8 Steps to Building a Butcher Block Countertop

Here is the first in a series of blog posts on the basics of constructing a few of my favorite projects.  Today’s topic is an 8 step guide to building a butcher block countertop from scratch.  These tops are very durable since the boards are positioned with their edge grains on the cutting surface.  End grain boards are even stronger but the expansion and contraction make them prone to cracking.

Items Needed: There are several tools that are necessary including: miter saw, table saw, jointer planer, surface planer, sander, and a lot of clamps.  In addition it requires a bottle of waterproof glue and 35 board feet of material to produce a 2ft by 4ft 1.75″ thick counter top.

Step 1:  Cut the lumber to approximately 6 inches longer than the desired countertop. By doing this each board will go all the way through the top with no middle joints.  Plane the lumber to a uniform thickness (~3/4″) using a surface planer.

Step 2: Run one edge through the jointer planer to make a perfect straight edge and then rip the boards on a table saw to 1/4″ wider than the countertop thickness.  For the example the boards were ripped to 2″ wide resulting in a final thickness of 1.75″ (my preferred thickness for a final countertop).

Step 3: Organize the boards in random order to ensure boards from the original stock are separated when possible.  This makes color variations random rather then systematic.  Glue up sections that will fit through the thickness planer (example: 12.5″ wide) and clamp with pipe clamps every six inches or so. This will take a lot of glue and you must work fast in order to have clamping pressure on the section prior to the glue setting up.  It is important to add a extra board of each side without glue for the clamps to apply pressure on in order to not damage the top.

Step 4: After the sections dry remove them from the clamps and run them through the thickness planer taking off small amounts from both surfaces until they are even on both sides and at the final thickness of the countertop (1.75″).

Step 5:  The sections are still approximately 6 inches longer than the final dimension.  Cut material from both sides using a miter saw to arrive at the final countertop length. Run each edge through jointer planer to ensure a tight middle joint.

Step 6: Glue the two sections together taking care to align the sections as close as possible.  The closer the fit the less final sanding will be required.  Clamp using pipe clamps approximately every six inches.  Allow the top to dry overnight.

Step 7: Remove from the clamps and sand the top flush.  If your joint was aligned well in the previous step it will only require a few passes at 60 grit, 120 grit and finally 220 grit with a random orbit sander.  For circumstances with un-evenness careful sanding with a belt sander may be required. Once sanding is complete a router may be used to put a decorative edge on the countertop.  For this top a 45 degree bevel edge was added.  Since only three sides were to be routed a sacrificial strip was held with a clamp to ensure the rear of the board remained straight while routing the ends.

Step 8 Finishing:  If you are not going to use as an actual cutting board polyurethane may be used after sanding to 220 grit on the whole project.  I always apply polyurethane to the bottom of the countertop to ensure it remains sealed permanently. However for the top I highly recommend applying many coats (4-6) of mineral oil followed by a mineral oil / bee’s wax combo so the surface can be used for food preparation.

Installation:  The block can be installed almost anywhere and should last for decades if installed properly and maintained.  It is important to note that it will expand and contract significantly with the seasons.  When installing I attach the tops with a single screw on each side of the countertop lengthwise and preferably in the same board.  This allows the top to expand and contract without cracking.

I hope you enjoyed the post and let me know if you have any questions or would like to have one built for your next project.

About penningtonmillworks
I am a pharmaceutical chemist during the day. On evenings and weekends I have a passion for all things home improvement and woodworking. I am always looking for a new challenging project!

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