Creating custom butcher block countertops

The goal: High end custom butcher block countertops

The day that was nearly 1 month in the making is finally here: the countertops are done! I won’t even get started on how frustrating cooking is with no counters. I’m so excited they are finally done that I just want to bask in their beautifulness for a while. OK enough basking. We choose butcher block counters for this kitchen basically because they are budget friendly. We love the look of them too, but in a budget free world I would have gone with a quartz and butcher block combination (may still happen in a couple of years). We had installed Ikea Numerar Countertops in our last kitchen and not only did we love them but they’ve held up great for the last 5 years.  Last time we simply cut the butcher block to length and installed them on top of the counters. Easy peasy. This time around though we wanted a custom, high end look which was a little, OK a lot, more work, but totally worth the extra effort. I apologize in advance for the length of this post, but there is a lot involved in getting the counters to be this beautiful. I’ll try to break it down into manageable bites for you.

*Disclaimer: Links marked with an asterisk are affiliate links. *

Step 1: Prepping the wood

In order to get the wood to accept the stain you’ll need to prep it by sanding down all the sides. This is to remove the factory finish.

Step 2: Routing Butcher block

This is actually a surprisingly easy step and makes of world of difference to the quality your countertops look. In fact it’s the most commented on aspect of our countertops. People are always shocked that we were able to achieve these edges on our own.

How to route butcher block

All you need to accomplish this step is a router* and a routing bit. We opted for the French Baroque bit which we bought off Ebay for $23. I suggest you practice on a couple of cutoffs before starting on your actual counters but really this step is almost completely fool proof. There is actually a ball bearing on the router which will insure that you stay at the same depth the entire way.

routing butcher block

Look how much more high end the counters look after being routed! The only other thing you really need to know about this step is that routing wood makes a huge mess. Makes sure to do this outside or in a garage.

routed butcher block

Step 3: Connecting butcher block pieces

We had to use two piece of block on our long wall. Ikea didn’t have a slab long enough to fit our longest wall and in lieu of ease, we opted to join two of the pieces to save some coin.

I used 3/8 wooden dowels and heavy duty construction adhesive to hold everything together. First line everything up and drill the 3/8 holes. We did two in front of the sink and 3 behind the sink to accommodate the amount of room the sink void took up. I dried fit all of the pieces to make sure it all fit.

How to connect counter tops together

Once everything is plumb, apply adhesive in each hole and lightly tap the wooden dowels back into place.

connecting butcher block with dowels

Line it all back up and slide the two pieces together. At about 1/4 from the gap in the two pieces it became tough to move any further, Cody literally beat the crap out of the counter to close the gap by butting up at 2×4 to the end of the counter and hitting the wood with a hammer until everything was flush.

connecting buter block counters

Once everything was in place, we used a 1/4 turnbuckle to keep it from coming apart and clamped 2×2 angle iron Cody had lying around the garage to keep it from bowing while everything dried. We let it sit overnight and moved onto the sink cutout in the morning

gluing together butcher block

Step 4: Cutting out the sink

This is a picture of Cody totally screwing up the cut for the under mount sink with no safety glasses and a pen in his hand. According to Cody this photo should be deleted. Once he messed up the cut for the undermont sink there was no going back. Our options were to buy a new counter top and try again or get a top month sink. We opted for the second choice. If you have your heart set on an undermont sink I suggest you hire a professional to cut out the sink.

cutiing a sink hole in butcher block

Since the second sink is a top mount, it is pretty straight forward, use the template that comes with the sink and cut the hole where you want it. We strategically chose to put the sink smack in the middle of the seam to mask the seam as much as possible

white sink with butcher block

We then used wood filler to fill what was left of the seam, let dry, and sanded it smooth.

wood filler on butcher block

Step 5: Staining Butcher block

AS soon as we had decided on butcher block we knew we wanted to stain it. Honestly, Cody has wanted dark wood counter tops since he saw Emily’s on Revenge, but we were also inspired by this one and this one. I let Cody choose the stain color and he choose Minwax’s Dark Walnut* after seeing some other blogger’s success with it.

