Butcher Block Countertops: How to choose and maintain them

Have you ever considered installing butcher block countertops in your kitchen or island?  This article is for those thinking about whether they should use butcher block AND how to maintain/restore the butcher block you already have.  

I have a butcher block countertop on a table I’ve owned since the early 90s.  In another life, I worked at Williams Sonoma and I bought a butcher block table for a kitchen island.  This thing has moved around with me to many homes and has even been used in my office as a packing table.  The point of this long story is that you would NEVER know it.  

If you’re on the fence about butcher block counters, I’m going to give you all of the pros and cons.  I’ll also tell you how to maintain and refinish them, even if you aren’t an avid DIYer.  

Pros and Cons of Butcher Block Countertops

Cost Effective – One of the biggest advantages of using a butcher block as a countertop or for the top of an island is affordability.  Butcher block is really inexpensive.  There are different price points, like any kind of kitchen countertop, but compared to marble, quartz or granite.  

Just to give you a ballpark, you can buy butcher block at Home Depot.  There are more details on cost below for all the different types of wood.  

  • birch – 6 ft x 39 inches $389 (Home Depot) – (this is 19.5 square feet of countertop)
  • teak  – 6 ft x 39 inches $419 (Home Depot)

I would not get butcher block kitchen countertops at IKEA even though it is cheaper.  It IS mostly butcher block, but if you look closely it has a small layer of veneer.  It says it can be sanded, but I’m skeptical.   

Warm Look – Butcher block gives your kitchen a very warm feeling.  If you want your kitchen to look sleek or ultra-modern, this is not the surface for you.  It’s a good choice if you want a kitchen that looks like a working kitchen, not a model home.  

Possible to stain and scratch – There is a before photo of my butcher block below.  You can see there are tons of cuts and scratches.  The good news is that these can easily be sanded away, but that’s not always a quick fix.  I have also stained my butcher block with red cabbage, red onion and strawberries.  I’ve found that these stains wash off easily if you sprinkle the surface with a little bit of salt and use a damp sponge.   Watch this video if you want to see me clean stains off my butcher block.

Great for Cooking – If you do a lot of cooking, butcher block is a really great surface for cutting.  That’s why we all buy cutting boards.  And this is a little known fact, setting hot pans on a butcher block doesn’t harm the surface.  It’s better than setting a hot pot on granite.  

Bad For Raw Meat – I’ve read BOTH sides of this argument.  I do not cut raw chicken or beef directly on my wood counter.  I use a cutting board that is not wood for this.  

What are the Types of Butcher Block?

Butcher block has to be made from food-safe wood.  I learned in my woodworking class that most types of wood have small holes that you can’t see.  This is not good for food preparation.  Food-safe woods include maple, cherry, walnut and teak.  

I priced all the different types of wood at the Hardwood Lumber.com. They have every different type of wood and style, edge grain, face grain and end grain. End-grain is when end of the wood is what you see, you can see rings in the wood and the counter looks like small pieces of wood glued together. End-grain butcher block is significantly more expensive.

Type of woodPrice rangeDescription
Hard Maple$32 per sq. foot Maple is the hardest wood on the Janka Hardness scale (1450) making it the most durable.  It is lighter in color
Oak (Red or White):$32-45 per sq footRed oak has a warmer color tone than white oak, which can look a little yellow.  Red oak has a hardness score of 1290, and white oak is 1360.  
Walnut$49-60 per sq; footWalnut has a dark rich color. It is softer with a hardness scale of 1010. It looks beautiful, but it can be nicked and dinged more easily because it is a bit softer.
Cherry$32-40Cherry has a warm, reddish-brown color. It is a 950 on the hardness scale.
Teak$320*There is a lot of color variation in teak wood.  It doesn’t have a solid color look.  It’s the priciest option.  with a higher price tag.

* I used one source for these price comps, but you can find teak cheaper than this.

Butcher Block Island Top

Some people are reluctant to use butcher block as the entire countertop.  Putting wood counters on an island is a popular choice if you like the look but don’t want it everywhere.  Since a picture is worth a thousand words, here are a few examples of how this looks in real homes.  

How to Maintain or Repair Your Butcher Block Counters

This is the best part of wood countertops.  It doesn’t matter how dinged up your counters get, they can look like new again in a day.  I’m going to share how I brought my beat up butcher block back to life.  

To refurbish your counters is a simple two-step process.  It’s a great DIY project you can complete in a day.  Here’s what you will need:

  • An orbital sander – get one with a bag that collects at least some of the dust.  There will be a lot of dust sandpaper (more on the types I used below), 
  • Microfiber cloth or tack cloth 
  • Butcher block oil
  • Sandpaper – I used several different grits
  • Wood filler – wood filler does come in different colors, so try to get one that matches your wood
  • soap and water
  • Safety gear – if you are doing a lot of sanding, it’s a good idea to wear a mask and eye protection (I got these for my woodworking class and I can speak from experience, the dust gets in your eyes.)

 I’ve shared links the ones I used, which are available at your local hardware store and on Amazon.  

I use affiliate links so I can afford to keep doing this.  Hope it saves you time. See my disclosure policy.

Step 1 – Sanding.  Depending on the degree of damage to your counters, you might need to vary your sandpapers.  The first step is to start with the coarsest grit sandpaper and work your way down to fine-grit sandpaper. My table had lots of deep scratches and required lots of sanding.  But it feels like new once I get down below the cuts.  We used to use an Exacto knife directly on the table, so you probably won’t have this much to sand away.   

Step 2 – Clean and Dry.  Once you are satisfied that all of the blemishes are gone you will want to clean your wood surface and allow it to dry completely.  

Step 3 – Apply oil.  Use a microfiber cloth to apply butcher block oil.  Rub the oil on in a circular motion (more on that in the video).  If you don’t do regular maintenance or your counters have had heavy use, you should repeat this process until you are happy with the result.  I let mine dry before applying a second and third coat (since it has been 30 years+).

Now that you see how easy it is to make butcher block look as good as new you see why it’s been such a popular choice for so long. You see it in lots of really old kitchens. It really stands the test of time.

If you’re looking for more information about kitchen countertops, check out these posts:

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