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.

Purchase

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. 

Install

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.

Decorative Edge

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.

Conditioning/Maintenance

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.

  1. 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.

  2. 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.

  3. 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.

Comments 31

Comments

Heather
7/25/2014 at 1:47 PM

Thanks for the thorough update! You answered a lot of questions that I had regarding my own butcher block counter.

Alex
7/31/2014

Excellent!

7/25/2014 at 2:22 PM

Thanks for sharing this! I've been looking at this butcher block for a possible mini kitchen overhaul on a budget, since we're considering buying a little cabin in the mountains - and all of them seem to have horrible kitchens. Not sure if this is the best choice if we'll only be out there once or twice a month. Thanks!

Alex
7/31/2014

If you're not going to use it often and don't want the maintenance, you could always do a Waterlox application. I tend to like the more natural look, and the certainty that the surface is food safe, but Waterlox is supposed to be good to go in that department too.

Kelly
7/25/2014 at 2:56 PM

Interesting that you post this -- I've been doing research and oil finishes for wood. But for flooring. A lot of the products used for oil finishing floors can be used on butcher block too. Have you ever used waterlox?

Does your home have oil finished hardwoord, or is it poly-ed?

Alex
7/31/2014

I've not used Waterlox, but I'm going to be using it shortly for a small part of our bathroom.

Our hardwood is poly covered, but I think I'd probably do something more like waterlox in the future. It's just far easier to maintain.

Amy
7/25/2014 at 3:12 PM

We live in St. Louis, about 2 hours from the John Boos outlet where we purchased a butcher block counter to use as a kitchen island. Because the counter already had a split in it, Norbert(the legendary John Boos outlet employee) repaired it for us before we packed it up. He sanded the block using an orbital sander to produce enough sawdust that he pushed into the crack, then he added a special glue. While I don't know what kind of glue it was, it seems like a great technique. And I'm sure if you called Norbert would give you a glue suggestion!

Amy
7/25/2014 at 3:12 PM

PS That was 6 months ago and we still haven't made the island.Alt smile

Alex
7/31/2014

This is an excellent tip, and one that I know a lot of woodworkers use. It's always best to make up your filler on a good project from the species of wood you're working with. I've even seen floor refinishers do this. Suck all of the dust into a barrel while sanding, then make up their filler for any nail holes or gaps left before the final sand.

I wouldn't worry on the island delay, it will just make you appreciate it more once it's done. Alt smile

Pj
7/25/2014 at 3:19 PM

I appreciate your posting the pros & cons of butcher block. Realizing how expensive whole kitchen remodels can be, when we started our "Project" 5 years ago we intended to just restyle the 1970s era kitchen. I called it 'putting lipstick on a pig'--painting ugly printed paneling, rearraranging & painting cabinets, adding new hardware, laminate countertops, & updating 40 yr-old appliances. Eventually I was convinced to gut the kitchen now, rather than after we open as a B&B. Although I want a wood countertop on an 42" x 84" island, I was pretty sure that I wouldn't use butcherblock in a period kitchen. The routed edge you created definitely softened the look though, & like you, I'm amused by the caveats offered by people who probably don't know much about food safety anyway!

Now that we're about to finish planning our new kitchen, I believe we'll opt for a solid surface near the sink & cooktop (possibly a faux limestone), with hardwood on the island & serving bar. Last year This Old House featured a liquid product designed to seal wood countertops, but I've yet to discover the brand name. I was able to find a product on Amazon that reportedly seals/protects wood. I definitely don't want our new countertops to be high maintenance, hence the reluctance to settle for marble. Granite doesn't appeal to me, & I'm not sure if soapstone would be the most appealing look with our tile. At least I know wood will be used for some countertops, even if we don't opt for butcherblock. Thanks again for taking the time to critique your own project & offer tips to those of us considering countertop materials. Alt smile

Lesley
7/25/2014 at 4:15 PM

We installed an Ikea butcher block counter top in our previous home 5 years ago. We only moved a month ago and we loved it for the entire time. Thanks to you guys, we switched from using mineral oil only (monthly, if not more frequently as needed) to using Howard's and we LOVED the result of that change. We actually even possibly slipped to re-treating only once every 3-4 months. With a busy family of 4 it still held up.

