HOME > Chowhound > Cookware >


Butcher Block Kitchen Island - Thoughts/Recommendations?

  • a

The missus and I just moved, and looks like a kitchen island with butcher block top would be ideal for our new space -- we need some extra storage, we need extra counter space, and also a little something to separate the kitchen from the rest of the living area. I'd love a Boos island, but they seem a tad pricey, and maybe that I'd be paying more for the name than the product (please correct me if that's completely wrong).

So - that being said -- any thoughts/recommendations/advice?

Many thanks!

  1. Click to Upload a photo (10 MB limit)
  1. We custom-built our home about four years ago, and wanted to feature woods indigenous to New England. So...maple cabinets, pine floors, an oak bannister, etc. The kitchen cabinetry supplier suggested a hickory butcher block top for the island. After we moved into the house, I read on a few sources via the Internet that hickory ("pecan" to any Southerners reading this) wood releases some toxins when cut into. I don't actually know whether that's true, or not, but I did see it noted in several places. So, for now at least, I don't use it for a cutting board.

    So, my advice to you is to be cautious of the so-called experts, some of whom may have, in selling you something, selling you something as their *only interest*. If I had it to do all over again, I would find a local artisan, ask him to find some nice untreated or naturally food-safe slabs of wood from which he could fashion me a usable, unique cutting board top for my island. And I may do that yet. If I ever get around to it.

    I do find I like maple best, though, for a wooden cutting surface. Just my preference.

    1. TY so much for the paragraph re hickory/pecan, SMITH, and the correction re the species. I'm happy to have the proper information. I thought about the nuts, but I know there are some plants (e.g., rhubarb) when parts are edible and parts are not. So...after all these years, I can feel free to use my butcher block for its intended purpose? :-) Is hickory tough or okay on kitchen knives?

      4 Replies
      1. re: Normandie

        I was curious and did a little googling. I would think *this* should set your mind at ease: "HICKORY - Most commonly used wood for smoking--the King of smoking woods. Sweet to strong, heavy bacon flavor. Good with pork, ham and beef. "

        I mean, if you're going to eat its smoke, then it's probably ok to cut on it


        1. re: DGresh

          For a fairly smart woman, D, I can be such a ditz at times. Do you know I even use hickory chips myself on the grill? (No, of course you don't, but I do.) Thank you for the wake-up call. Now I just have to decide if I *want* to cut it on it. I had fully intended to use it when we ordered it, but now like the way it looks with the patina of time and regular mineral oilings. It would be very convenient to use it, however. :-)

          1. re: Normandie

            I would use it - you can always sand it down to restore a reasonable surface if you don`t like the effect. Personally I prefer the designation cook to design consultant.

            1. re: Paulustrious

              That is very true, Paul.

              If it doesn't work out, it is amazing what sand paper and a good quality mineral oil can accomplish.

              I also like your thought re "cook". I've always found the most beautiful kitchens to be older, working kitchens, versus pseudokitchen "showplaces".

      2. Here is a link to a company that has been making Maple blocks for over a hundred years. AFAIK Michigan Maple Block and Boos are the two oldest in the country. If you go through their web site they explain the qualities of each species they work with. I really have no idea how MMB stacks up against Boos in terms of pricing for an Island. I do know MMB does custom work as well.


        1 Reply
        1. re: Fritter

          And here is one of the classic names in New England (JK Adams, in Vermont) for cutting boards and related products: http://www.jkadams.com/about.html

          I know they do furniture, but I'm not sure about islands.

        2. I'm sorry that my reply was cut out. I must have violated something. My apologies.

          Boos uses resins to harden their boards after finishing. Makes them tough on knife edges. I don't know what Michigan Maple Block does but I'm sure that Fritter will be more than happy to tell us all about them. Just look for quality, not some haphazard thrown together group of blocks. Look closely at the construction and that will speak volumes about how they care for the customers.

          Maple is one of the best choices, dense, heavy and tough. Oak has pores that are far to open to be cleaned easily. Hickory and Pecan are very dense as well but may be a little to hard. I would advise against that choice as I would any manufacturer who has to add a hardener. I have seen first hand how they chip good edges.

          1. I went through the same search very recently. After researching MMB, Boos, and getting a quote from the BoardSmith, I ended up going with Boos. Not because I thought anything poorly of the other two, but I stumbled across a ridiculous deal, 1/3 off, that I couldn't turn down.

            I ended up with an island with a 7" top. It had the "varnique" finish on it which I had to sand off but I've been using it for a month now with no problems. It was definitely pricey, even with the big discount we got, but I don't regret it. I love it and use it every day, it definitely drinks up the oil though. However, I've only had it a month, so I don't feel comfortable recommending it just yet. I'll have to see how it holds up over the long haul, but it was the right choice for me.

            1. As long as we're on the topic of cutting boards, does anybody here put a light coating of beeswax on top of the mineral oil? (I guess as a temporary sealer and to make the board more moisture resistant?)