staining ikea butcher block

To apply the stain I used two old socks. You can either apply stain with a rag or with a brush but I find that a rag gives me more control with no drips and it doesn’t ruin a brush. Because stain will, well stain, you want to wear latex gloves* to protect your hands. I used one sock to apply the stain and after about 3-5 minutes I used the other sock to wipe off and buff the surface. You want to make sure to always apply the stain in he direction of the grain and never allow any stain to accumulate and dry on the surface.

staining butcher block

I did run into one little snag while staining. See we were so happy about having counters for a while that we sort of used them before we stained them. I made sure to clean them up before staining but while staining some water stains started magically appearing where glasses had once been. I started to freak out, but luckily a light sanding with the electric sander took them right out. Lesson: don’t be tempted to use your countertops until after they are sealed.

how to remove water rings from wood

I applied two coats of stain total. I did one in the morning and one in the evening. You can see the wonderful difference below. Look how much richer and warmer the stain wood is. I was actually a little worried that the stain was too dark, but we had already been forewarned that the sealer would lighten it a shade, so I wasn’t too worried.

                                                                                                      how to stain butcher blockstaining butcher block

Step 6: Sealing Butcher block

Sealing the countertops is by far the longest part of this process. If you stained your butcher block you need to wait 3 days before applying the sealer. After reading all the blogs about sealing countertops the overwhelming recommendation was to use Waterlox. As in no one actually recommended anything else. You can order it online but we were able to find it at a local woodworking store. It comes in original (semi-gloss), satin, or high gloss. No matter what finish you choose you have to do the first 4 coats with the original. Cody was really leaning towards the high gloss, but in the end we opted for 5 coats of the Original with the option to add a high gloss top coat down the road if we want to. The Original goes on in a pretty glossy finish that will fade down to semi-gloss in the first 3 month as it continues to cure. We needed 2 quarts to cover 5 coats on our counters.

how to seal butcher block

Besides the sealer you will also need: A High Quality Natural Bristle brush* mineral spirits*: I highly recommend this odorless Eco-friendly brand sanding block* tack cloth* latex gloves* Make sure to sand the counters with the sanding block than remove any debris with a tack cloth before applying the sealer. I applied the waterlox using a high quality natural bristle brush in thick coats. We found that thick coats actually created a smoother finish. In between coats rinse the brush with mineral spirits to keep it from gooping up. We applied 5 coats total, 24 hours apart than waited 72 hours before placing anything on the counters. The hardest part of this entire process was not using the counter tops for over a week! sealing butcher blockWaterlox claims that you do not need to sand after the last coat but we found that the counters were a little rough, so we gave it a light sanding with a fine grit sanding block which really brought out the finish even more.


This was a really long process but look how beautiful the counters turned out in the end! It’s hard to believe that these gorgeous counter tops were the cheapest option we had!

waterlox counters

By far the best decision we made was routing the edges of the counters. I feel like that is what really gives them a custom high end look.

stained butcher block

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  1. Holy smokes you guys!!!! This is sooo gorgeous!!! I am redoing tables and chairs right now….first time ever in my life as I am a papercrafter…..and I am impatient so I need to wait in between coats the full time…!!! This is just so gorgeous I cant stand it!! Congrats you guys!!!

  2. How high up, from the bottom of the butcher block, did Cody place the ball bearing of the French Baroque router bit, I would love to recreate this look! Thanks.

    • Hi, this is Cody. The bit itself cuts 1″ deep (horizontal) X 3/4″ vertical. I set the router bit flush with the top of the counter to get the full 3/4 width. This left another 3/4 untouched so it looks very uniform. Hope that helps. Let me know if you have any more questions

  3. I love the counters! We have just stained out butcher block & we are at 72hrs. I’ve been debating Waterlox over mineral oil. It looks like you applied Waterlox after they were installed. Does the Waterlox have strong fumes? Just wondering if I should apply it in the garage prior to installation. Also, how has the butcher block held up?
    Thanks!!! Also, love the finished edges!!

    • Jesi, we actually applied the stain and waterlox after they were installed. The fumes are about the same as any stain or sealer. We went with Waterlox because of how highly recommended it came, but there are a couple of things I don’t like about it. 1) the application process takes forever 2) it’s shinier than I would like. The finish hasn’t dulled as much as I would’ve liked it to. 3)The shinier surface makes it harder to keep clean. After I wash them down I have to apply a wood polish to get them looking really nice 4) the finish can scratch, a problem I never had with mineral finished butcher block. Otherwise, they’ve held up really well so far. No warping or staining. Good luck with your counters!

