Feel free to call me with specific questions about wood countertops. To get you started, I've posted a very informative article from HomeStyleChoices.com
Wood Countertops. Beautiful and Functional
Wood countertops can be both beautiful and functional. They're warmer to the touch than stone and quartz and offer a richer look than solid surface or laminate. In order to determine if they're right for your kitchen however, you should ask yourself just how you're going to use them. Do you plan on using them as a true work surface where you can cut and chop food? Or will the countertop be more of a centerpiece, possibly an island or bar top? How you use them will determine the type of wood countertop to choose.
They're Not All The Same - Points You Need To Know
Wood countertops fall into two broad categories - we'll unofficially name them decorative and functional. A different way of saying this is that there are wood countertops made to be a true work surface and those that are meant for lighter duty. If that's still too vague, functional wood countertops are intended to be used for food preparation, including cutting and chopping. True butcher block countertops are usually meant for this type of work. The more decorative wood counters are intended for use that doesn't involve any cutting or activity that might mar the surface. A kitchen island that serves as an alternate eating area or as a service station for entertaining is one example of the decorative wood countertop. This distinction is important because it affects your choices on grain orientation (which we'll discuss in a bit), the right finish and the level of ongoing maintenance the countertop will need.
Wood Grain Orientation and How It's ImportantThe wood's grain orientation in relation to the top surface of the countertop determines a number of things such as looks, functionality and durability.
When shopping for wood countertops you'll come across the terms used to describe grain orientation pretty often. There are 3 basic ways the wood can be positioned to form a countertop surface:
Face Grain Wood Countertop
Edge grain results from assembling the countertop surface with the edges of the boards (or 'staves' as they're sometimes referred to) in the upright position, forming the work surface of the countertop.
Edge Grain Wood Countertop
End grain countertops result from orienting the ends of the boards upwards so that these surfaces form the work surface of the countertop. This is traditionally how butcher block countertops and cutting boards are made.
End Grain Wood Countertop
So what's the difference among them and why choose one over the other? Face grain wood countertops show off the wood's beauty and are a good choice for a decorative countertop. They also tend to be the softer variety of the three styles or grain orientation, meaning less dent resistant than edge or end grain. Edge grain is typically more durable than face grain and is a better choice for use as a work surface than face grain countertops. End grain wood countertops make a durable work surface, suitable for cutting operations and are easy on cutting utensils. This is because the cutting surface tends to "separate" the wood fibers rather than cut through them. It's analogous to holding a bunch of drinking straws upright in one hand and 'slicing' down through them with the side of your other hand. The straws tend to separate and move aside, similar to how the wood fibers in an end grain block respond.
Wood Hardness Varies With Species
The hardness of wood varies among the different species. Choosing a wood that's hard will be more resistant to denting and damage than a softer wood. To do that you need to know what the hardness is for various types of wood. The place to look is the Janka Hardness scale which defines the hardness of wood. The higher the Janka hardness number, the harder the wood. For an example, consider pine, a relatively soft wood. Eastern white pine has a hardness of about 380 whereas northern red oak, a much harder wood than pine, has a Janka hardness value of 1290. This reference for Janka hardness is a good one because it gives a pretty exhaustive list of wood species. It also provides the scientific name of the wood (actually, the name of the tree). This is important because you may come across fabricators that use the scientific name of the wood rather than the common name.
Finish Treatments, Care and Maintenance
There are two general types of finish options that you'll need to remember - the kind that is temporary and you have to maintain (meaning, reapply periodically) and the type that is considered permanent. Within these two general classes of wood finishes are various types of oils and coatings.
These are the common types of wood countertop finishes you'll find:
- Mineral oil or tung oil
- Wax or beeswax or a combination of oil and wax
- Polyurethane or equivalent permanent finish
Oil finishes and wax finishes will need to be renewed periodically to maintain the protection of the wood. Polyurethane and other similar coatings are meant to be permanent without the need for reapplication.Wood countertops that are going to be used as a food preparation surface are finished with a food-safe oil like mineral oil or tung oil. Oiled surfaces provide some protection to the wood and keep it from drying out and warping or cracking. A wax and/or wax and oil combination offers the same benefits. Mineral oil is one common food-safe oil that's used to treat wood countertops but it offers limited protection from water. A mineral oil surface will not protect a wood countertop from long term exposure or consistent wetness. Tung oil is another type of oil treatment but with greater resistance to water and wetness. It's small molecular structure allows it to penetrate the wood and it's elastic properties allow it to "move" as wood naturally expands and contracts.
