How to Build a Butcher Block (and Restore It)

After surviving the plastic shredding revolution of the 1960s and 70s, butcher blocks have enjoyed a renaissance for decades. These attractive hardwood surfaces are durable, versatile and — as you’ll see — easy to build.

Butcher blocks are commonly used for functional work surfaces such as kitchen countertops, chopping blocks and workbenches. The warm, handcrafted look of butcher blocks also makes them a popular choice for furniture. And virtually any hardwood species can be used to make butcher blocks, either alone or in combination with other species for a contrasting appearance.

The seven butcher block techniques shown here are: dowel pin, through bolt, spline joint, nail pin, glue joint, direct nailing, and a top made using teak wood flooring. Each technique provides an easy way to assemble strong, durable butcher block tops. The specific technique you choose depends on the size and function of the butcher block, the tools available, and the desired finished look.

For example, the through-bolt technique provides the strongest top and is recommended for large surfaces that receive heavy shelling. If thin boards are used to make a small butcher block top, try the easy, direct nailing method. In most situations, though, many of the techniques shown will be appropriate.

Read More: How to Make Ice Cream Maker

Assembly

After sawing the butcher block pieces to the same width and thickness, cut them 1⁄2 inch longer than needed to allow for final trimming with a portable circular saw or radial arm saw. Next, arrange the pieces on the edge with the best side up. Then orient the pieces so that the wood grain of each piece is in the same direction. Mark an arrow on each piece to indicate the direction of the grain. By pointing the grain in the same direction, the plane will not engage the wood.

Now mark each board with a number or letter to help reorder the final assembly and ensure you machine each piece from the same face or edge. This is especially important for techniques that require boring holes or cutting grooves.

Since most butcher block surfaces are exposed to water, use water-resistant glue during assembly. Use a small paint roller to apply the glue evenly and quickly. After smoothing and sanding the assembled top, apply several coats of mineral oil or food-safe wood finish.

This easy-to-build maple kitchen cart is a stylish way to get extra counter space and storage in your kitchen. The roll-about cart also doubles as a barbecue wagon or cocktail bar for use on the sun deck, porch, or patio.

Start by making a butcher block top out of 1⁄4 X 1⁄2-in.-thick maple. Nail pins were used to assemble the butcher block. Cut the remaining cart members as shown. Note that the side and back aprons are counter-boarded to receive the 4-in. No. 10 mounting screws. Install the front rail in place of the front apron. This creates space to install the drawer.

Next, make the four L-shaped leg assemblies. Bore a 1⁄4-in.-dia. Drill shelf peg holes in the legs before nailing the leg assemblies together. Then, upside down with the butcher block, screw the apron into place. Now attach the back legs to the apron, attach the fixed shelf and add the two front legs.

Next, build the drawer sides, back, and front from 1⁄2-in.-thick poplar or birch plywood. Use a 1⁄4-in. Birch plywood for drawer bottoms and dividers. Add spacers to each side apron for a 12-inch rise. Install the drawer slides and then add the maple drawer front. Add a 2-in.-dia. Finish all wooden surfaces with casters and several coats of mineral oil.

Simple butcher block cutting board

With end-grain butcher blocks, your knife blade slides between the fibers rather than cutting through them. Your knife stays sharp longer, and it’s harder to stain the cutting board.

How to make that old butcher block look like new.

One of the most popular features of today’s contemporary kitchen is the solid wood butcher block cutting surface. Like a small cutting board, a butcher block is the ideal surface for all chopping tasks – from slicing bread to chopping vegetables. And, in addition to absorbing knife cuts without dulling the knife edge, a natural wood butcher block enhances a kitchen’s appearance by complementing more common countertop materials with the warmth and character of wood.

Originally, a butcher block was a large piece of wood placed on end and used by butchers as a chopping block to cut meat. The end-grain surface absorbs knife cuts and cleaver blows without chipping. Today, the term butcher block mostly refers to strips of hardwood laminated together to make countertop inserts or cutting tables. Some countertops are made entirely of laminated wood and then varnished or lacquered. However, in this case, the wood is strictly decorative, and not suitable for surface cutting.

