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Butcher's block counters in kitchen?

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We're considering renovation of a kitchen, and initially intended to get butcher's block (wooden) countertop on our island, with stone (say granite) on the main bench. We're now thinking of using butchers block for the lot - we love the look of it, we haven't seen any granite or similar stone that we like (some lovely dark marble, but not willing to deal with the constant worries about spilled acids marking), and the savings are considerable.

I know that it will require initial and then periodic oiling. But are there any other issues or disadvantages that we should take into account? Concerns around gas ranges or anything similar? Anyone out there jumped this way, or considered it and then thought better?

Thanks

AB

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  1. Here is a fairly recent thread where some of your questions came up:
    http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/822715

    1. We had a home in our last city that came with butcher block countertops. Certainly have their advantages, but for me the primary disadvantage was that they need more maintenance than my current countertops do. Being a porous material they are prone to staining and to wear. Now, you can sand them and refinish but they do mar and mark easily, especially if you put a hot pan directly on the countertop by accident or leave, say, a cup with something on the bottom on the countertop overnight. This is also why I didn't go with marble, but I digress.
      An advantage is that you can sand and refinish the butcher block countertops to refresh them, but I found that they look "tired" fairly quickly. They also give a rustic look to a kitchen which is something that I didn't want with our current new kitchen. Now, something else to consider is how you are going to use the countertop, If, as you say, you want to oil the surface, this means you are looking at a countertop suitable for prep work? In this case, be prepared for water damage to take its toll, so best not to have them around water sources. Water splashing and so on can cause your countertop to turn black in areas. So if you want your countertop for display vice using as a food prep surface, you might want to get a different finish on the countertop in those areas. Say, the island is for food prep with one finish and the rest is for "display" with a water resistant finish.
      At the end of the day, though, the countertops can be refinished so if you LOVE the look, go for it, knowing about the maintenance requirements and possible downsides.

      1. Are you talking about a butcher block set in the counter? I am not a huge fan of that idea. There is nothing really bad, but I just don't see a lot of advantages compared to an individual butcher block. The only advantage is the look. Aside from this, you cannot move the block, you cannot really clean block as easily....etc.

        1. I have a maple butcher block counter, very thick, about 8ft long. Also very expensive about 15 years ago. It still looks great. I've cooked in restaurants all my life, so this is what I wanted in my house. To clean in a restaurant, use bleach and a heavy scrubber..I do this at home but only a few times a year..I use one end of the counter for prep work (sometimes with sometimes without a cutting board). Guests can sit on both sides of the counter while I'm cooking and chopping. I see reviews of marble and granite and tile...no reviewers like butcher block....because they are interior decorators....not cooks....I say go for it

          1 Reply
          1. re: johnnyb510

            PS many years ago, maybe 10, in my restaurant...The Board of Health came in and said "remove all maple cutting boards (all custom made....maybe $5,000) and replace with plastic....We did this....another $3,000. Then, a year later... they said "plastic is no good, take out all plastic cutting surfaces and replace with wood...you can use the wood again.....wood, long gone....Amazing gov't shizzle....don't get me started on the thousands of dollars they made us spend on Smoke Eater machines (all frome only one company) and then outlawed smoking..but I still like butcherblock..

          2. I have butcher block counters. In addition to the maintenance issue, I would add: 1) Easy to stain. My counters have stains from cans and pans left to long as well as some blotches I have no idea where they came from. 2) Easy to mar. Scratches and dents will quickly discolor. And it's very easy to mar the surface. I used a cutting board without noticing that a few grains of rice were caught between the board and counter, and they got pressed into the wood. Now I have 7 or 8 rice shapes decorating the counter top. 3) Guests think that since it's butcherblock, they can use it as a chopping board.

            All that said, I still like my weathered and well used/misused counter tops, but don't expect yours to be pristine after a couple of years. If you can live with that, go for it.

            1. Grew up in a home with a large cooking island with 1.5" thick edge grain maple butcher block.....40 years later I just sanded it for my parents and oiled with warm Boos mystery oil. It looks as good as when it was first installed. In renovating our own kitchen, we installed a large central prep island of 3" thick end grain maple that we keep sufficiently oiled to prevent any spill stains. The end grain is dense enough to allow cutting with minimal knife marks and yet soft enough to allow my knives to hold their edge reasonably well. Best thing is that the knife marks virtually disappear every time we oil the wood. Cleaning with a damp cloth, occasional scraper and very rare bleach solution is no more complicated than applying a bees wax to our raw cherry wood table. I would not use butcher block adjacent to a sink or even try to cut a sink hole through the laminated wood but having a cooktop there is not a problem.

              1. I have half stone, half butcher block in my kitchen. Each has advantages.

                The butcher block (maple, cut, fit and joined myself from Lumber Liquidators -- total cost well under $450 for a large island and one 7 1/2-foot linear run) is soft and forgiving. Your ceramic and glass cookware won't be any problem. It resists skidding better than any other material when you're using something with a hard surface, such as a big glass bowl.

                No, it's not going to look pristine -- but that's not my style. I cook a LOT. My kitchen is a lot like my carpentry workshop. I don't have any desire to keep it looking like a showroom 24/7.

                The stone has advantages too -- mainly that it's impervious to water, doesn't stain and lets me set 500-degree pans down on it (which I don't do anyways -- I use trivets). But the stone is hell on your dishes, glass herb bottles and the like.