  4. Absolute love the finished look! Well worth the wait time and effort ♥ Since I’ve been looking at doing this in my kitchen, I’ve found several bloggers who have shared their experience. One preferred a less shiny finish so did several coats of the original then finished with a final coat of the satin. That did give it a very nice finish. I’m leaning toward that. Yours turned out beautifully and I know I could love either finish!

  5. Hi Stephanie!

    Counters look great! I realize this question/post is not very recent to your post on the topic, but I happened to come across this while ‘googling’ :). My wife and I just installed our butcher block counters from IKEA. The question I have… Did you sand in-between coats at all? Did you sand after your final coat? I’m finding that the oil sealant we are using (watco butcher block oil and finish) is working very well, but the finish itself isn’t very smooth to the touch – perhaps it’s not supposed to be?

    Would it make more sense to put 3, 4 or 5 sealant coats on before sanding at all? I’d love to hear your application and sanding process!! Also – do you recommend any certain way to clean the wood? I’ve heard simple warm water and light dish soap is all it may need.

    Thank you!

    • Hey Frank. I did do a light sanding between coats and one afterwards. I just used a fine finish sanding block to do it. Most of the time a rough finish is just the product of air bubbles in the oil and are easy to remove. This is our second house with wood counters and with both of them I just used a soapy sponge to clean them. Our current counters have more of a glossy finish, so sometimes I used Method wood polish afterwards to get rid of streaks. Hope that helps.

  6. Hi Stephanie!
    Absolutely beautiful! Your project has inspired me to go forward with this in my kitchen. Only question- did you use Numerar beech or birch?

    Tracy in MN

  7. Just curious, if you had to do it over again, would you use the waterlox or just the mineral oil??? We’re getting ready to instal walnut counters and were debating between the 2 🙂 Thanks!

    • Karen, I would definitely use just mineral oil! I have NOT been happy with the Waterlox at all. The application process is a pain and in the long run it’s not holding up any better than the oil did. It’s harder to keep clean, it’s shinier than I would like, and if paper comes into contact with it when it gets wet the paper will adhere to the counters. After reading so many other great reviews about it we decided to use it but we regret that now. Hope that helps and good luck with your project!

      • When you talk about the paper sticking, would paper soak up the oil if left on the counter? (My counters are a catch all at times!) I know NOTHING about them, so I appreciate having some feedback 🙂 Thanks so much!

        • At our first house, at first we just sealed the counters will butcher block oil from Ikea. It worked great and nothing stuck to it. The oil absorbs into the wood so there won’t be any residue. The down fall to oil is that you should really reapply it every couple of months and it won’t repel stains. After a couple of years with just the oil we decided to polyurethane the counters with a satin finish. This protected the counters a little more, made them stain resistant, and water repellant. I prefer the oil and the polyurethane over the waterlox. The waterlox just seems to keep a tacky and soft feeling, like it’s not quite dry (and yes we followed all the directions for applying it to a T).

  8. Gorgeous! Love these!! This is exactly what we want to do. So, from this blog and others I’ve been reading, it looks to be the case that, as long as you use waterlox, it doesn’t matter the type of stain you use under it? In terms of food prep and safety that is… So for example, I’m just selecting an oil-based, minwax stain from my local hardware store?


  9. I have to agree about the Waterlox finish. We have had maple butcher block counters since 1977! For years we kept Watco Danish Oil on them in a natural color. I would put new oil on them now and then and about every three years I would sand them and put new Watco Danish Oil on them. I would use very fine 1000 grit wet dry sand paper on the final coat. About 5 years ago, I decided to go with the Waterlox. If they mar in any way, it is impossible to touch up the marks without sanding them down. I did not have to do that with the Watco. The Waterlox is a shinier finish, and that also means it shows the fine scratches more. I am ready to again sand them lightly and put new Waterlox on them. It is a much smellier finish than the Watco and like I said, I will still be able to see the imperfections unless I sand to the raw wood again. If I had more energy, I would sand them down again and put the Watco on the counters. However, I love our butcher counters, always have loved them and would put them in again. I would suggest you put a stainless sink with a drainboard in. We have the original Elkay sink and I still like it too.

