Butcher Block Countertop

Basement, Blog, Kitchen, Woodworking / Wednesday, June 27th, 2018

Ellie and I have a habit of grabbing things off the side of the road. I think it originally started as my own habit and it spread to her by association.

In college, my most notable object found on the side of the road was when I spied something on the underside of a large metal desk across the street on my way to the bars. Upon closer inspection, it was a small safe, complete with key, instruction manual, and with the digital keycode written on it. I also found a portable dishwasher which I turned around and sold for $75. I put that profit in my safe.

Since Ellie and I started dating so many years ago, we have had our fair shares of finds. There was the apartment we shared where the laundry room and trash room were dumping grounds for international students returning home. There we found two PlayStations with games, controllers, and memory cards, a Wii, an espresso machine, and a huge cat tree. There were other things too but those were the most notable.

Then there was the time we found an armchair on the side of the road, it still sits prominently in our living room. Who can forget the coat and the shirt we found that one time? I still wear the shirt. That was also the same place where I found one of my most used cast iron pans. All of these items were in great shape and I have no regrets telling people where I got them. Some people might think we are crazy or poor or pack rats, but we kind of enjoy looking for these things and try to only grab things we need and are clean and usable. If we grab something we don’t end up using, it usually goes back out on the curb.

More recently, on the way to a date night, we saw the remnants of an estate sale and pulled over to take a look at what was there. I didn’t see anything I wanted but Ellie saw a buffet that fit the description of what she had been looking for to put in the basement. She decided to wait until after dinner to grab it, so she could have some time to think about it and if it disappeared before she got to it, then so be it. But it didn’t disappear and she wanted it so we loaded it into the car for her to clean up.

In the morning, in better lighting, we took a good look at the buffet. It was all there and in mostly good condition. It needed a new piece of wood in the front and some new drawer bottoms. Both simple replacements and I had the material on hand. Ellie also wanted to give it a paint job. Oh, and it was missing the buffet top and that’s where I came in.

Ellie’s post on the buffet:
Buffet Table Rehab

I thought it’d be great if the buffet had a nice butcher block style top on it. It would fit the style of the piece Ellie was going for and it would give me a chance to try making a butcher block for the first time, something I’ve been wanting to do for a while. If it worked out, I would then attempt a more ambitious project of a butcher block desk.

The process for making a butcher block is very straightforward.

  • Cut wood to length
  • Glue wood strips together
  • Clean up glue
  • Flatten top and bottom
  • Sand

I knew it was something I could do, I just didn’t know how much effort would be involved. As it turned out, more in areas where I expected less and less in areas where I expected more. 

For the wood, I bought 8 1x2x8 and chopped them all in half. To make the process easy, I clamped them all together after making sure the ends lined up. Then I took them over to the Radial Arm Saw and sliced them down the middle. It was a lot easier to do this way, but because the pieces didn’t line up perfectly the saw had trouble moving from one piece to the other.

After cutting, I laid all the pieces out in the order I wanted to glue them together. I had my clamps ready. Everything I’ve seen about the process involves people being concerned the glue would dry faster than they would be able to work with it so I did my best to move fast. I’d put a bead on a piece, and then spread it with a scrap piece of wood so it covered as much of the surface as possible. I started by doing this one at a time but then found it was easier to spread glue on a bunch at a time and then smush them together. I tightened the clams after lining everything up and then came back the next morning.

Butcher block counter top sanding

I scraped off the glue with a putty knife, I didn’t want it to prematurely dull the blades on my planer. Since I only had four clamps and I didn’t really know what I was doing, my glue up wasn’t even and I needed to make the surface as flat as I could. To do this, I used my Wen Power Planer. I originally had the depth set at 1/64 of an inch but when that moved too slowly for me, I bumped it up to 3/64ths and it leveled the sides up much faster. You wouldn’t believe the amount of sawdust I made while doing this ! I must have spent about an hour doing both sides of the butcher block with the planer, and I probably could have done a better job but after an hour I was getting quite tired and it made my work sloppy.

All that was left after that was to sand the pieces smooth. I started with 60 grit on the random orbit sander then moved to 80, 100, and 220. Due to my sloppiness with the planer, the top and bottom aren’t as smooth as I’d want them to be but Ellie was happy with them. 

I brushed on a coat of Danish oil to get the right color and sought out Ellie’s approval. She loved it!

Butcher block counter top finish

All that is left to do now is put on a few coats of polyurethane to protect it and hopefully level out the sloppiness. After that, I’ll use some corner brackets to attach it to the base of the buffet. I spent no more than two hours on this project so far and I’m quite happy with the results.

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