We get quite a few questions here on Old Town Home, but one of our blog's most frequently asked questions is:
"So, now that you've had your IKEA butcher block counters for a while now, what do you think?"
Whether its being asked by someone considering IKEA butcher block (or a butcher block counter of any type) that would like our take on the surface, or by someone who already has it installed and wants to see if our opinions align with their thoughts, we receive quite a few emails and comments regarding our install and how it's been holding up.
Besides, how often do you see information about how wonderful a new product or finish is but never hear an update on how it's holding up to the daily wear and tear as an item that's actually used in a home?
Really, like many things home related, and especially things related to our home, there's a short answer and a long answer to this question.
The Short Answer
Overall, our response is very positive. Wendy loves them, and I love that she loves them. Happy wife, happy life. Am I right?! I'd definitely do it again, but there are a few things we would have liked to have known then that we know now.
The Long Answer
Let's start at the beginning, going back to what our kitchen looked like in 2003 when we purchased our home:
Shortly after we moved into our house, with little money available to begin our whole house overhaul, we decided to spray paint the very 1980s green laminate counters with a "stone look" treatment.
Coupled with painting the cabinets white and a little bit of under cabinet lighting, our kitchen was transformed into something respectable for very little cash.
That stone textured spray paint covered by many layers of polyurethane held up well over the following nine years with only the occasional chip or ding. Best of all, it helped us bridge the gap between wanting to replace our counters, and having both the money, time, and DIY expertise to actually execute that project.
After our long wait, just shy of two years ago, Wendy and I decided to replace our long suffering spray painted kitchen countertops with something just a little bit nicer. But since our kitchen updates would not be the end all, be all kitchen renovation we hope for in our home (yep, we'll eventually do a major update, but given our schedule perhaps sometime in 2025), we didn't want to totally blow the bank on counters & appliances.
So we decided to install IKEA butcher block Numerar counters along with an IKEA cabinet set to become our "wine bar" with custom open shelving, a tile backsplash, and new stainless appliances thanks to a Labor Day sale and Wendy's runaway project that was supposed to just be a new rug in the sun porch.
So the big question. Now that we're two years in, what do we think?
Well, as I said with the short answer, we love them and would do it again in a heartbeat! But there's a big but.
We had a whole bunch of major concerns going into the project and were sort of taking a leap of faith with our purchase. We didn't know anyone who had IKEA butcher block installed in their home, and we had serious reservations about the butcher block's ability to coexist with a corner sink.
We also heard horror stories about butcher block warping after install, the maintenance you have to perform by way of constant oiling, and the inevitable water rings, stains, and imperfections that will ultimately litter the surface of the delicate wood.
However, on a wing and a prayer (and the thought that the whole thing would be just about $400 for counters) we went ahead and made the leap.
The shopping for and purchase of our counters was, well, a typical major IKEA trip. We walked in expecting to buy counters, and we walked out with over $1000 of stuff, including a few new cabinets and about 22 feet of Numerar oak butcher block counter.
If we were doing this again, I would have definitely gotten delivery or rented a ZipVan. It all fit in our car, but Wendy's life was threatened the entire time, and I allowed the whole cart to tip over and crash to the ground while loading the stuff...which is what I believe caused one major area of split in our counters.
The trip home was slightly less than desirable.
Overall our install was relatively straight forward, but did require some massive modifications to the existing base cabinets to ensure a properly supported and level install. In retrospect, this was an absolutely critical aspect of the overall success of our counter install...and overall happiness of my lovely wife. Had I not leveled the base cabinets properly, or ensured even support, I'm certain it wouldn't be in good shape today.
Throughout the process we both had a therapeutic opportunity to repeatedly curse the previous owner who installed our counters and cabinets. Perhaps they were trying to simulate a rocking ship of some sort? Maybe a gravity defying house? That's the only logical explanation. But after working on a house that's over 125 years old for more than a decade now, we've grown used to the wonky walls and out of square everything.
One of the things we added to the counters was a decorative edge more fitting of our home's style. It was a pretty simple approach using your basic router and a little patience. Our technique was actually featured on Ikea Hackers and Apartment Therapy at different times since our install, and many people on those websites had the odd concern that tons of food and junk would get caught in the detail.
I'm very happy to report that we do not have gobs of cheese and fungus growing from these decorative edges, and that it's actually remained very clean and one of our favorite aspects of the counters. This is something we'd definitely do again as it does make the otherwise utilitarian surface a bit more fancy and typical of a Victorian era home.
Ah yes, the overall conditioning, maintenance, and care for the butcher block. This is numero uno when it comes to both the success of a butcher block. If you're thinking about installing a butcher block countertop anywhere in your house and you don't want to be bothered with periodic (ideally monthly) oiling and surface prep, butcher block counters are probably not for you. I mean, you have to live with collecting everything from your counters into a small area while you oil.
However, if you don't mind the occasional removal of everything from your counters, a quick hand sand of problem areas with 400 grit sand paper, and the application of a good penetrating oil with sealer (we really like using the Howard's Oil and Wax combo product), followed by an overnight dry and a thorough wipe down, then this is probably a good surface choice for you.
We went with the old "after install, oil your counters once a day for the first week, once a week for the first month, then once a month for the rest of their life" approach. This has worked well to keep the counters quenched and they've not dried, shrunk, or cracked.
Now that we've been doing it for nearly two full years the counters are started to get really smooth and have darkened a little bit. I think the wax does go a long way in filling in the natural porousness of the wood and I'm pretty surprised with how much the oak texture has faded with each wax/oil application.
