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Butcher block countertops are an excellent choice for serious chefs, owners of period homes, and anyone who wants to add the natural warmth and beauty of wood to their kitchen. If granite countertops are the little black dress of countertop couture, butcher block countertops are the perfect pair of jeans. This humble, hardworking material is easy to live with, never goes out of style, and will most likely outlive the homeowner who installs it.
Butcher block countertops are made out of thick strips of hardwood glued together to form a solid surface. Maple is the most commonly-used material, but oak, cherry, and walnut are popular choices as well. Almost any sort of wood can be made into butcher block, and exotic varieties can be ordered to suit homeowner’s tastes. Generally speaking, however, the harder the species of wood the countertop is made out of, the better it will hold up.
The big question homeowners need to answer when considering installing butcher block countertops is whether they intend to actually use the surface for cutting. Butcher block comes in two different types of finishes, one for cutting and food prep and the other for service and display. Both have their advantages, and it is important to understand the differences before deciding.
Unfinished or oil-finished butcher block countertops are perfect for cutting and chopping. The raw wood is rubbed with oil to lock in moisture and protect the wood, and any stains or scratches resulting from food prep can be removed quickly and easily with a sanding block. Simply sand the stain away, rub in a dab of mineral oil, and the countertop looks like new. On the downside, unsealed butcher block can warp or turn black from excess water. It is best not to install unsealed butcher block near a sink or other water supply.
Sealed butcher block is easier to clean and maintain than the unsealed variety, but cannot be used for cutting. Knives could scratch the finish, leaving obvious marks that are not easily sanded away. Sealed butcher block countertops maintain a consistent color and appearance over time, and are generally resistant to water.
By far the greatest advantage of butcher block countertops, besides their good looks and convenience in food preparation, is their ability to be refinished. Even sealed butcher block countertops can be sanded down and refinished, giving homeowners a like-new countertop at virtually no expense. If well-cared for, a butcher block countertop can last indefinitely, providing countless years of service to generations of pleased chefs.
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