Heavy Butcherblock Countertop

Advice and tips for fabricating an oversize maple butcherblock top for a kitchen island. August 24, 2005

We have a project that is requiring a 2" thick edge grain maple counter that is 60" x 192", and it will be installed on a kitchen island unit. We have many concerns, from expansion and contraction to weight and what finish to use. Everyone in our office has stated a concern. I am looking for suggestions from anyone with experience on a top of this size. We are located in New England. There will also be a sink and a dish washer installed. Any help is appreciated.

Forum Responses
(Architectural Woodworking Forum)
From contributor C:
Whereby this design concept poses some legitimate concerns, possible options for engineering are to use quarter sawn maple and ensure the growth rings are all oriented in the same direction. Although you'll still get bilateral expansion and contraction, at least it will be predictable and hence easier to compensate for. Also, will the customer/architect allow the top to be made in sections and installed with expansion joints?

From contributor D:
If you are using quartered hard maple, and the moisture content goes from 6% at fabrication to 10% on site, the top will go from 60" to 60-7/16". Flat sawn will double the expansion to 7/8" (from the Shrinkulator). This can easily be accounted for in the mountings to the cabinetry below, with a little ingenuity. The cabinetry below will need to handle the weight easily, and support/keep flat the top throughout its width.

Rip out the strips, let them acclimate, S4S and then square cut the ends for the staggered butt joints. Butter these up well as you glue up for width. Do the glue-ups in three or four segments at 15" to 20" wide, wide belt, and then put two together, then again.

Insure that it is glued up flat and well supported everywhere. Anticipate the worst, and design to prevent it. Also, don't get exotic in your glues or methods - stick with what you are familiar with and take your time. This will come in around 500#, so get a crew together, do some stretches, and plan all your movements.

This is a spectacular piece of work, and should be fabricated, finished and installed (and priced) with that in mind - not your standard pricing formulas. If your customer has specified this on a whim, you need to explain that you cannot fabricate it on a whim. There are reasons why these are not in every house - craft and expense. You supply the skills, and they supply the funds.

From contributor J:
As a finisher I think I can help out with the shrinkage factor also. The proper method of making a butcher block top is to have the end grain facing up towards the work surface, that way it allows knife cuts to be absorbed by the grain rather than severing the fibers.

I'm not a big fan of the wax and boiled linseed oil treatments and now I am leaning towards mineral oil only as an application for the top. I believe that too much junk contained in a finish for these wood prep work surfaces only serves to give a nice home to bacterial growth. Believe it or not, a natural wood surface is just fine warding of the germs from the woods tannins.

From contributor C:
We stock products from Michigan Maple Block, and have never had a callback because of problems in manufacture. This size is a bit larger than most, but buying it from a company that does this all the time might be the way to go. You may have to buy from a lumberyard, I do not know if they sell retail.

From contributor J:
I agree with Contributor D. Some things that can help are gluing pieces of maple across the width, if the cabinetry allows and completely sealing all surfaces with penetrating oil so that moisture traffic is reduced to a minimum. We are fortunate to have a 44 inch helical head Whitney s970 that makes these projects relatively easy to construct.