After years of working on a rickety workbench with a rough plywood top, I'm finally building myself an upgrade. I've designed my bench to be about 4'x8' with a butcher block top, complete with drawers and a cabinet built in below for storage. The bench will be set on locking casters, so I can roll it aside if I need extra floor space. I'll be using furniture grade birch plywood for the base and select pine boards for the butcher block. Typically, butcher block is made from a combination of hardwood species, like maple, walnut and cherry. I've chosen select pine boards because they're more cost effective than hardwood, but higher quality than a common pine board. Whatever type of wood you choose, always check over your boards before you buy them to make sure the planks are straight and have no cracks or dents.
Here’s what you’ll need to build this project:
1x2 lumber - 16 planks makes a 12 inch panel, so multiply based on how wide you want your butcher block. I needed 64 planks to make my butcher block 4 feet wide and I chose 8 foot boards for my length
Foam Paint Roller
Orbital Palm Sander
80, 150, 220 Grit Sandpaper
Step 1: Set out enough boards to create about a 12 inch wide section. Lay them all down flat, so the sides are facing up. Cover the boards with a good amount of glue, making sure each board is completely covered. I used a foam roller to spread the glue, but you can use a silicone glue brush or even just your finger. One by one, turn each board on its side in the same direction. If you swap direction half-way through, you'll end up with two boards with no glue between them. Bring them all together, keeping the ends as flush as possible to reduce the amount of material you'll have to shave off later. Gently clamp each end, bringing all the boards tightly together. Next, you'll want to clamp cauls to the top and bottom, keeping the seams as flush across as possible. I made my own cauls by covering some scrap wood pieces with packing tape, so they don't get glued to my table top. Continue adding clamps along the entire length of the boards. In this case, really in any case, there's no such thing as too many clamps. Your clamps should be tightened to a good medium pressure. If they're too loose, you'll have gaps between your boards. If they're too tight, the edges will bow up, leaving you with an uneven surface. Leave this section of boards clamped for a few hours, if not overnight, to make sure the glue has had plenty of time to set. Repeat this step until you have enough sections to create the width you want for your butcher block. I wanted my butcher block to be 4 feet wide, so I made 4 sections.
Step 2: If you've got a planer, it's certainly the ideal way to get your seams smooth. Run all your sections through until the top and bottom feel smooth with no high spots. If you don't have a planer, a belt sander or an orbital sander with 80 grit sandpaper and a good amount of elbow grease will do just fine. Just make sure to keep the sander flat against the wood, otherwise you can create divets pretty easily.
Step 3: Once all your sections are smooth, glue them together the same way you did in step 1. I don't have a jointer, but if you do, now would be the time to joint your edges. I did a dry run, clamping my boards together to make sure I didn't have any gaps that were too wide for my clamps to pull together. Start by gluing two sections together until they're dry, then glue on the next section, and finally the last section. When the glue is dry, sand out the seams where your sections come together.
Step 4: Next, cut your butcher block to size. Your width should have been determined by how many boards you laminated together, so you should only have to cut the length here. Even if your butcher block is already the length you want, you'll probably still have to make minimal cuts to get a nice flush finish on the ends. Use a T-Square to draw a straight line on the ends of the boards where you want to cut. Clamp a straight edge to your top, positioned so the blade of your circular saw falls on the line you drew when the saw is tight to your straight edge. Cut away the excess length and repeat on the other side. If you're cutting off more than an inch, make relief cuts every 4-6 inches with a jig saw, otherwise the blade of your circular saw will get pinched under the tension of the planks. You could router a detailed edge on your butcher block at this point, but this is totally optional.
Step 5: If you have any seams that split, you can fill them with a bit of wood filler. This won't do anything to help with the integrity of the butcher block, but it will fill the gaps. Be sure to create a mound with the wood filler, rather than scraping away the excess. When the wood filler shrinks as it dries, there's more on top of it to fill the seam. You'll sand this down when it's dry. Your butcher block should be smooth across the top and bottom at this point, but you'll want to go back and refine it with higher grit sandpaper. Jump up to 150 grit to take away any coarseness, then finish it off with 220 grit. Wipe the entire surface, top and bottom with a tack cloth. This will remove any dust particles from the wood before you seal it. Don't skip this step!
Step 6: Seal your butcher block on all sides, even the underneath that you'll never see. If one side is sealed and the other isn't, the wood could react differently to temperature and humidity changes, causing twisting and cracking later on. The material you used and how you plan to use your butcher block will determine how you'll finish it. Since my butcher block is made of pine and will be used in my workshop, I sealed it with a water based polyurethane. It dries into a hard plastic, so it's pretty durable. I did 4 coats before I deemed it ready for use. If you plan to use it in a kitchen, you'll want to use a food safe sealer that's also water resistant. Hardwood butcher block should be finished with an oil like Mineral Oil, Tung Oil or Linseed Oil and maintained every six months, if not every month. Do not use a water based polyurethane on hardwood. The water will raise the grain in the wood, giving you a splintery finish. Unfortunately, I learned this the hard way. To give the wood a silky finish, lightly hand sand between coats with 400 grit sandpaper.
Now you're ready to mount your hard earned butcher block to the piece it will rest on. You'll need to make sure there are braces to mount it to; screwing up from underneath. Double check the length of screw you'll need. It would be a shame to put a hole through your brand new butcher block.
If you've made it this far and built your very own butcher block, I'd love it if you'd leave a photo in the comments.
Hey friends! Down below are some affiliate links to the products or tools I used in this project. They help keep my shop running so I can bring you helpful content for free. If that bugs you, a quick Google search will find you what you need to complete the project.
Pipe Clamp Ends | Clamp Pipes | Bar Clamps | T-Square | Wood Glue | Wood Filler | Foam Roller | Planer | Orbital Palm Sander | Sandpaper Pack | Circular Saw | Tack Cloths | Polyurethane | Bluetooth Hearing Protection