As I was writing and researching for our recent post on DIY butcher block kitchen island ideas, I realized there are so many questions out there about this wonderful DIY material! I couldn’t find a source that answered all of them well, so I knew it was time to get to work on my own post to answer all these great questions.

If you’ve ever considered making a DIY dining table, a desk or office project, or tried to renovate your kitchen on a budget, you’ve likely come across butcher block as an option for these projects. But, did you run into all kinds of questions about whether it was the right material for you? I feel ya.

Your material choice matters! Not only does it have a huge effect on the overall look of your project, but it can make or break your budget. It can also set you up for a maintenance nightmare or dream down the line. For instance, if you’re working on a DIY basement bar, moisture management and stain resistance should be top of mind!

So to give you the confidence you need to get the job done right, we’re learning about all things butcher block today! By the end of this post, you’ll have all the information you need to take action on that DIY project you’ve been eyeing for a while.

My Experience Using Butcher Block

Before jumping in, I thought it might be helpful to tell you about my experience using butcher block! I used a birch butcher block countertop from Home Depot for the counters in my camper van project (my husband and I built the whole thing out ourselves). We went this route because it’s light, relatively cheap, and a material we could work with ourselves… and I LOVED the end result!

view of the interior of a camper van with butcher block countertops from outside the cargo door

Overall, this part of our project was a simple process using a circle saw, jigsaw and very careful measuring. We opted to seal the counter only with beeswax and mineral oil. This has been my only complaint- I did not keep up with the necessary repeated applications of mineral oil and the wood has begun to split at the ends. I would not be as concerned with this issue in a home, however, as there are not as many temperature and humidity fluctuations in a house as in a van. It also shouldn’t be an issue as long as you are diligent about oiling the wood.

What is Butcher Block?

Today, many use the term butcher block to refer to any wood countertop made from thick strips of wood glued together. Historically, however, true “butcher’s blocks” looked more true to their name – like a thick block of wood. 

These were work surfaces used for butchering meat, made to endure lots of intense usage. An old, well-used butcher’s block would end up worn until its edges had become rounded and surface softened from constant wear and tear by butcher knives. 

Today’s butcher block counters

While today’s counters are still made with the same method of gluing thick strips of wood together, the use cases for these counters are a bit different. Now, we use them as stylish countertops that can blend seamlessly into a variety of home designs. They’re especially popular in modern farmhouse style kitchens. They are a regular thickness for countertops and made more for traditional countertop usage rather than cutting directly on the wood despite what their name may imply.

Types of Butcher Block Construction

Butcher block can be made in a few different ways. Each method lends itself to different uses and has a slightly different look to it. There are three types:

  • End grain: most durable option, well suited to surfaces used for cutting. More costly and more often used in wooden cutting boards rather than counters.
  • Face/flat grain: imagine you took planks of wood, set them side by side, and glued the edges together to create one cohesive surface- that’s face or flat grain. This option is less durable than end grain but it shows off the wood grain very nicely.
  • Edge grain: possibly the most popular choice for countertops, edge grain uses the narrow side of wood planks bonded together to create a solid surface. This option is less durable than end grain, but still works great for counters and is well-liked for its affordability

For a better understanding of what part of the wood is visible in each of these types, check out this image:

Each of these options creates a unique look for the end result. See examples below. Note that these are each different types of wood, though. Different construction types will affect the pattern of the wood, not so much the color.

photos of three different types of butcher block side by side

Butcher Block vs Stone countertops

I love stone countertops, don’t get me wrong. From gorgeous granite to a nice, clean quartz, they can really elevate a kitchen design. But butcher block has a lot going for it! Let’s get into some of the main selling points and drawbacks of wooden countertops compared to stone alternatives


This is one of the main reasons many opt for butcher block, especially when taking on a DIY project. It’s budget-friendly! This often makes more sense when adding on to or renovating your kitchen.

DIY Uses

Another great plus is how easy it is for a homeowner to work with butcher block themselves without calling in the pros. With proper knowledge and tools, you can cut your wooden countertop to size, customize the shape, and make all the cuts needed to install a kitchen sink all on your own. I’ve even done this myself while building out a camper van. 


The maintenance required for butcher block depends heavily on the finish you choose. If you choose to oil your butcher block with food-safe oil, know that it will require regular maintenance, oiling your counter frequently after installation and less often (but still regularly) down the line. 

Stone countertop options are not without maintenance, either, though. Most granite and marble require special cleaners and sealants. You also have to be especially careful with acidic foods to avoid etching and/or staining these materials. It happens SO easily.  I had a marble countertop at one time and was most definitely not cut out for it.


Butcher block counters are undoubtedly less durable than stone alternatives. Wood is much more prone to denting and scratching than stone. However, repairs on butcher block counters are pretty simple. Small dents and scratches can always be sanded, filled, and refinished. These are simple steps that are generally pretty easy to do yourself. 

Stain a marble countertop, however, and you’re either dealing with the stain forever or paying the hefty price tag of having your counter refinished (been there and it wasn’t fun).

What’s the Best Wood for Butcher Block Countertops?

It depends on your personal taste, but hardwoods like birch, acacia, maple, and cherry are popular choices due to their durability, resistance to wear, and attractive grain patterns. Which variety you choose will largely come down to personal taste and your desired look. 

Most hardwoods will perform similarly, so don’t stress too much about picking the perfect material. The more important choice to determine how your countertop holds up will come down to the finish you choose to apply over the butcher block. We’ll get into that in a minute. 

