While most homeowners are likely to turn to granite, marble or engineered stone for their countertop materials, there are a wide variety of countertop materials to choose from, each of which have their own aesthetic and functional benefits and drawbacks. One such material, wood, is commonly featured as a flooring or cabinetry material, so using it as a countertop material can create a space that is admittedly monotonous and boring. However, it’s possible to utilize wood countertops in a way that works well with your particular kitchen space and design preferences.
Why Wood Countertops?
As a building material, wood is popular because of its wide availability. There are a variety of wood species and finishes that each lend a specific character to just about any design style that you can think of. It is said to impart warmth to a room, in part because of its warm touch when compared to a material such as stainless steel, and in part because of the warm natural brown tones. Wood is also a popular choice for the environmentally-minded consumer, as there are many woods that are FSC and LEED-certified to be sustainable.
If you’re a home chef, it’s quite likely that you’ve used a wood cutting board or butcher block. For most homeowners, these are items that are stored separately and placed onto the countertop or that exists as a separate surface that is moved into place when needed for use. A moveable butcher block surface, however, takes up extra space and can actually become an obstacle while trying to move around the kitchen during cooking, especially if you have a smaller kitchen and are already pressed for space. Many homeowners have found that the most convenient configuration is to have the wooden prep area incorporated directly into the countertop. This can exist either as an inset prep area that is incorporated into another countertop material, or as the main countertop material itself. Some may choose a wood countertop only for the island, while using another countertop material for the rest of the kitchen. Whatever the configuration, most homeowners who choose wood do so because they plan to utilize this area as a prep surface.
Wood countertops are made from either laminated or solid wood. As far as wood insert blocks are concerned, they are available in a wide variety of sizes and finishes, including both edge and end grain laminations. Wood insert blocks can be deposited directly into a corresponding space that is cut into your countertop surface by your fabricator, or they can be attached to a cut-out corner of the countertop.
If you’re thinking of using wood as your main countertop material, there are a few things you must first consider. There are a variety of woods that manufacturers use for countertops. Here are some of the more popular types:
- Eastern hard rock sugar maple is the hardest wood available, so this choice is best for a surface that will experience lots of cutting and scratching.
- Western maple is not as hard as eastern maple, and is more likely to be damaged by cutting, scratching and wear.
- Specialty hardwoods such as walnut and cherry tend to be used for aesthetic purposes, rather than as a prep area.
- Full-length edge grain laminations are long unbroken strips of wood laminated together, while butt-joined edge grain laminations have various strips; your choice between these two will depend on your aesthetic preference.
- End grain laminations have a characteristic checkerboard look, and is most commonly used for counter inserts.
Whether or not you’ll be using your wood countertop as a prep surface, it’s still bound to come into contact with food and moisture, so proper sealing is required. If you prefer the look of unfinished wood and would like to use this as a prep area, you’ll have to pay quite a bit of attention to maintaining this surface. Every four to six weeks, your unfinished wood countertop will have to be oiled. This is of particular importance if your entire countertop will consist of unfinished wood. A polyurethane sealer can be used on unfinished wood countertops that will not be used as a prep surface. This sealer is great for preventing moisture and liquids from permeating the surface, but it should not be used in areas that will come into contact with food that will be eaten.
Prefinished wood is prepared in the factory with a penetrating sealer and finished with a nontoxic lacquer in order to prevent moisture from seeping through into the wood. In contrast to an unfinished wood, maintenance will be limited to cleaning regularly with a damn cloth. This is appropriate for an island countertop that will double as a prep area, as there is no need to worry about damaging the surface with chopping and cutting.