A polyurethane finish or similar coating is intended to be a permanent finish that don't require reapplication -- that is, unless it gets damaged by cutting instruments or suffers some other other form of damage. These types of finishes are typically used on the more decorative wood countertops that aren't used as a cutting or work surface. They're also considered to be more waterproof than oiled finishes.
Another type of permanent finish that takes tung oil one step further is called Waterlox. It's a surface finish that combines resins with tung oil to form a hybrid type of surface finish that the company says is waterproof. The resins provide the protection against moisture and the tung oil penetrates the wood giving it added protection. Some fabricators sell wood countertops with a Waterlox finish. You can also purchase it separately and apply it yourself.
One more important distinction relative to surface finish is that wood countertops that are used as work surfaces with temporary oil finishes are renewable. If this type of countertop gets too scratched up or damaged, you can sand the surface and re-oil it for a virtually new looking countertop. The decorative countertops sealed with polyurethane coatings usually require a strip and recoat of the finish to repair any damage which isn't as easy as reapplying an oil finish.
Taking care of a wood countertop will obviously depend on the type of wood, its finish and how the countertop is used. You won't want to leave standing water on your countertop for very long, particularly with oiled (non-permanent) finishes. If the countertop does border a sink, you'll want to make sure that it's adequately protected and maintained to avoid long term damage.
Regardless of what choice you make relative to a wood countertop, the best advice is to follow the recommendations of the countertop's fabricator for care and maintenance. They'll have the knowledge of what it takes to keep the countertop looking good based on the wood and type of finish used.
Wood Countertop Pros and Cons
As with any product there are plusses and minuses to consider. Wood countertops are no different. But if you've been hesitant to consider them in the past there is reason to take a closer look. Most of the drawbacks can be overcome through careful consideration of how you intend on using them and/or a little bit of care and maintenance.
Offers a warmer surface than tile or stone Is a renewable surface depending on the style of wood countertop Presents interesting visual detail either through the choice of wood species and/or the use of contrasting wood types and stain colors (i.e. checkerboard butcher block, etc.) Provides a good work surface for the preparation of food and is easier on cutlery than stone countertops Choices for green countertops are available through wood from certified and sustainable and/or reclaimed sources.
ConsWorking surfaces require periodic reapplication of the protective treatment such as mineral oil susceptible to water damage if not adequately protected Will dent, scrape and chip more easily than other surfaces like stone, tile or laminate Excessive exposure (such as spills not quickly wiped up) to vinegar can damage and loosen the adhesives that hold the wood boards together.
You can also compare the pros and cons of other countertop choices to get a feel for how a wood countertop stacks up against other materials.
What Kinds Of Choices Do I Have?
Choosing a wood countertop is more than just picking a grain orientation. That would be too boring. There are lots of options that are available to help you make the right choice for your kitchen style.
Other options include:
You have virtually unlimited options on the kind of wood you can choose dependent on which supplier you go with. There are common varieties like oak and maple as well as exotic woods like teak and tiger wood. This is really where the beauty of wood countertops comes out. The diversity of species affords a wide array of colors and grain patterns to choose from.
Eco-friendly wood countertop choices involve using wood that's harvested from sustainable and managed sources. Wood that is certified by the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC certified) has been verified as being sourced from managed forests that sustain both the resource itself and the communities that produce it. You also have the option to choose reclaimed wood. Like reclaimed wood flooring, countertops are also made with wood recycled from old structures and other similar sources that are no longer needed. Instead of heading for a landfill, the wood is used for countertops and flooring.
Many Styles of Edge Treatments
Because of it's easy workability, wood countertops offer a wide range of edge treatment options. You can go simple or ornate, limited only by what your supplier offers. Some sources for wood countertops don't put limitations on the edge treatment styles, allowing you to specify whatever shape you wish.
Pre-Fabricated or Custom Made
You can buy pre-fabricated wood countertops, manufactured to certain sizes or you can go custom. The latter option requires you to send your countertop layout dimensions to the fabricator whereupon they'll make, package and ship the finished countertop to you.
- HomeStyleChoices.com.This article can be found in it's entirety at http://www.home-style-choices.com/wood-countertops.html