Butcher Block Kitchen Island

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Forum topic by Jasoninsacramento posted 08-11-2014 11:12 PM 1333 views 0 times favorited 5 replies Add to Favorites Watch
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50 posts in 1568 days

08-11-2014 11:12 PM

Topic tags/keywords: question walnut plane biscuit joiner sander joining butcher block butcher block kitchen island prep table preparation table end grain end-grain

Hi everyone! I’m an amateur and I’ve been creating beautiful cutting boards for a few years, selling some to friends here and there, and I’ve built quite a nice little shop in the basement of my Sacramento, CA home.

I’ve been commissioned to build the top for a kitchen island prep table for friends who have just bought some farmland and are building a house. They’d like a walnut, end grain counter-top that they can use as a prep table with the dimensions of 30” X 42” X 4” thick. I plan on using 8/4 walnut…and maybe a little 8/4 maple as a highlight. While I’ve got lots of experience with cutting boards, I’m a bit worried about something this size. I’ve done lots of research thus far, but I’d love to get your feedback!

I plan on making the table much in the same way I make smaller cutting boards. However, because of its length and width, and the size limitations of my tools, I’ll be making it in several sections and gluing them together. imagine making several cutting boards and gluing them together.

The first step will be edge-gluing two separate panels together to a 30” width. I’ll be making two difference patterned panels so that I can vary the glue lines every other strip once they’re cut. I’m thinking about adding a splash of Maple in the second panel to break up the maple a little bit and add some visual appeal.

After the panels are glued and planed, I’ll cross-cut them to the thickness of the final block (4” thick strips in this case – but I may do 4.25 to allow for some sanding room). My plan is to turn them on their end as you’d do with a typical end grain cutting board, but instead of gluing all of them up at once, I want to use my router table and a slot cutting bit to cut a slot for biscuits. The sole purpose of which is to keep each strip aligned during glue-up. My hope is that it keeps the block from shifting around as I tighten the clamps so as to keep the top as flat as possible. I plan to glue them up in stages – gluing strips together in 10” widths (remember, it’s going to be a 30” X 42” table – so I’ll need to add a strip or two on to the end during the final glue up). I’m using 10” widths because they’re manageable and will still fit through my planer if need be. That will mean 4 sections of 10” X 30” X 4.25” plus another strip or two. The biscuit-method might keep me from needing to use the planer. I SOOOOO don’t want to have to rent time on a wide belt sander.

SIDE NOTE: I am well aware of the danger of sending end grain through a planer. I have been doing this for a while, taking VERY VERY shallow cuts (1/128” at a time or less) with brand new planer blades.

THEN, I’ll use the same process to glue up the 10 X 30” blocks to create the final table size.

I look forward to any recommendations! And here are some questions that I have if anyone has the time:

I’ve seen lots of larger butcher block tables (including Boos butcher blocks) that have what look like countersunk plugs on the long side of the table. I’m assuming that they are for tension rods that run perpendicular to the length of the table to keep it together. I was NOT planning to do that in this case – I’ve seen varying opinions that range from “let the wood move naturally” to “the tightened rod will crack the wood as it moves.” Any opinions?

Also, I’ve done some more research on wood movement, and figure that as long as I keep the end grain relatively in the same direction, there shouldn’t be a problem. More thoughts would be great.

Does anyone have any additional recommendation or thoughts? Any advice on what I should look for when I head to my local hardwood dealer (aside from clear, knot-free lumber)? I promise to post pictures!



5 replies so far

View TurnTurnTurn's profile


604 posts in 2526 days

#1 posted 06-01-2015 03:28 PM

I am considering doing something similar so I am researching this topic, that is what interested me in your post. Its disconcerting that you received no replies. So, may I ask, did you make this butcher block top? If so, how did it turn out? Thx

-- TurnTurnTurn

View bruc101's profile


1075 posts in 2959 days

#2 posted 06-01-2015 05:02 PM

This is a much more involved build than cutting boards.
We’ve built many a top like that and have one going in the shop now 32 inches wide and 9 feet long. It was glued up in three sections. each section being 34 inches by 37 inches.
It’s will go through a wide belt today and get flattened.

