Butcher Block and Wood Countertops
What’s The Difference And Is One Better Than The Other?
What are they?
Both butcher block and wood kitchen surfaces are essentially made by adhering strips of wood together to form a slab from which a countertop can be cut to match the dimensions you need for your kitchen. The majority of wood and butcher block countertops are made from maple, but you can use just about any wood or combination of wood to get the countertop that will be just right for your kitchen. Wood reclaimed from old barns and houses makes an excellent countertop or consider looking for wood from your area that is sustainably grown and harvested.
What’s the difference?
In the most general sense, wood countertops tend to be more decorative and butcher block more durable as a cooking prep surface. The thickness of wood countertops will range between three quarters of an inch to six inches. Butcher block countertops can range from two inches to a foot thick which makes them very durable for heavy use. But the key to deciding on what type of wood countertop is best for you, you’ll want to consider how they are designed to perform. The wood strips can be bonded in 3 different ways; face grain, edge grain, and end grain.
Face grain (also called long grain or plank grain) is fabricated by adhering the strips of wood with the wide side face up. This is considered the most decorative as it beautifully showcases the natural movement of the wood. It is often used for wood countertops for its visual appeal and economy of cost, but it is not suitable for butcher block because it’s not designed to withstand such heavy use. It’s wise to use cutting boards on this type of countertop to preserve its natural beauty.
Edge grain is accomplished by bonding the wood with the edges upright. This makes for what some believe is a “busier” aesthetic than face grain (think narrower stripes), but it also makes for a more durable countertop that’s better suited as a chopping and cutting surface. You’ll see edge grain construction described as both wood and butcher block countertops. This type of construction tends to be more costly than face grain, but many feel that it’s durability makes the price worth while.
End grain is the strongest and most durable fabrication technique. It’s formed with the ends of the strips facing up, so when the slab is sliced, you get an incredibly stout surface that can withstand the chopping and cutting that gives butcher block it’s name. It also creates that signature checkerboard pattern that you see in heritage kitchens. Usually this traditional countertop is used on only a portion of the countertop space (like an island) because the pattern can be quite pronounced and end grain slabs can be costly.
Is one better than the other?
Well, it depends. It comes down to just what kind of aesthetic and function you desire for your kitchen. If you’re looking for a gorgeous countertop that will work with an integrated sink and a dishwasher, a face grain wood countertop is the way to go. Naturally, wood is susceptible to water damage and stains, but with a good sealant (maintained according to your woodshop’s recommendations) you can keep your wood countertops beautiful for many years. The cost will depend on the type (or types) of wood used, but this type of construction tends to be less costly.
On the other hand, if you know you’re going to be doing food prep directly on your countertop – what a luxury! – then go for end grain butcher block. You’ll need to treat it periodically with food grade oil or wax to protect the wood and to help keep it resistant to stains and bacteria, but you can bypass the synthetic sealants. Any scratches or discolorations can be sanded out and as butcher block countertops are so thick, you can resurface it over and over and it will endure for countless years.
Edge grain countertops are considered the compromise between the two. You can have much of the durability of butcher block for less cost and a less distracting look which make it an excellent choice for a larger surface area. Discuss your expectations regarding the performance of your edge grain countertops with your woodshop to help you decide what type of sealant (if any) would be best in your kitchen.