In search of a durable and cost-effective material for your kitchen counter surface? You may want to consider wood. Today I am sharing the 3 best types of wood for countertops…
Looking back at most of my kitchen remodels, I can see where one might get the impression that I have a thing for wood countertops.
But truth being told, from a matter of sheer aesthetics, I am actually more of a stone kind of gal.
The being said… from a financial budgeting perspective, after comparing costs of Quartz or Marble with that of butcher block or other durable wood materials, I learned very early on in the remodeling game – given my tight a$$ budget- wood is typically always the best way to go.
Not only are most types of wood priced considerably lower by the square foot than other solid surfaces , given the material itself is easy to cut and install DIY-style, you also have the potential to save big time on installation fees.
From pine boards to butcher block, I have used various materials for wooden countertops, and today I am going to give you an honest rundown of them all.
With a very strong emphasis on budgeting, here are what I consider to be the best types of wood for kitchen countertops…
1. Butcher Block-
As far as food preparation is considered , unsealed butcher block is the safest and most ideal material for wood counters.
Back at my 1980’s kitchen remodel, my husband and I purchased unfinished maple butcher block countertops which we decided to install ourselves. Once the installation was complete, we “finished” the wood with a food-safe mineral oil formulation specifically designed for butcher block.
While butcher block can be made of essentially any type of wood (including but not limited to birch, walnut, hickory, bamboo, acacia, beech and cherry wood), the most popular choice is oak, hard maple and walnut countertops. This is due to the superior hardness and durability of these specific wood types.
Butcher block comes in a variety of designs including edge grain, flat grain and end grain. While end grain is considered superior in terms of durability, edge grain tends to be the most popular choice because of its lower cost. At any rate, end grain and edge grain are both adequately durable for use as a countertop surface.
In terms of maintenance, it is important to keep in mind that these wood tops are not impervious to water damage and high heat. To ensure the longevity of your wooden countertops, you will need to condition the butcher block every six months.
Even with regular conditioning and special care to the cleaning products I used, with time and heavy use, my maple countertop did begin to exhibit some discoloration. Then again, even natural stone like Marble is prone to staining.
Although butcher block counters are considerably more affordable than Marble, Quartz and most Granite countertops, price per square foot will vary greatly depending on what type of wood and grain design you choose (exotic and tropical hardwood materials can get pricey AF).
However, if you go with a more budget-conscious wood material, a range of $30-$50 a square foot is a fair investment (just for reference, Quartz countertops range from $75-$150 per square foot).
Budget Hack: If food prep is not of the upmost importance to you, you can always stain a cheaper, unfinished wood material to mimic a higher-end wood.
2. Stained Pine Boards-
If affordability is one of the main concerns dictating your kitchen design, stained/ sealed pine boards are a good choice.
Using cheap, wide plank pine boards (2 1×8’s to be exact) and some waterproof stain, my husband was able to build this DIY wood countertop for our coffee bar/butler pantry…
While pine is considered to be a softer wood material than hard maple, red oak or walnut, as long as you don’t intend on using your actual countertops as a food prep device or cutting board, this cheaper material should be sufficiently durable for bar tops or kitchen island surfaces (at least it was for our needs).
Because I was able to use a more durable top coat than merely a food-safe wax or oil, over 3 years of use, I did not notice staining or discoloration (which was unfortunately the case for my butcher block)….
Primarily cleaning my counters with warm water and soap, I never had issues with this type of finish.
That being said, just as with butcher block, I do not recommend sitting hot pans directly on top of the surface. I would also be sure to routinely inspect and, as needed, perform top-coat touch-ups on areas particularly vulnerable to water damage (like around a sink) or on areas that have lost their luster and are appearing dull.
One main drawback of using pine boards en lieu of natural stone or butcher block is the thickness of the boards (or lack thereof). Simply put: if you want a standard countertop thickness of 1.25”, this option may not work for you. Given that pine is also a softer wood, I would not recommend a considerable cabinet overhang.
If you want something thicker than pine planks but more affordable than traditional butcher block, you are going to love my third option…
3. Sanded Birch Plywood-
When it came time to build my covered outdoor kitchen/wet bar, I knew I did not want to go with the previous wood selections I had tried in the past- not because I had issues with functionality, but because I had very specific aesthetic goals in mind.
You see…. while I didn’t care about food-prep, I did care about thickness.
Working with a limited budget, I also wanted a cheaper alternative to actual butcher block.
After months of research, I decided to use sanded birch plywood…
At first glance you might think these counters are actual birch butcher block. Deceptively, the wooden surface is actually two 3/4” thick plywood boards sandwiched together with screws.
Utilizing cheaper materials, after everything was said and done, I spent $100 less with this method versus real butcher block. And because I actually wanted to cover the wood grain for this particular project, there was really no reason to spend an arm and a leg on some fancy slab of wood…
For these DIY black wood countertops, I was going for more of a minimalist, modern look. Accordingly, I stained the birch one solid color and then sealed it with a waterproof top coat.
This just goes to show that not only is birch affordable and durable, when stained or painted, it can work well for traditional and modern kitchens alike. You just have to think outside of the box!
If you do love the natural beauty of wood, you can always stain birch plywood so that you can still see all of the grain. Just keep in mind that it is one solid piece of wood (not strips of wood that have been glued together like standard butcher block). As a result, you will not see any sort of pattern.
As with all other wood countertops, they will require some care and maintenance .
You should avoid direct exposure to hot pots, and you will need to use a sealant to protect the wood surface from water damage. If you do use this staining method, remember that food prep directly on the surface is not safe or advisable due to the chemicals in the top coat.
Unsealed butcher block treated with a food-grade oil or wax is the only viable option for direct contact food prep.
So now that you see for yourself just how many types of wood can be used for a kitchen countertop surface, I hope you are feeling more informed and empowered when executing your kitchen remodel .
Sure…natural stone surfaces are stunning, but wood is warm, welcoming and timeless (not to mention, affordable).
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