Traditionally, a butcher block is a block of wood upon which we chop meat as in a butcher’s shop. Today, the term extends to countertops, and we call these surfaces “butcher block countertops.”
In this post, we cover the various aspects of butcher block countertops, the wood that we use to make them, and what to look for to build a suitable butcher block countertop for a kitchen. You can get some great tips on how to make excellent countertops from the best wood available.
What is a butcher block countertop?
The butcher block countertop is a refreshing deviation from the traditional granite countertops that enjoy so much popularity. It serves the purpose of providing counter space and as a cutting board cum tabletop for eating meals.
A butcher block typically consists of straight wood cuts joined together with glue to create a thick slab for the purposes described above. You can do slicing and chop directly on this surface.
We usually make butcher block countertops from maple, but you will find some made of teak, walnut, cherry, and oak. Nowadays, bamboo presents a popular and eco-friendly option. You can read more about the types of wood used for cutting boards in another of our posts.
General Requirements for Butcher Block Wood
If you need to build a butcher block counter, you need to choose the best wood for the purpose. The best wood for butcher blocks needs to meet certain basic requirements as follows:
There is a huge variation in the price of readymade cutting boards and butcher blocks, the latter being the most expensive. The cost of a butcher block counter is largely dependent on the type of wood and the grade that you use to construct it.
We will deal extensively with the kind of wood that butcher blocks are made of further down in this article.
Janka Hardness Rating
Janka hardness rating is a standard that measures the hardness of wood. The higher the hardness rating, the more resistant it will be to scratches, abrasions, and dents. A higher Janka hardness rating also indicates stronger wood.
For chopping boards and butcher blocks, hardwoods like maple, cherry, and oak take precedence over softwoods like pine and Douglas fir.
The toxicity factor is extremely critical for wooden cookware and kitchenware, and the same applies to butcher block counters. On the other hand, woods that yield edible fruits, leaves, sap, or nuts are typically food-safe.
Although certain woods like purpleheart have an exotic and attractive appearance, you should avoid them because they may contain toxins that can contaminate the food that you place on surfaces made from such woods.
Close-grained woods are the best choice for making cutting boards and butcher blocks. However, open-grained woods like ash or oak soak up moisture due to high porosity. As a result, they can easily develop mold, bacteria and absorb stains. Such woods will also warp easily.
If you need to treat wood meant for cutting boards or butcher blocks, use food-grade mineral oil. You may have to coat the wood or treat it with protective substances to prevent the wood from splitting, warping, or cracking.
You must maintain wooden cutting boards and butcher block counters regularly by cleaning the boards thoroughly and oiling them every six months.
The Best Wood for Butcher Blocks
Now, you have read about the requirements for the wood to be used to construct butcher blocks. So, you already have an idea about what wood serves the best for these kitchen items. Based on those criteria, here is a list of the best woods for butcher blocks:
Maple is the number one choice for cutting boards and butcher block counters. This wood comes in both hard and soft grades, and although we use both for making butcher block counters, hard maple is the preferred option.
Hard maple has a Janka hardness rating of 1,450, which makes strong and durable butcher blocks. In addition, the wood has a high resistance to scratches and impact – more than teak, walnut, or beech. But the important thing here is that hard maple will not dull your knives.
Maple has a tight, close grain which reduces its tendency to absorb water. As a result, the wood is less prone to developing bacteria and collecting stains. However, a downside to maple is that it is difficult to remove when the surface does absorb a stain.
Because of the superior quality of maple, it is a rather expensive type of wood – much more expensive than beech, although perhaps not as expensive as teak or walnut.
At a Janka hardness rating of 1,300, beech is still hard, but not as hard as maple. Beech is hard enough to resist scratches and dents but not so hard as to affect the sharpness of the knives that we use to cut on butcher blocks made of this wood.
The wood has a tight grain, a desirable quality for cutting boards and butcher block countertops. The result is that the wood has less tendency to absorb moisture, protecting it from the accumulation of mold and bacteria.
However, the light color of beech makes stains show up more readily. But an advantage of using beech for making butcher blocks is that the wood is more affordable.
Cypress contains an anti-bacterial substance that makes cutting boards and butcher blocks considerably resistant to mold and bacteria. Also, the substance present in cypress called “Hinokitiol” possesses the property of eliminating ammonia odors.
This wood has a lower Janka hardness rating than many other kinds of wood we use for cutting boards and butcher block countertops. However, cypress will not dull your knife blades as much as those harder woods.
You should only use walnut cutting boards and butcher block countertops sparingly for cutting. The ornamental value is high, but the utility of walnut is low as it has open grains and will absorb moisture more readily.
But walnut continues to be used for making butcher block countertops due to several other advantages. The dark color of walnut wood disguises stains. Also, the wood is less prone to shrinkage, and it is food-safe. Walnut butcher blocks can be quite expensive due to the superior quality of the wood.
Traditionally, granite served as a suitable material for making countertops. However, nowadays, there is a lot of experimentation going on in wood technology. As a result, you will see many different types of wood entering into kitchens, even as countertops.
The butcher block countertop is a unique concept that many do not know much about. If you want to construct one, you need to know about the requirements and what types of wood make the best butcher block countertops.
Hopefully, you are now much more aware of this category of countertop and the requirements for building one. Therefore, you can include butcher block countertops in your future woodworking projects, which will be indeed popular.