If you have a butcher block countertop insert that serves as a cutting board and food preparation area, you may have noticed that constant use has left the wood stained, dirty, and stained. You can breathe new life into this surface with much less work than you might think.

Before you begin, be realistic in your expectations. The techniques we’re going to cover handle small stains, discoloration, and knife cuts. If you follow them carefully, you’ll be rewarded with a fresh, clean surface and a seasoned look. Deep scars, burns, and gouges are much more difficult—if not impossible—to remove. If you try, you will probably sand and scrape the wood so much that the surface becomes uneven. Unless you have the tools and experience to remove butcher block and rebuild it or completely replace it, it’s best to leave the job to a professional.

Preparation of the area

The butcher block insert we worked on fits into a plastic laminate counter with oak edge trim and a tile backsplash. In addition to the usual accumulation of grime and knife marks, we had a burn mark from a hot pan. Before you begin resurfacing your butcher block, protect adjacent surfaces from work by carefully masking the surrounding area. Use a double layer of 1-inch, or wider, masking tape. Then, remove all nearby objects [1].

Scratch the surface

A hook scraper (also called a wood or paint and varnish scraper) removes dirt and any old finish left on the butcher block. This type of scraper works much faster than sandpaper, which sticks until exposed to bare wood. For best results, use a new blade or be sure to sharpen the old one. Do not use a scraper with a scratched, bent or badly nicked blade as this will gouge the wood.

Hold the scraper firmly with the blade perpendicular to the wood. Press down on the scraper as you pull it toward you in a long, controlled motion. Always scrape with the grain and lift the blade off the wood on the return stroke [2].

After scraping the entire surface, go back and work on any dark spots and deep knife cuts. To avoid excessive scratching, also scrape the area around the affected area. Remove as much grime and old finish as possible to facilitate sanding.

Sanding it smooth

An orbital palm sander, especially one with a dust collection bag, is your best sanding tool because it’s lightweight and easy to control. You can also use sandpaper and a sanding block—it will take longer and be more work.

Start sanding with 80-grit paper, changing the paper often, especially if it wears off [3]. To prevent marring the adjacent countertop surface and backslash, use a sanding block near all edges [4]. When most of the dark spots and cuts are gone, switch to 120-grit sandpaper, and finish the job. Always make sure to sand with the grain.

You’ll find that some surface spots sand out easily, while others, like the deep knife marks left behind after scraping, take time to sand out. As you sand, vacuum away dirt and grime so you can see the wood’s true condition.

Bleaching

Use a 1-to-1 solution of household bleach to water to lighten the entire surface. Wear protective gloves, and wipe the solution generously onto the surface [5]. For any remaining stained areas and burn marks, use the bleach at full strength, working it into the wood with an old toothbrush, wire brush or other stiff brush [6]. Allow the surface to dry completely, and then decide if another application is needed, you may need to repeat this process several times to lighten the dark spots.

When you’re satisfied (remember, it may be impossible to get all the dark areas out), wipe the surface with a rag soaked in white vinegar to neutralize the bleach [7]. Wash the area with dish soap and water, and allow it to dry thoroughly. Next, give the surface a final sanding with 120-grit paper [8].

How to Build a Butcher Block

Finish

Because butcher blocks are used as cutting boards, any conventional surface coating will eventually crack and wear off. In addition, common wood finishes contain compounds that are not suitable for food contact. Mineral oil is an inexpensive, easy-to-apply finish that is safe to use. Although it won’t create a hard surface coating, mineral oil can enhance the wood’s appearance and provide some moisture protection. To apply, place the bottle in hot water for 10 or 15 minutes to warm the oil and dilute it. Next, use a clean, dry rag to wipe on as many coats as the wood will absorb [9].

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