                If I had it to do all over again, I'd be 50/50 on either going with what I did, or saving up for another year or so and splurging on all stainless steel with an integrated sink. The cost there is hellacious, but it's probably the most practical solution. Soft, non-reactive, easy to sterilize. The downside: It's very industrial looking, and if scratches and dents bother you, you'll lose your mind.

                I love my butcher block. I would NEVER put a sink into it, though. I'd show you a friend's house with the sink set into very high-end butcher block, which has completely de-laminated and now needs total replacement. The only way I'd consider using it next to water would be if I would get a huge stainless sink with built-in drain boards on both sides.

                7 Replies
                1. re: barryofthenorth

                  no, no! something has gone wrong with the installation, or else it wasn't such high-end block after all. My stainless prep sink is undermounted to my butcher block counter on my prep island, and it sees constant use. I build the kitchen in '97 and haven't had a moments trouble. BTW, this is a high-humidity climate and the damn WALLS of the house have some water damage, but not this butcherblock.

                  1. re: danna

                    Seriously, I think it's how it's used. If it's not kept oiled and water wiped up every use, there are going to be problems with wood around a sink, unless you put some other type of finish on it. They guy on TV, Holms, doesn't even like wood floors in a kitchen because of the potential for water damage. I've seen my son-in-laws get enough water on the counter it looks like a car wash. They are not compatable with a wood countertop near a sink.

                    1. re: mikie

                      Just to add my two cents. I have had a built in butcher block next to my sink for 34 yeas and have never had a problem. Also have a small butcher block island, and love it. True it's not a thing of beauty, but I cook and the way my kitchen functions is much more important to me. I certainly wouldn't put it in for all the counters, but for certain work places it's wonderful.

                      1. re: Mother of four

                        Are you saying next to or encircling?

                        1. re: escondido123

                          Next to. Plus I also have wood floors in the kitchen and have had for about 20 years, and LOVE them.

                          1. re: Mother of four

                            I too love wood floors and have had them in most of my kitchens...old houses so wood was original. But I stand by my comment that sinks set into butcher block are a nightmare waiting to happen...speaking from experience and repeated observation.

                    2. re: danna

                      This house was built by a multimillionaire architect for himself. Trust me -- it was highest quality. It's used by people who hire caterers regularly and do tons of dishes. It's a nightmare.

                      Wood and water don't mix. Get glue involved and things get even worse. That's physics. Can't change it.

                  2. I think it's great for the island, but my concern for counter top is the area around the sink and faucet. There is a lot of water in that area and it's going to be tough to keep that area from discoloring or worse, from all the water potential. I have a couple of son-in-laws that help out by washing dishes for my daughters, they splater water just about everywhere, no way this would work for them. On the other hand if you never splash and always completely dry the area, you might get away with it. You just have to be alot more careful with wood than you do some of the other countertop materials. If the oiled surface is not kept current it will stain easier than most other surfaces, it will show knife marks if someone cuts on it, and it can scorch if a hot pan gets set on it. Our old electric drop in stove top got hot enough to discolor the light formica counter top, so I would see this a potential problem for wood as well.

                    1. Butcher block around a sink is truly asking for sadness. If you have an undermount sink it will take a little longer, but eventually the bits of water that accumulate around the sink and faucet will soak into the wood and cause it to turn black...there is nothing you can do to stop this. I have seen this many times and even polyurethane can't stop it from happening, just delay it. Truly do not go with wood around the sink, but it will be wonderful on the countertop on the island. As to the dark marble, get that honed and you won't have to worry so much about the spilled acids etc.

                      3 Replies
                      1. re: escondido123

                        I heard all this before I installed mine, and I'm so glad I didn't listen. I sand and mineral oil it once every 2-3 years. The faucet has been leaking for several years now. Now that you mention it, there is a very slight circle of dark around the base of the faucet, maybe 1/8 inch. It's causing no problem whatsoever. I'm pretty slack about maintenance and wiping up water, although I grant you my clean-up sink is mounted to granite. It's the prep sink that's under the block.

                        OP, if you don't put a sink near your chopping area, you'll be scraping your prep detritus into a pail...a mess. I chop, I scrape a few inches to the right w/ my knife (you MUST undermount), I run the disposal. It's the best thing ever. It does stain, though...So I think you would want to be consistent about only chopping colored veggies (beets, pomegranites, raspberries) in one spot. Also don't set a wet can on it.

                        1. re: danna

                          Consider yourself fortunate. I just put in new cabinets and only a couple of weeks after found a slight drip in the plumbing under the sink. Even though the plywood bottom of the cabinet had a finish on it, within that short time there is a dark spot about the size of a golf ball. This was from a slow drip in the drain pipe, believe me, I thought this thing was leak free before I stoped checking on a regular basis. If your wood is getting wet, you're going to have an issue at some point.

                          1. re: mikie

                            I agree that wood can be problematic in the kitchen. They let our dishwasher leak onto the hardwoods upon installation and in the time the slackards left the puddle in the kitchen, it managed to put a faint, but perceptible warp in some of the boards. But there seems to be something about this 1 1/2 thick hard maple butcher block that behaves very differently from other wood.

                            And you're right...since I'm planning to get old in this house, I need to start looking for another faucet. It might take 20 years to cause a prob, but i guess I'll still be there when it does!