    • I’m so glad I’m not the only one who’s not happy with Waterlox! Blogland seems to do nothing but rave about it. The sink was never my first choice and recently I actually melted the bottom with a hot pot, so a new sink is definitely in the works. If I get my way it will be a farm house sink, but if the hubby gets his way it will be a stainless undermount.

    • You can absolutely still stain the butcher block! We used dark walnut by Minwax which was just a little darker than I would have liked. If I do butcher block again I will definitely use an oil or polyurethane to seal them. I HATE the Waterlox finish!

      • Hello,
        I followed your post and used with walnut stain. This was in April. I feel as though I may need to restain soon. Have you encountered this? There are a few spots where I feel that the stain is fading.

        • Hey Jessica! Well that’s a bummer. No, our stain looks exactly the same as the day we put it on. What did you seal the countertops with? And are they the same Ikea butcher block?

  10. Hi, Stephanie. Thanks for the great step-by-step, we’re getting our new beech numerar counters delivered today! We sealed with tung oil on the counters in our old kitchen, and back then I remember everyone recommending that you finish the counters before they’re installed, and make sure to finish all six surfaces (including the underside). This time, though, we need to join two pieces to make an L and we’re worried about how unwieldy it will be to try to flip. Did you seal the underside of your counters? If not, does the bare wood seem to be holding up okay? Thanks!

    • Hey Sarah! We sealed our counter tops in place and did not seal underneath. The only area we sealed all around was the sink cutout. We’re going on two years with these and no warping so far. Also our old countertops are going on 6 years and still no warping. The only time we had trouble with butcher block warping was in our old bathroom and that was due to the humidity. Good luck with your project!

  11. Beautiful! I’m going to do this this week, but my question is as follows. With the Ikea butcher block which is not solid wood, how were you planning on covering the raw edge of the undermount sink? Thanks!

    • Hey Stacey! We weren’t going to cover them at all. We were planning on sanding the edges down smooth then just sealing them with the waterlox. You could also use marine grade vanish.

  12. We are having a hard time finding butcher block countertops which are wide enough. Our kitchen is U shaped, with one side being exposed. The exposed side is wider than IKEA butcher block, etc. Where did you find your countertops?

    • Hey Diane! Ours is actually from Ikea. Their countertops come in two depths. 25″ is the standard counter depth, and 42″ for an island countertop. We actually had to cut the 42″ one down a little as it was too wide.

  13. We purchased unfinished maple butcher block from Lumber Liquidators for a slightly dropped down built in desk next to my kitchen cabinets (with new granite installed). The piece was too long so my husband cut it, but unfortunately he didn’t leave an overhang on the right as I wanted. Before we go out and purchase another 8 ft piece of butcher block, he was going to try to seam 2 inches from the piece he cut off. How easy was it to disguise that seam you made with the dowel rods? Can you post a picture? Do you think this is worth a shot before replacing completely?

    • Hey Roxanne. Actually seaming them together isn’t too difficult. As to how noticeable the seam is will depend on how you plan to finish the wood. Ours is almost completely unnoticeable but of course the seams are tiny because the sink bisects them. If your planning on staining the wood like we did then you can used a stainable wood filler on the gap as well, but if you are not planning on staining the seam will probably be more noticeable. I’m cheap, so I would probably try to salvage the piece I had first before going out to buy another. Good luck! P.S. My husband totally screwed up the cut out for our sink which is how I wound up with a drop in sink instead of an undermount, so I totally feel your pain.

  14. Hello, the last pic that you have showing how rough the surface was before you sanded is exactly what my countertops look like after 3 coats of Waterlox. I think my problem had to do with not cleaning enough before applying the finish. What grit did you use to sand it out?

    • We used 120 grit to sand the counters. I wouldn’t say they are super smooth now though. Overall we have not been happy with the finish as pretty much all paper sticks to it and transfers to the wood.

  15. Can you tell me what wood filler you used ? We are joining two pieces together with dowels and clamps but the seam is not perfect and will need some filler. We are using dark walnut also and danish oil. I am also thinking of pre mixing my wood filler with dark walnut before applying. Thanks