Wood countertops are both beautiful and functional and provide a kitchen or bar with much more warmth than natural stone or similar types of material. That beauty can have some drawbacks, though, so before deciding on wood countertops for a kitchen renovation project it is important to first determine how the wood countertops are going to be used.
Types and styles of wood countertops
Wood countertops can be either functional or decorative. They are made from three different types of grain patterns: flat grain, edge grain and end grain.
The countertop's intended use should determine which type of material to use. If the countertop is intended to be a decorative visual centerpiece, such as on an island or bar, then premium unblemished wood planks are an ideal choice of material. These knotless planks--also called face grain planks--range in width from about three to 12 inches, and boards typically run the entire length of the counter to avoid unsightly butt joints. Though the planks are sealed with high-quality, deep-penetrating waterproof oils, the wood still can scratch or scar much more easily than other, more durable countertop materials.
For countertops sure to see heavy chopping or cutting, then wood with an edge or end grain is the preferred construction method. Edge-grain chopping block countertops are made from randomly selected boards, also called staves, that are glued in parallel with the edges facing up. Extra long countertops may be butted together. End-grain chopping block countertops are made from vertical-facing pieces and look like offset squares or checkerboards. Both of these types of wood countertops are usually preferred by professional chefs because they can be cut on without dulling knives.
Colors and stains
Premium planks come in a variety of colors depending on the wood species. Preferred hardwoods, such as cherry, maple, teak, walnut and mahogany all have several different shades available. Other species, such as zebra, lyptus, bamboo or tigerwood, have colors more specific to their species.
Mineral oil and beeswax are two preferred sealants for wood countertops. Polishes such as Pledge, Scott's Liquid Gold, or Murphy's Oil Soap are preferred for regular maintenance. Edge- and end-grain countertops require regular re-sealing with butcher block dressing oil to keep the wood from drying out and cracking.
Durability and cost
The hardness of a given wood is measured by its Janka value. For instance, the world's hardest woods--ebony, Brazilian cherry, Honduran rosewood, certain types of mahogany--have Janka values exceeding 2,200. Softer woods--alder, poplar, cedar--have Janka scores under 600. These values are especially important when choosing face-grain planks for a decorative countertop.
Expect to pay between $50 to $200 per square foot for plank-grain wood countertops depending on species, edge-sculpting pattern, stains and difficulty of installation. Butcher block countertops tend to cost between $40 to $65 per square foot with installation.
When you are ready to buy wood countertops
Deciding to install wood countertops is the easy part--figuring out what type of wood and who to do the work is much more difficult due to the myriad of wood species, finishing and edging styles and large pool of reputable contractors eager to begin your project. Completing the form on this page is a simple first step in getting connected with a pre-screened contractor who can help you make important decisions and get your project underway.