-- Bruce Free Plans

View BoardSMITH's profile


121 posts in 1680 days

#3 posted 06-01-2015 05:29 PM

Unless you spread the glue very thinly on the strips you plan on gluing between the crosscuts, the glue can and will back up allowing the pressure to make a wider joint. You are better off using tensioning rods inside the block, especially at 4” thick.

Sending an end grain block through a planer is without merit. You will blow out the end grain on the trailing edge of the block, totally destroy the edges in the planer doing a job it wasn’t designed to do and stand a very real chance of a deadly kickback. Get off the rusty money and buy time on a real wide belt. The finish will be better and flatter and the chance for a kickback will be reduced to a very low possibility.

Forget the shortcuts when trying to glue it up into two sections then glue to one big piece. The middle seam might never line up and the weight of the two individual pieces will make gluing frustrating. At 4×30 x 42 the total weight will be in the 150+ range and the size will make it hard to handle.

But I know with all your expert experience you will be able to handle it with no problems at all.

-- David

View Jasoninsacramento's profile


50 posts in 1568 days

#4 posted 06-01-2015 07:23 PM

Thanks for the messages and advice. I do appreciate when good woodworkers help newbies!

SO…yes I made this and yes it turned out magnificently. I’ll post pictures asap. You can see the pictures that I do have on my FB page:

Here’s essentially what happened:

  • The customer decided that they wanted Maple with a splash of walnut instead of the other way around, so I was primarily working with Maple.
  • I glued up three different panels to give me the ability to stagger the glue lines
  • I crosscut them when I was ready to glue up each strip – I found the hard way that crosscutting them all at once left too much time for the strips to twist when more end grain surface was exposed to let in moisture. I ended up with 25 strips (1.75” thick each)
  • I then squared up all the strips and glued them together 6 at a time to make 5 blocks to be glued together later.
  • I skipped the slot cutting idea. They were heavy enough and I had enough clamps where they didn’t move much during the glue up.
  • I very very carefully send the 4.25” tall, 30” wide, by 12” them through my planer. Like 1/128” at a time. I had brand new blades in the planer just for this. It was a workout. I understand the dangers. I did have some blowout on the ends, but I minimized the problem.
  • I made sure that all the blocks ended up the same thickness to minimize the amount of sanding I’d have to do when the table was all glued up to its finished dimensions – 30” X 42”.
  • After gluing up the larger blocks to make the whole table, there were some slight height differences that couldn’t be prevented. I used a hand plane to flatten those out. Boy was that fun! Actually, there’s something very satisfying about using hand tools like that!
  • I rounded off the edges carefully with a 1/2” roundover bit
  • I sanded to 150 grit and applied liberal amounts of mineral oil. I followed that with a hot mineral oil/beeswax mixture.

The blocks and then table (when fully glued up) didn’t suffer from any of the problems I was most worried about – namely twisting and contorting. The customer’s father is making the bottom table for them, so I don’t yet have pictures of it in their kitchen, but I’ll post when I get them. The table top has been in their kitchen, sitting on 2X4s for a couple of months and there has still been no problems with seems, moisture twisting the table, or other problems. The customers have been very good at making sure they put mineral oil on it regularly…and they know they’ll have to do that for now on.

So that’s the story! Please ask any questions…I’m happy to answer.

View runswithscissors's profile


2127 posts in 1442 days

#5 posted 06-01-2015 11:35 PM

I would have tried surface jointing something this big and heavy with a router sled, using a bowl cutting bit (flat on the bottom, but with rounded corners, which avoids the problem of minute ridges resulting from the sharp corners on the bit).

I’m glad it worked out for you as well as it did.

-- I admit to being an adrenaline junky; fortunately, I'm very easily frightened

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