Our new house has Corian for the most part and a section (peninsula) with stained teak. I hate the teak, scratched and water marked constantly, and want to replace it with the Ikea oak, as well as taking the opportunity to create an overhang, breakfast bar for the kids again. I've told my husband that I want to router the edge to match the Corian this time around and we think it will look great.

karen
7/25/2014 at 7:30 PM

I am glad to hear you like the butcher block counters. I think they look fantastic. I have used butcher block in my two Old Town kitchens, and it is still looking good after 35 years in the first kitchen I renovated(per new owners) and 25 years in my current kitchen. And it seems to be coming back in style! I used the heavy duty maple Boos counters in both.

My 25-year old kitchen was also temporary, but over time I have grown fond of the "individuality" of the retrofitted metal cabinets (so handy for magnets!), butcher block counters and small foot print. Or maybe I am just tired of renovation.

Alex
7/31/2014

Tired of renovation? How can one grow tired of it? (Don't ask Wendy, she has opinions I'm not interested in hearing on the subject. Alt smile )

Great to know the old stuff is still standing up to the test of time. It's always satisfying when even a temporary solution can be permanent.

mp
7/25/2014 at 9:57 PM

My home is a mid-70s rancher with non-functioning cabinets (very bad custom build), but the one good feature is a solid wood counter under sheet laminate. When I have the $$ to replace the cabinets, I'm simply going to pull off the laminate, sand the wood, and spray it whatever color suits the kitchen. Letting that big, good chunk of wood go to waste would be criminal.

Alex
7/31/2014

Absolutely! Sounds like a great plan!

Kitty
7/26/2014 at 10:22 PM

I have IKEA butcher block for my breakfast bar and I love it. I saw your great feature in the WaPo today. Congratulations!

Alex
7/31/2014

Thank you so much. We're very happy with the article.

I'm glad to hear the split hasn't gotten any bigger - I have two small splits that have had me concerned. I had thought they were caused by my being one of the unlucky few whose Ikea oak butcherblock were half hollow inside - glad to know it can happen to anyone. And for those of us lazy sorts, the waterlox on them has been wonderful (but we're only 1 year in).

Alex
7/31/2014

Great to know on the Waterlox. I mentioned in a comment reply above, I'm going to be using it in a small place in the bathroom, and then might use it in the future if we ever refinish floors. I love the idea of the lower maintenance and easy scratch repair aspect of the Waterlox.

12/7/2014 at 7:11 PM

Hi,

I recommend good old fashioned tongue oil on your wooden kitchen countertops. I sell many different kinds of countertop material (including wood and soapstone; which is my personal favorite:) I mean no offense by this next comment; but I have to say it as a kitchen designer...Why not splurge on a new faceframe painted white kitchen with a period style? Everything you've done is rather beautiful and painstaking & yet, to me, the kitchen falls flat. Admittedly, it is an improvement to the original; but kitchens are the most important part of your home (unless one eats out more than eating at home). The cabinetry (or at least the millwork associated with it, should have run to the ceiling to capitalize on those beautiful tall ceilings...or to cut on costs, bulkhead and plaster down some of that height while still adding at least another foot to your cabinet height. Would have looked incredible! Oh well, great job in other areas:)Kitchen good; not great.

Andrea
1/28/2015 at 7:18 PM

Thank you so much for all of the posts you have done on your countertop experience! My husband and I absolutely love the look of butcher block countertops, but have encountered a lot of naysayers and it has made us hesitant to put it in our home. I don't mind doing maintenance- and I feel like this is totally doable and am very excited to give it a shot! So anyway, thanks for taking the time to type all this out and give an update a couple of years after install. It's very generous!

