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Butcher block countertop on island

farmersdaughter Nov 16, 2009 02:34 PM

I am moving and am remodeling the new kitchen right now, and am including a nice big island. I have decided to go with CaesarStone for the countertops (have it in my current kitchen and love it). On the island, my kitchen designer suggested that I consider butcher block, especially since the island will be a prep area with a sink (the thought being I could chop on it). He also thought it might add some warmth with the wood, since my cabinets will be white. Photos of kitchens with it are beautiful.

Does anyone have one? Do you chop on it? How's maintenance? How long-lasting is it, assuming average diligence with sanding, oiling, etc.?

TIA,

FD

  1. m
    Mother of four Nov 18, 2009 08:08 AM

    I have two of them in my kitchen, and love them. I use them everyday. I wash them down after use, every few months or so I put some mineral oil on them, let it sit overnight, and wipe off the excess the next morning. Yes, they have scratches, but that is what they are for. I suppose you could sand them down, but I never have and really see no need to. If you want a polished look, they are not for you. I have had mine for 32 years, and I'm sure they will last for another 32! One is next to the sink, and I have never had a problem. I chop everything on it, but do use another thing on top of it for raw meats and chicken (I'm sure that I have forgotten once in a while, but there are six in my family and we are all alive and kicking).
    I have good knives, so I would never use a plastic board.

    1. farmersdaughter Nov 17, 2009 09:42 AM

      This is a really interesting discussion. I think I can live with the maintenance issues but am concerned about the sink. What precautions can I take with respect to water in the sink area, if I decide to choose this countertop? Thanks again, everyone, for your thoughts so far.

      13 Replies
      1. re: farmersdaughter
        n
        Nyleve Nov 17, 2009 09:48 AM

        I suppose it could be possible to buy a sink that has enough of a lip extending beyond the bowl that would cover exposed nearby wood. It might also be possible to treat the wood in the immediate vicinity of the sink - something like a mat urethane or other plastic coating. It would likely be somewhat visible and the wood in the treated area would age very differently than the rest of the block. Tile? Stone surround? Not sure what I'd do if I were installing it now to avoid the discolouration. But after 28 years, my island has earned it's "laugh lines".

        1. re: Nyleve
          farmersdaughter Nov 17, 2009 10:18 AM

          How big an area around the sink has been discolored from the water?

          1. re: farmersdaughter
            n
            Nyleve Nov 17, 2009 10:54 AM

            I just took a couple of pictures for you. Keep in mind that most of this damage was probably my own fault. Soggy sponge left on the wood for days on end; water puddles not cleaned up right away; etc., etc. After all these years I think I now have it under control - nice little glass dish to hold sponge and no more puddles. You do have to be a bit careful, I guess, and I just wasn't. The first photo is the immediate area of the sink, the second one is a longer view of the island looking toward the sink.

             
             
            1. re: Nyleve
              farmersdaughter Nov 17, 2009 01:54 PM

              Thank you, Nyleve! This is very helpful advice. And I do like that look.

              I can be careful, but I'm not so sure about Mr. FD.

              1. re: farmersdaughter
                n
                Nyleve Nov 17, 2009 03:14 PM

                Ugh. I just realized you can now see all the gundgy crud in my sink. I should have rinsed.

            2. re: farmersdaughter
              BoardSMITH Nov 18, 2009 02:08 AM

              picawicca: I do sell to restaurants quite often. Health code requirements differ from area to area and wood boards are allowed. For my money, I wouldn't use a plastic board that has been washed in a dishwasher but was still discolored and deeply scarred after use. Besides, plastic is hard on good edges.

              farmersdaughter: A polyurethane coating should be avoided. It sits on the surface and will chip off after a while and isn't that friendly with moisture. A penetrating finish needs to be used and no matter what, will have to be refreshed from time to time. Consider Watco Butcher Block oil or Waterlox.

            3. re: Nyleve
              m
              mountaincachers Nov 17, 2009 04:00 PM

              I would definitely not do any kind of urethane. I think (but can't be sure since I didn't do it) that someone may have done that to my butcher block counters. The water seemed to get underneath and get mildewy. Yuck. They just never seemed clean, and I was glad to get rid of them. Your island looks much prettier than mine did.

              1. re: mountaincachers
                farmersdaughter Nov 21, 2009 11:46 AM

                Has anyone heard of a product by Spekva? This seems to me to be the Mercedes Benz of wood countertops. The photos are beautiful. Here's a link to the gallery of their West Coast dealer: http://www.crowncustom.com/wood/galle...