What’s the Best Finish for Butcher Block Countertops?

The choice of finish for butcher block countertops depends on your preferences and usage. Popular options include food-safe mineral oil, which enhances the natural beauty of the wood and provides moisture resistance. I love the look of this finish on the counter in our campervan, but I will warn you- it’s super imporant to keep up with oiling it! Alternatively, you can use a polyurethane finish for added durability and protection against stains and scratches.

view of butcher block counter in camper van

Finish Options for butcher block counters include:

  • Resin/epoxy: creates a shiny, hard surface over the wood. This option is very durable, waterproof, and mostly stainproof
  • Waterlox“: A product that is composed of a blend of tung oil and resin- water resistant and food safe
  • Pure tung oil: Natural, food-safe and easy to apply (but requires reapplication). Maintains natural wood color
  • Mineral oil: Food safe oil made from petroleum. First application will be a mix of beeswax and mineral oil, then repeated applications of mineral oil for maintenance
  • Polyurethane: Oil versions are water resistant, but not very heat resistant. Stain wood in any color and seal with a polyurethane topcoat – this allows more control over the wood color.

Maintenance and Cleaning

Daily maintenance of a wood countertop is comparable to any other counter. However, other maintenance factors may come into play depending on the finish you choose for your butcher block project.

How do You Clean and Maintain Butcher Block Countertops?

One thing that’s nice about wood vs granite or marble is that there’s no need to avoid acidic ingredients in countertop cleaners. Simply use a damp towel to wipe down the counter surface after cooking, and use an all-purpose cleaner when necessary.

Routine maintenance may include oiling the counter if you opt to simply finish your butcher block counter with butcher block oil. This is extremely important! If you neglect to oil the wood, it can become dry and the strips of wood will begin to separate. 

I made this mistake before and need to figure out if there is a way to repair a butcher block counter that has begun to split at the ends. Let me know if you know of any solutions! 

How do You Remove Stains From Butcher Block Counters?

I’ve surprisingly never had this problem on my oiled butcher block counters. Avoid stains by making sure you never leave colorful foods or liquids sitting on counters, and wipe up spills immediately. 

If you encounter stains, many recommend a simple remedy involving covering the stain in salt, then scrubbing with a lemon half (cut side down). For more serious stains, try dabbing with hydrogen peroxide followed by vinegar. See this post by The Kitchn for more tips.

Can You Cut Directly on Butcher Block Countertops?

While butcher block countertops are designed for food prep, it’s best to use cutting boards to protect the surface and prolong its lifespan. Although the wood is resilient, frequent cutting directly on the countertop can lead to scratches and gouges over time – cutting boards will preserve your block for years to come!

How to Use Butcher Block Counters for DIY Projects

As I mentioned earlier, butcher block is an excellent choice for DIY projects. It is relatively easy to work with and easy to find. Here are some tips for using it in your next project.

How do You Cut and Prepare It?

One of the main reasons butcher block is a great material for DIY projects is that it can easily be cut and customized at home. The best tools for this job are a circle saw, table saw or jig saw. Some jigs can help make cutting longer sections much easier. 

Check out this post by Hardwood Reflections for detailed tutorials on different methods using tools such as a carpenter square, straight edges, or special jigs to get a straight cut. Provided you have the tools and the skills to use them, you’ll be well on your way to some awesome DIY projects!

To prepare your butcher block for a project, start by measuring… once, twice, maybe three times if you’re like me and always mess this up. ;) Look for any flaws in the wood and see if there is a way to exclude them from your cuts before marking up where you will cut and what parts you’ll use. Mark your cuts and get to work!

If you need to cut holes through your butcher block, here’s how it’s done. Measure and mark first, of course. Then, use a drill bit to drill a starter hole large enough to fit a jigsaw blade. Use the jig saw for the rest of your cuts. You can use the drill bit again if you need some extra space in the corners (this is how we cut our campervan counter).

Best DIY Projects for Butcher Block Countertops

Any project requiring some kind of tabletop surface is just begging to be made easier with butcher block. It can create a quick and easy dining table or workstation- all you need to do is make a base for it! Some great project ideas include butcher block dining tables and butcher block desks. It can be installed into a closet nook, mounted over filing cabinets, or simply attached to pin legs for a quick DIY butcher block table for any purpose.

large kitchen island with butcher block counter, storage space, and bar stools
Photo source: House By the Bay Design 

One of my favorite ideas is to use it for a DIY kitchen island like the one you see above from our post full of similar ideas. It’ll go with virtually any counter you already have in your kitchen and save you money if you’re looking for a budget kitchen makeover rather than a pricey renovation. 

How do you Install Butcher Block Countertops?

Installing butcher block countertops requires attention to detail, but it’s not too difficult. Start by measuring and cutting the butcher block to fit your space. Then, secure the countertop to the base cabinets using screws from underneath, allowing for expansion and contraction of the wood. Finish by sealing the seams and edges with wood filler and applying a protective finish.

The Countertop Material to Make any DIY table project Attainable!

If there’s one takeaway from this post, it’s this: butcher block is a fantastic material to consider to make any DIY table, desk, or kitchen counter project just a bit easier. And, it looks great, too! Butcher block is a great option to keep the budget in check and the project simple without compromising on style.

Next, check out DIY Dining Table Makeovers to get some more ideas on DIY table projects! And don’t worry, we have inspiration for DIY office spaces too- see our post on DIY kids’ desk projects or simple DIY standing desk projects!

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