I mentioned in a previous post that we ordered our countertops from a mill out in Burton, OH. They showed up several weeks ago. We have a galley style kitchen with two long embankments. We ordered a counter about 6′ long for the shorter wall and about 10′ long for the longer wall. It’s possible that if I was smarter about laying everything out ahead of time, we could have ordered that big piece as two smaller pieces since I had to cut an opening for the range anyways. But at the time I wasn’t sure how all the cabinetry was going to come together. I don’t really trust things on paper. I mean, I measure and remeasure, and I’m decent at basic arithmetic. But until I have everything in the space and push it around, I don’t really know how it’s all going to work. This has been especially true with our crooked house.
Case in point. The shorter set of cabinets sits against the wet wall. The wet wall is a menagerie of original wood, wood that was added for the addition, and wood that I added in this renovation. As it happened, the drywall isn’t close to being plumb. I discovered this when I tried to install the cabinetry. There was a solid inch between the top of my level cabinet and the wall behind it. This challenge was solved by Emily pointing out that I could cut away the drywall behind the cabinets and slide them back. A little bit of scribe molding and you’d never know. The countertop was just as difficult. They show up as perfect rectangles. Our wall is anything but perfect. There were all kinds of bumps and hills keeping it from sitting flush. On this particular wall, our long term plan is to install some uppers with open shelves and probably a tile or metal backsplash. However, because we’re on a tight timetable at this point, that part of the kitchen is getting punted until after we move in. As it stands, I just needed to paint the wall and then make the cabinets and the countertop sit flush against it. After I figured out where on the wall the countertop was going to be, I went about the task of planing and irregular surface to the rear. Essentially I needed to take the wiggly line of our wall and scribe it to the back of the countertop. For what it’s worth, most drywall isn’t straight. Most walls aren’t straight. They have bumps and imperfections. Don’t believe me? Take a flash light or a lamp and shine a light at an acute angle down the wall. You’ll see bumps and pits and scratches and all kinds of things you never noticed before. I’ll warn you though, you’ll never be able to unsee them now that you know where they are. Anywho, I scribed the back to sit flush against our crazy wall.
The company that made them gave us a handout describing their process and stressing that you have to install the countertops within 7 days of receiving them or you void the warrenty. Installation involves finishing the edges and top, and sealing the underside with polyurethane. The top side is sealed the same way if it’s not going to be in contact with food. If you will use them with food, then you need to start sealing them with oil. Traditionally, butcher block was a crude table made of remnant wood set on end that was used to butcher meat. In the hot butchery, animal fat would sit, liquifying on the block all day long. Each night the block was cleaned by rubbing it down with rock salt and then wiping the salt away with a damp rag. The animal fat impregnated the dry wood, filling the fiber cavities that had once been full of water. Since oil and water don’t mix, water would bead up and be repelled be a seasoned butcher block countertop. Modern counters work in a similar fashion. You have to treat them to keep water from penetrating the wood, otherwise the counter can warp or crack. Generally people today don’t treat the counters with animal fat. It goes rancid and smells bad after a while. The two oils of choice are either mineral oil or almond oil. Both are foodsafe and won’t get stinky on you. In the early stages of light for your new butcherblock, you have to treat continuously. Once every day or two for the first 6 months of use, you should oil it down, let the oil sit for 20 minutes, then wipe it up. After that, you can throttle back to every couple of weeks then every month or so. You should beware not to let it dry out too much between oilings. For our counters, we treated them with a product that includes wax for a better seal against ambiant air. When we start using the kitchen, I’ll switch to straight daily oiling.
The counters were also my excuse to learn how to rout. The mill would have charged us to finish the edges. We just wanted a simple rounded edge and the charges worked out to just about the cost of a router. So another DIY project for me! I’m actually really glad we went this route (see what I did there?). I’ve already used the router several times and I’m excited to do some fine woodworking in a few months when I can set up the garage as a workshop. I don’t often feel prideful, but I feel really good about how the countertops came out. I did a small roundover on the bottom edge and a slightly large one for the top and corners. Then I sanded the whole piece with 220 grit paper on an orbital sander and followed up with some 320 grit hand sanding for a really nice finish. We have yet to buy a sink, but when we do, I’ll cut a hole in the counter and reseal that area as part of installing the sink.
The counter on the other side of the room, the long piece spans about 6 or 7 feet of cabinetry, the stove, and then an additional 18″ or so where I was able to squeeze in another cabinet to the left of the stove and make use of an ackward niche near the chimney. That project was one of the most complicated bits as it involved taking a smallish upper cabinet and converting it to be a lower cabinet. Additionally, the placement of the stove had to be jiggled in order for everything to fit around it and it to line up with the gas and electrical outlets while still sitting nicely under the hood range. All that is to say that I needed to have the stove and all the cabinets in place before measuring and cutting the countertop otherwise I would have never gotten close to getting things to sit correctly. I got a little crafty with the long piece. It’s finished the same way as the shorter one, but I got to rout out some grooves and edging so all the parts of the kitchen sit snuggly together. I still need to finish adding molding to everything and I asked my cabinet guy to get me another filler strip for an area about the fridge, but all in all, everything is coming along nicely. Once we have a sink and plumbing the kitchen will be ready for inspection.