                1. re: farmersdaughter
                  Chemicalkinetics Nov 21, 2009 11:53 AM

                  Holy, these are beautiful, but I am sure you do not want to get them as real butcher tables.

                  1. re: Chemicalkinetics
                    farmersdaughter Nov 21, 2009 12:10 PM

                    My thoughts exactly - beautiful, but no way would I cut on them. I like them, we'll see how they price out. I'm very afraid.

                    1. re: farmersdaughter
                      Chemicalkinetics Nov 21, 2009 12:22 PM

                      Farmerdaugther,

                      You should ask anyway, just to find out. I noticed the company sells both wood and stainless countertops. The wood ones definitely look better and warmer, although the stainless is probably much easier to clean and care for.

                      Anyway, almost all residential owners of wood countertops do not use them. They get a separate small block as the real cutting surface. Like this picture:

                      http://images.google.com/imgres?imgur...

                      1. re: Chemicalkinetics
                        farmersdaughter Nov 21, 2009 12:48 PM

                        I'd probably do exactly the same. A nice endgrain cutting board that I can move around from place to place.

                        1. re: farmersdaughter
                          Chemicalkinetics Nov 21, 2009 01:35 PM

                          Yeah, unless you are planning to slaughter a whole lamb or something, you really don't need a butcher TABLE. A nice endgrain cutting board will be easier to work with and easier to clean and to dry. Let us know when you find out the price for those beautiful wood countertops :)

          2. Chemicalkinetics Nov 17, 2009 08:30 AM

            farmdaugher,

            I think my original answer may have been a little too general. Let me say chopping blocks are very practical, so they work very well and can last very long. End grain chopping block is very gentle on knives and allow knives to stay sharp for much longer. (In typical food preparations, the block/board is the hardest thing your knives will see, not the foods) I believe a wood block is very attractive in its own way, but it is not beautiful in a sculpture way. It is beautiful in an old cast iron cookware way.

            There are many ways to protect the block from water like oiling it with mineral oil or tung oil or beeswax. As for sanding it, you will only need to sand it when it is brand new to ensure a very smooth surface if it is not already is. If you oiled or beeswxed the block, then it will be difficult to sand it, not impossible though. You can definitely sand it if you go the tung oil route. As for typical cleaning, that will depend how you sealed your block. If the surface is very water-resistent like from tung oil or full beeswax, then a simple wash with soapy liquid will do. Alternatively, you can wash it with vinegar or salty water. Both of which inhibit bacterial growth. As for disinfection, I know many suggest diluted bleach. I like to stay away from that because bleach is toxic and you need to thoroughly wash the bleach away which then means you are putting more water into the block. It also smell. I would use hydrogen peroxide instead.

            1. n
              Nyleve Nov 17, 2009 07:50 AM

              I've had a butcher block island - about 4 feet square - for about 28 years. I love it. I cut and chop on it - mostly bread and vegetables - but use a smaller cutting board generally for meat to avoid contamination. That said, I have cut meat on it and we're all still alive. The butcher block surface is scarred with nicks and cuts and even has the point of a small knife embedded in it (broke off years ago and is still there). I use it to roll out dough, after which I can use a bench scraper to clean the surface. Every once in a while I scrub the whole thing down with steel wool, disinfect with chlorine bleach and re-oil with mineral oil. It looks well used - it's not a museum piece. I have found the maintenance to be minimal. Once in a great while something stupid spills on it - food colouring, beet juice, whatever, and there is some staining. Some of the stains come out with bleach, the rest remains, adding character to the block. I would never want to replace it.

              Other posters are correct, though, about the area around the sink. I do have a small bar sink in one corner of this island and the immediate vicinity has become discoloured from the water. That's my one and only complaint about it.

              1 Reply
              1. re: Nyleve
                BoardSMITH Nov 17, 2009 08:29 AM

                To remove stains, try peroxide. Dab on with a cloth and the stain will come up, slowly but it will lessen if not go away completely. The sooner you try, the more stain will be removed.

                . To remove odors, coat the offending area with baking soda and let that sit for some time. Or you can make a paste from baking soda and water and apply that to the smelly area. Either will work.

              2. BoardSMITH Nov 17, 2009 02:35 AM

                A natural wood top will add a warmth to your kitchen that other surfaces like stone or Corian can't.

                You can chop on one and the wood surface will be kind to your edges. I have many professional chefs for customers as well as many top level cooks and they all prefer wood for the expensive knives they use.

