Your guide to the best wood countertops

Maryalene LaPonsie | Improvement Center Columnist | October 28, 2013

If you are in the middle of a kitchen remodel, you may be poring over wood cabinets, wood molding, and wood flooring. But have you thought about wood countertops?

Wood countertops sometimes get a bad rap as being high-maintenance. However, with proper installation and some common sense care, wood countertops can be a practical addition that perfectly complements any kitchen design. Keep reading to learn the basics and to get a feel for the best woods to use as your countertops.

Basics of wood countertops

Wood countertops come in two options: natural and sealed. Natural wood countertops need to be oiled regularly while sealed countertops are relatively maintenance free.

Natural countertops can often double as working butcher blocks and typically have straight edges. On the other hand, sealed countertops offer a polished finish and may come in a variety of edging styles.

Regardless of whether you choose a natural wood or a sealed countertop, proper maintenance is the key to keeping your kitchen looking fresh and new for years to come. Without regular oiling or the occasional resealing, wood countertops can become prone to drying, water damage, and odor absorption.

Best wood countertops for the kitchen

Not all woods are created equal. For a durable kitchen countertop, consider one of the following popular types of woods.

  • Maple: A strong wood with a straight grain, maple is a great choice for those who want a working butcher block countertop. It is durable so it won't be easily nicked or dented, yet it is soft on knife blades. With both soft and hard maple woods available on the market, be sure you are buying a hard maple variety.
  • Cherry: With its rich red hue, cherry wood brings a sense of luxury to any kitchen design. If you are planning to use cherry as a butcher block, you may want a style with the end grain facing up. Otherwise, cherry may be better suited as a sealed countertop.
  • Walnut: Walnut boasts a deep color that can appear either warm and cozy or elegant and formal depending on your décor and design style. Not usually seen as a butcher block, walnut really shines as a sealed countertop with beautiful edging.
  • Bamboo: If you are looking for a sustainable choice, bamboo may be the best wood countertop for you. As a renewable resource, bamboo is not only beautiful but also eco-friendly. Its light color and typically-geometric grain design make it right at home in a modern kitchen.
  • Hickory: An all-American choice, Hickory is the hardest and strongest wood grown in the country. Its light to medium hue and slightly wavy grain make it a good option for those who want a durable countertop in a traditional kitchen.
  • Teak: Grown both south of the border as well as in Southeast Asia and Africa, teak provides an exotic touch to kitchen designs. It has a rich color and a naturally high oil content which is said to make it more water resistant than other types of wood. However, its density means it can be rough on knives and probably shouldn't be used as a cutting board.
  • Zebrawood: For a countertop really out of the ordinary, take a look at zebrawood. With its dark, distinctive zebra-like striping, this wood is one that makes a statement. It is hard and heavy and most likely to be at home in a contemporary kitchen.

The cost of wood countertops is based on several factors: type of wood, thickness of counter, and features such as decorative edging. Cheaper woods include maple and bamboo while zebrawood and teak land at the high end of the price spectrum. You can expect to pay anywhere from $50 per square foot for a basic butcher block counter to $200 or more per square feet for an exotic wood with intricate edging.

With a wide range of tones and grain patterns, wood countertops are an excellent choice for a variety of decor styles.