Butcher block kitchen island

Butcher block kitchen island

Island Featured

Our kitchen.  This space in the house was one of the few spaces that we have done nothing with since we moved into our house.  The previous owners did all new cabinets and carved out a decent pantry space plus put in a new oven, but they left the old blue/brown laminate counter tops there for us. The edges of the island and a few corners had de-laminated and began peeling up and breaking off, one piece was held on by gum! Something had to be done.

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This is the island in the process of cutting it down to a single level.

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Here you can see the seating area and cabinet once I cut them down to level. I replaced the 2×4’s at the top, then covered the whole island with an ‘H’ shaped 3/4″ hardwood base which I leveled and mounted directly to the base. I used this surface to rest the island on, then secured it down with screws and two L brackets.

I traded services with a local granite installer, Granite of the Valley for a new website, so the countertops were all taken care of, but my wife and I decided to do a hardwood island rather than granite. We tend to congregate around that space and leaning on a warm glowing wood top seemed a more friendly surface than cold hard granite.

I decided to go with red oak planks from the local hardware store. This is a very hard wood with a beautiful grain and it is reasonably priced.  After an hour or two selecting the materials (I test fitted them on a sheet of MDF on a dolly in the store), I had a few 3/4″ planks to work with. I decided to span the entire worktop with a majority of the planks with the exception of some 1 3/4″ planks that had joints near the middle for the visual effect.

For the kitchen table, I used a biscuit joiner and glued the planks edge to edge to form the table top, THEN glued a sheed of MDF to the bottom for density and strength afterwards.  For the island, I decided to screw and glue the planks directly to the MDF to skip the extra hassle.  This meant I would have to fill the holes with plugs.

I started by laying out all the planks in place to form the top.  Then, I drew trimmed all the planks to size and marked out all the drill holes with them in place. Then I drilled all the 1/2″ holes for the whole top with a spade bit, and predrilled the MDF substrate for the 3/4″ screws.

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That wet spot is my sweat! One or two holes are one thing, but 60 or 70 holes, that is a different story! On a side note, this red oak smells wonderful when the drill bit is hot!

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These were my test pieces. I tested the whole process on scraps first before I moved to the next step so that there would be no surprises when I was working on the final product.

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I then began gluing the planks down from one edge to the other.  The trick to this was making sure I cleaned up all of the wood shavings and vacuumed the whole surface, then wiped it all down really well before the first drop of glue hit the table.  The two mating surfaces are so flat that if a single drill shaving got sandwiched in there, I would have a bump on the surface to deal with. Small gaps here and there are not a problem to fill in but you want to keep the planks as tight as possible to avoid adding work later.

I attempted to stain every other board once before assembling the top to give a striped look to the finshed top, but once it was totally assembled, I ended up sanding off all the stain anyway, so that was a waste of time.

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I just put a bit of glue in and around the hole, then gently hammered the caps down so they were close to flush.

Once the planks were all glued and screwed down, I went around and installed the plugs on the whole surface.  I attempted to match the tone and grain of the plugs where I could for the first few, then I decided to finish with a random pattern because trying to hide them wasn’t going to work.

Once the plugs were installed I flipped the table top over and installed the sides, glued and clamped them, then left them to dry overnight.

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The next day I flipped the top back over and began sanding the surface to get a nice flat tabletop.  The hardwoods chewed up my sanding pads quickly, I went through about 10 60 grit pads on my orbital to get a nice surface.  Then I sanded again with 120, then again with 220 for a nice smooth surface to accept the finish.

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Finally, rounded the corners with a file and sandpaper, then I went around the whole edge with a router to give a little bit of detail and to soften the corners and edges.  I left a few imperfections in the router finish on purpose, I am not perfect nor am I a professional woodworker and I wanted the island to reflect that.  I wanted it to look like it was made by hand and not in a factory in China.

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I let everything settle and dry overnight, then applied a liberal coat of pre stain wood conditioner, followed by two coats of Minwax ipswich pine stain to match our kitchen cabinets.  I had originally planned on going very dark to give lots of contrast, but after the second coat of stain, the grain was beautiful and I was afraid that more stain would ruin it, so I stopped there.

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To finish it off, I chose to use Watch teak oil rather than polyurethane.  Teak oil sinks down into the wood and hardens IN the wood, not on the surface like polyurethane.  In my experience, this is nice because on a nice piece of wood, you still feel the grain but the surface becomes impervious to water and stains (within reason).  Also you can reapply a light coat with a rag from time to time without having to worry about sanding or refinishing.

I’m glad that I went with that finish, the final island top shines and is protected (liquids bead right up and wipe off without a trace) but still feels like wood rather than coated wood.

My wife loved her anniversary present (5 year anniversary is wood!  Who knew!) and we both love the way the single level island opens up the kitchen and warms up the whole space.

Creativity is thinking up new things. Innovation is doing new things.