                Daily maintenance is not that hard. A quick spray with a 1:1 mixture of vinegar and water or a spray with a diluted Clorox and water mixture will go a long ways. Or you can coat it with salt overnight which is what the old time butchers did.

                Water will attack wood because it is an organic material. You can limit the exposure and wipe up any standing water which will help. A good water resistant coating like mineral oil or Waterlox will do a lot to help protect your investment. Organic oils like vegetable, olive or nut oils should be avoided, they all contain fats which will turn rancid after a period of time. An oiling with mineral oil on a periodic basis is all you will need and adding some bees wax to the oil is a great help. There are paste waxes available that contain mineral oil and bees wax. These are easy to apply and provide an extra level or water repellency.

                Long lasting? There are old antique blocks that command high prices on the antique market that are many years old. A little care will go a long way to preserving your investment. Sanding will be a chore with a wood block because the oils in the wood will clog up sand paper in an instant. It is better to use a cabinet scraper. (BTW You can't scrape or sand stone if it is scratched and the dust from Corian makes cement powder look coarse.)

                Hope this helps.

                2 Replies
                1. re: BoardSMITH
                  pikawicca Nov 17, 2009 03:52 PM

                  You might have professional chefs using butcher block counter tops in their home kitchens (although I doubt that), but they are not using them in professional kitchens. Wood does not meet health code requirements for professional kitchen countertops.

                  1. re: pikawicca
                    Chemicalkinetics Nov 18, 2009 07:57 AM

                    BoardSmith is correct. Wood cutting boards are used in US restaurants. I think it is some urban-myths that they are not allowed in restaurants. I am not sure how the rumor got started, but I have definitely seen many restaurants with wood chopping block in their kitchens. As for the FDA regulation, wood cutting boards are allowed. I am doing a cut and paste here:

                    "(B) Hard maple or an equivalently hard, close-grained wood may be used for:

                    (1) Cutting boards; cutting blocks; bakers' tables; and utensils such as rolling pins, doughnut dowels, salad bowls, and chopsticks; and"

                    It is directly from the FDA Food Code.

                    It is still a controversial topic about which is slightly more sanitary. Here is a good summary:

                    http://voices.washingtonpost.com/all-we-can-eat/chat-leftovers.html
                    http://www.hi-tm.com/Documents/Cutboa...

                    As you can see, plastic and wood are not very different in term of sanitation.

                2. maplesugar Nov 16, 2009 07:34 PM

                  Butcher block counters surrounding a sink can mean the wood gets damaged from repeated exposure. If it were me I'd either get a Boos board or install the butcher block counter somewhere other than where the sink is located.

                  1. pikawicca Nov 16, 2009 05:17 PM

                    I have a huge Boos block next to my stove that I use to chop veggies every day. I would never use it for fruits or meat, due to odor/bacterial transfer. I would never install a butcher block island. If you care most about how it looks, go ahead. If you're concerned with functionality, don't do it.

                    1. m
                      mountaincachers Nov 16, 2009 05:09 PM

                      I had butcher block in my kitchen before I remodeled it, and really didn't like it. Granted, I wasn't the original owner, and it was in rough shape before I got it. I particularly didn't like it around my sink, where it looked sort of mildewy. Compared to hard surfaces, it takes a lot more care to keep it looking decent. Maybe you could find a different way to warm up the kitchen (eg changing the cabinets to ivory or using a different color cabinet for the island).

                      1. d
                        deeznuts Nov 16, 2009 02:59 PM

                        Go ahead and contact Dave at http://www.theboardsmith.com/ he may answer all of your questions. His boards are a favorite at knifeforums "in the kitchen" and is a participant there as well.

                        1. Chemicalkinetics Nov 16, 2009 02:42 PM

                          Farmersdaughter,

                          Hi. I don't have a built-in butcher block, but butcher blocks can last if you take care of it. That being said, the ironic part is that it is easier to take care of a free chopping block than a built-in one. There are tons of method to prep your chopping blocks like oil it with mineral oil vs tung oil, or beeswax it or to put high salt water into it to imbed salt to prevent future bacterial growth. At the end, there is a simple tradeoff. The more you take care of it, the longer it lasts, but eats up more of your time. Some believe a chopping block is just a tool and should not be baby-sat and should be tossed away every few years.

                          If you are going to get a chopping block, make sure it is end-grain. It is most likely going to be end grain, but just make sure.

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