Gordon Phillips
7/8/2015 at 4:28 PM

I've had a butcher block island (continent) for 19 years. Not IKEA just three slabs glued side by side. We have used it to cut on most of those years. Several years in, I discovered that our first sealer wasn't food safe - oops. Major sand then went to Spoon oil - a food safe mineral oil blended with beeswax. Used it for ten years but finally tired of the constant application. Made two changes in the last year and a half and love my counter again.
After the last sanding I stopped cutting on it and I changed the finish to 3 coats of Tried & True Danish Oil Finish. It's a polymerized linseed oil. Now we just wipe it with a wet sponge and it's stayed beautiful and stain free for nine months so far. Awesome product. Discovered it while chatting with a wooden spoon maker at a craft fair.

sue
7/19/2015 at 11:50 AM

Thanks, you answered every question and concern I had.

Andy
3/24/2016 at 7:47 PM

I don't see this product on IKEA's website.
Do you know if its being called by another name?

greengal
4/10/2016 at 10:07 AM

I installed Ikea Butcher Block counters six years ago when I "renovated" a dated kitchen. They are still in great condition and I still love them. Mine are bit lighter in color than yours and I condition with just straight mineral oil. I love that I can just sand out the stains and marks, you can't do that with traditional counters.

Ronda
7/15/2016 at 12:38 PM

I installed the Ikea Numerar on a prep area several years ago, and it's exactly as mentioned - if you're OK with the maintenance, it brings a wonderful, warm, natural look into the kitchen. Eventually, I'll add the same to the rest of the kitchen.

For Andy above - Ikea changed the name, it seems now that Karlby is the thick (3.8 cm) wood countertop. They have a slightly thinner one (2.8 cm) called Hammarp as well.

Update: Turns out Karlby has a layer of wood over particle board - Hammarp is the full wood one. Annoying, because it's thinner than the NumerarAlt frowning

Marco
1/9/2017 at 11:12 AM

IKEA also has the 3,8cm (maybe 4,0cm) in solid wood. it has a different name and it is 2x more expensive than the Hammarp

Terrence Walsh
8/5/2016 at 10:45 AM

You mentioned that you might consider soapstone in the future. I did a major upgrade to our laundry about 5 years ago, with Ikea cabinets and soapstone countertop. Regarding the cabinets, my short comment is "impressive, great then, and still great."
I installed the cabinets (dead level) but had a pro do the soapstone. Glad I went that route.
Our soapstone came from the Alberene Soapstone Company in Schuyler, Virginia. Yep, it was mined, cut, and finished right here in Virginia, USA. That makes it pretty "green" for a large chunk of the USA population. Alberene has a pretty interesting company history, too.
For maintenance I give the soapstone a wipedown every six months with Miracle Sealants Co "Seal & Enhance - one step." Looks brand new. Dries in less than half an hour.
Granite can be good, too. I have that in the kitchen. I like it. Zero maintenance, fine for hot pans, etc. But there's something about the soapstone that beats the granite.
Along the way I talked with a number of companies that provide countertop materials. Most do granite, etc. Almost all really talk trash about soapstone. Too bad. Every material has its pluses and minuses. Overall I've found soapstone to be great.
Appreciated all your thoughts on the Numerar countertops. I hope these soapstone comments will be helpful in the future.

Roma
12/3/2016 at 3:29 PM

Just found your website and your home looks fabulous! Could you please tell me where you got your backsplash? Also the name of product? Thanks

Niki Lynn
12/9/2016 at 11:06 PM

What a great informational on Butcher block counter top. Just looking into counter top options myself and your blog post has answered all of my questions and also opened my eyes to some other concerns I would have potentially had myself. Easy read, easy to understand, all bases covered. Again, thank you.

Ruth Anne
12/30/2016 at 6:13 PM

I used polywhey by Vermont natural coating on my butcher block by
IKEA. It is an amazing finish using natural products. I never touch it. Looks great and water does not affect it.

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