no pattern. Our cabinetmaker is making it but they also sell the DIY versions at Craft Arts.

    Bookmark   December 8, 2011 at 1:29PM
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