The biggest problem area we have to pay attention to is the area about the top corner of our sink. Our sponge rests there and water often sits on this area more than other areas of our counters. When this happens, the counter starts to gray/whiten a little bit. This is usually our indicator that the entire counter is ready for another coat of oil.
To resolve this, and any water stains that have showed up after washed dishes have sat too long and left rings, glasses have been left too long, or anything that's caused a blemish, you just need a little sanding and a little oil/wax.
Our Counters Today
Well, what can I say? We still like them.
We've been diligent about oiling/conditioning our counters, consistent with lightly sanding out imperfections, fastidious about keeping stains away, and accepting that some dings, gouges, or scratches may occur from time to time.
There is one small split area near our stove that is likely due to the fact that I foolishly allowed the whole cart to tip over while loading it into our car. That's my bad on that one, and it's not gotten worse since install.
If it ever gets worse we'll likely glue in the gap and screw something to the underside of the counter to keep it all held together.
There's also that odd blemish area that I knew was going to be an issue right when we installed. It's a strange white glue area right in the middle of our counter. We've resigned ourself to the fact that this will always be there and we just have to live with it. But I still wish every day that I had seen it before install so I could have changed the layout a little bit to hide it (or even returned it for a new piece from the store).
But as a whole, the counters still look great, still do their job, and due to our consistent sanding and conditioning, should stand the test of time.
A lot of people wonder how the corner sink, joined areas, and wood filler are standing up to the water and daily use. In short, pretty great! We used waterproof wood glue, exterior wood filler (but not epoxy), and had some pretty straight edges that were joined together, so there's really not much opportunity for the water to get into the joint. I think this has helped a lot with keeping the corner looking good.
It would be our preference to not have a corner sink at all, because we sort of think it's a waste of space for our kitchen layout, but that change would have required a much more in-depth approach to the overhaul that we weren't ready to take on.
What Would We Do Differently?
If given the opportunity to do the whole project over again knowing what we know now, there are a few major things we'd do a bit differently.
- First, the use of the individual pieces would have been better planned. The minor but center stage lighter blemish could have been avoided if we had taken each piece out or its box, laid them out, inspected them for issues, and then planned where each piece would live. Had we, out of dumb luck, rotated the piece with an issue 180 degrees when we took it out of the package, the issue would have been either hidden by the sink, or removed altogether when we cut the sink hole. We just left too much to chance without realizing the variability in the wood. So definitely a need for better planning.
- Next, we would have likely applied something more significant and permanent to the underside of the counter near the dishwasher as a vapor block. We've not had any issues with drying or cracking in this area, but we have a small foil tape vapor barrier that seems to come free too easily due to the oiling of the counters. If doing this over, I would have bought some thin gage stainless steel that I could have screwed or nailed to the underside of the counter above the dishwasher. But this is the only change we would make to the underside.
A lot of people ask if we treated the underside of the counters with anything. We didn't, and we wouldn't if doing it again. As long as your counters are level, you don't have excess moisture, and you're securing the counter to the base with screws, the open underside lets the counter breathe evenly. This assumes you're not sealing the top either, but instead using an oil/natural coating.
- The final thing we might do differently, but I'm not even 100% certain still, has to do with the type of maintenance finish we're applying. As I mentioned, we are using the Howard's Oil/Wax combo as a natural solution with repeated application. But this is a base of mineral oil. There's a possibility we would want to apply a walnut oil in the future, rather than a mineral oil. The walnut oil is a finish that will soak in and harden over time, whereas the mineral oil doesn't dry. I'm not certain how the walnut oil might affect the texture or color of the counters, but the idea of building up a hardening surface in the otherwise porous material sounds like it might be a good plan.
Other than those items, our IKEA Numerar butcher block countertop is in pretty great shape and has performed like a champ. We've had friends install butcher block since we installed ours, some using IKEA, while others have used wood from Lumber Luiquidators, and everyone reports roughly the same overall success as long as they are diligent about performing the routine maintenance.
There are quite a few people that ask us about sanding, and how aggressive to be with sanding out imperfections. Really, it's all up to the sander/owner of the butcher block. If you don't mind the patina that comes with imperfections, don't sand as much. If you want a smooth and blemish free counter, feel free to sand away.
And to the people who are concerned you might just sand right through to the other side? The butcher block is thick, and you're using a fine grained paper. If you sand through enough to cause an issue you probably need to become a professional athlete of some sort.
What About Butcher Block in the Next Kitchen?
So this is the really big question. When we're building our actual big major kitchen in 2032 (see, the timeline slipped just while writing this blog post), would we use butcher block as our countertop surface?
This is the difficult question. We like it in our current kitchen, certainly. It's forgiving, soft, natural, and has a great look to it, but it is consistent maintenance and can have issues around sinks and wet areas. We can't sit hot items on them without protection, and we can't cut directly on them unless we don't mind the knife scars. So I think the answer is a yes and a no.
Yes, we'd likely use butcher block somewhere in our major kitchen overhaul.
No, we'd likely not use butcher block throughout the entire kitchen assuming our budget will allow for a more expensive material.
We think it's more reasonable to select an area where we'll use it, perhaps on an island or within a prep area, but keep the rest of the counters a stone surface, possibly a honed granite, marble, or soapstone. But as I said, we probably won't have to worry about that decision for a few long time to come.
We hope our IKEA butcher block experience can help you make the decision on whether or not to move forward with your purchase. It was a good experience as a whole and, as I said, we're so happy to have removed that spray painted green laminate and replaced it with something more fitting for our home.