              I just read about this, but had never heard of using it before on a cutting board, specifically.

              7 Replies
              1. re: Normandie

                A bees wax and mineral oil coating makes a wonderful top coating for a cutting surface or any other wooden cooking utensil. A coat of mineral oil that has been allow to soak in will treat and condition a wooden surface and give it a certain amount of water repellency. Top coating that with a bees wax and mineral oil mixture after the oil has soaked in completely will add extra water repellency as well as giving the surface a little sheen and enhancing the color somewhat.

                To make, heat some mineral oil slowly in a double boiler and add the wax chips, allowing the wax to melt completely. The mixture should look like a very dark apple juice. Pour off into a clean container and allow to set. Once cooled, it can be used it like any other good paste wax.

                BTW When I make my Board Butter, I always get a few honey bees that come in to see where the smells are coming from. I always leave a little out for them.

                1. re: BoardSMITH

                  Thank you so much for that info, BoardSMITH. I always do allow the mineral oil to soak in for a long time before wiping off the excess and buffing lightly, and I love the way the tones of the wood have mellowed and deepened after four years (it's gone from a pinkish raw tone to more of the golden warm hints). Sounds like your butter would enhance that even more. I have used beeswax on my dining room table and have liked that. So I will give your recipe a try. TY.

                  P.S. I liked your thoughtfulness regarding the bees. :-) Honeybees do good things for us; nice of you to remember them.

                2. re: Normandie

                  I use some paraffin wax, it does the same thing and is easier to find than beeswax.

                  1. re: ctg115

                    TY, ctg. Sometimes my hardware store has beeswax in; sometimes not. So I'll remember re the parafin, too.

                  2. re: Normandie

                    "anybody here put a light coating of beeswax on top of the mineral oil? "

                    Right now I'm using a NSF listed finish that's a blend of mineral oil and Beeswax. Killer stuff but it is more expensive than just mixing 1 part paraffin to 10 parts of mineral oil and gently heating it in the microwave until the paraffin melts.

                    1. re: Fritter

                      I will probably try the "homemade" version first, Fritter, but just in case, do you mind mentioning the name of the product?

                      1. re: Normandie

                        Here is the product I am using now. I really like it but it's a bit pricy. I've ordered several boards this year and when you order a board from them they offer a bottle at half price. Just a friendly FYI on the straight mineral oil. If you allow it to soak in too long or use to much it can lead to board failure just like soaking it in water,
                        only not as fast.


                  3. Do I assume you want it delivered and installed, ready to go?

                    If you don't mind a little DIY, I'm going with Lumber Liquidators' maple butcher block for about half of my counter tops, and I'll have to join together the standard 25" widths myself for my island.

                    I've shopped around for unfinished slabs a lot, and am VERY impressed with the LLs' quality. They have some polyurethaned in their showroom as the retail counter tops, and they are head and shoulders in quality above the others I've looked at (including several intended for shop tops, and the extremely disappointing Ikea models, which were cracked and delaminated even in the showroom samples).

                    This isn't a solution for you if you don't want to do some joining and sanding yourself. My remodel's all on my own shoulders, down to building my cabinet boxes to maneuver around a plumbing line that used to necessitate an ugly soffit. I'm doing almost everything the hard way! :)

                    1. Just to ease your mind a bit, when we moved into our house 28 years ago, we built a 4 foot square kitchen island. It's topped with maple butcher block which was handmade for us by a prima donna of a carpenter - but it's beautiful. The problem was that when he delivered and installed it I discovered that he had finished the surface entirely with a coating a urethane. I flipped. He had a snit. I said I wanted to use it as a work surface. He said how dare I ruin his work of art? Anyway, me being the paying customer, he had no choice but to very grumpily sand off the urethane and stomp off in a rage, never to be seen again.

                      I coated the surface with many soakings of mineral oil, scrub it down, disinfect and re-oil periodically and it is still beautiful. I use it to cut on daily so it retains the marks from hundreds - no, thousands - of chops. I consider these a mark of experience and have never bothered to sand it down. I like the beeswax-mineral oil idea - I may try this.

                      Anyway just go for it. Rather than buying a "name" brand, look for good quality wooden butcher block made of maple - it's not about the logo, it's about the wood. It's beautiful and will last you a lifetime or beyond.

                      1 Reply
                      1. re: Nyleve

                        You were 100% correct in having the prima donna carpenter get rid of the polyurethane finish. Mostly it just sits on the surface and will chip when cut on. I'm sure you don't want to eat polyurethane chips! So much for finding a competent craftsman locally. Most have little clue how to build one much less finish one.

                        As for a finish; mineral oil is the best. When something is added, like tung oil, linseed oil antimicrobial agents, etc, the resulting mixture can carry with it some nasty and harmful additives. Remember - KISS - Keep it Simple S_____.