Dreaming of a Butcher Block Countertop? Here's What You Need to Know

Jumping on this tried-and-true kitchen trend is a safe bet—as long as you follow these tips.

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Butcher Block Countertop Things to Know - Wood Countertop in Modern Farmhouse Kitchen
Photo: Andreas von Einsiedel/Getty Images

Butcher block countertops—also known as wood countertops—introduce warmth to a kitchen. They add a little rustic charm and are especially key to establishing that modern farmhouse kitchen vibe. They can even help soften some of the sleeker, sharper elements of contemporary or modern kitchens. Of course, like any popular countertop style, butcher block countertops have their pros and cons. If you're on the fence about whether a wood countertop is for you, these design and care tips from experts are here to help. Read this guide to ensure that you will like the way the butcher block looks—and that it will last for years to come.

Where to Install Butcher Block

One of the biggest steps in adding a butcher block countertop in a kitchen is deciding where, exactly, it should go. Some kitchens incorporate a wood countertop all over, using the material as the primary countertop material, while others use wood countertops only as an accent piece. Either work in a space, though using a wooden surface only as an accent piece can offer a little more versatility and is a little more common.

"I have seen wood countertops popping up in kitchens as accent pieces rather than as the entire countertop surface," says Abbe Fenimore, founder and interior designer at Studio Ten 25. "I think they are a great accent piece and an easy way to mix up the texture and function in a busy kitchen."

How to Pick Butcher Block

Once the location of installation is decided, picking the right type of wood is the next challenge.

"I love a well-finished, chunky butcher block look," says Caitlin Murray, founder and interior designer at Los Angeles–based Black Lacquer Design. The chunky, thick butcher block look can pop against colder, single-hued countertops such as quartz or granite—Murray says they introduce an "organic and sophisticated aesthetic."

As far as material goes, there's quite the variety, each with its own unique characteristics. Murray likes woods that don't require staining, such as walnut, though she says oak is also popular, both for its natural variations in color and its relative affordability. (Most butcher block countertops are not inexpensive.) Wood stains of different colors and glosses can change the look of any wood countertop material, too.

"I'm also a big fan of both a smooth satin and a high-gloss epoxy finish," Murray says. "Each end of the spectrum is gorgeous and practical for different settings."

Regardless of appearance, though, picking a wood with a hard surface is key, according to Elisabet Jeppsson, senior sales leader at IKEA; that way, they can withstand years of use in the kitchen.

IKEA butcher block countertops come in a solid wood option, but the store also sells some with only a thin surface layer of wood over a particleboard structure. These countertops are more environmentally friendly, as they use less wood, and though they look identical to solid wood countertops, they're slightly more affordable and are less susceptible to humidity.

How to Care for Butcher Block

A common argument against wood countertops is that they can be difficult to keep clean, but with the right maintenance, that's actually not much of a problem at all.

"Maintenance can be an issue, but there are plenty of products available that can help keep the surface clean and germ-free," Fenimore says. "Having the wood treated or sealed by a professional before use and regularly over time is the best investment you can make for your wood countertops, as it will prolong wear and prevent the material from absorbing as many germs."

"It's recommended to treat the wood countertop with a wood treatment oil once a year or as needed," Jeppsson says. "It gives the surface a beautiful sheen, protects the wood, and prolongs the life of the countertop." Wood countertops can also be sanded down and refinished to remove scratches, she says, extending their lifespan. With the right care, well-maintained wood countertops can last a lifetime.

"Like anything, make sure to do your research and choose the proper variety of wood and sealant for your environment and lifestyle," Murray says.

When Butcher Block Isn't Ideal

Diligent care and maintenance are a must; anyone who can't commit to properly cleaning and oiling wood countertops may want to look at different countertop materials.

In humid climates, moisture in the air can also be a sign wood countertops aren't a good pick. "Do not use a wood countertop in damp rooms. And always use a diffusion barrier where you install a dishwasher to protect the wood from eventual moisture coming out from the dishwasher," Jeppsson says.

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