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I am thinking of ideas for furnishing a kitchen - my first home - and I am thinking of using a butcher-block top for my counter.

I have a few questions:

  1. I live in Singapore where it is very hot and humid. Will the butcher-block top be subject to warping or is there any concerns I need to look out for?
  2. Is the butcher-block top high-maintenance? I see that using a mineral oil on it will help keep it in good condition, but is regular cleaning just a matter of a damp cloth across the surface?
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2 Answers 2

up vote 2 down vote accepted

In my opinion, wood is a very poor choice for kitchen counter tops. Any wood is dimensionally unstable to some extent, how much depends on several factors such as moisture content during installation and method of construction. It can be relatively stable or a complete disaster.

My main objection is wood is porous. Ideally, kitchen countertops should be impervious. Most materials have pores to some extent, but they should be as microscopic as possible. Wood pores are relatively gigantic. While oiling is helpful, wood will get stained from food and other products that come in contact with it. Some may say this gives it character, but to me, it just looks unsanitary.

Speaking of sanitary, despite the moniker 'butcher block', meat should never be processed on a wood surface. It is impractical to properly sanitize wood in the home. Chop all the fruits and vegetables you want on it, but only cut meat on a dedicated impervious cutting board that can easily be sanitized.

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Some researches/people do say that cutting meat on wood is safer than plastic. For example, our sister site cooking SE, does say it's better than plastic. –  Maxime Morin Mar 24 '13 at 21:08
    
Fair point, I was not suggesting plastic, more a dedicated board which can be easily cleaned under hot running water, not a fixed in place counter top. –  bcworkz Mar 24 '13 at 23:31
    
thank you! I did think it was likely to be unstable - especially with the humidity. –  sccs Mar 25 '13 at 2:13
    
@bcworkz: except you did suggest that, when you said "should never be processed on a wood surface" –  whatsisname Mar 25 '13 at 20:24
    
Wood and plastic are not the only two alternatives. We are getting off topic. No matter what, a fixed in place wood countertop is inappropriate for cutting meat on. Use what ever you want, as long as you can put it under hot running water. –  bcworkz Mar 26 '13 at 18:47

Wood is a great material for lots of things, but if you want to put it in your kitchen you should be aware that it requires regular maintenance and has several limitations.

Wood does expand and contract with temperature and humidity, but if it's properly finished (on both sides!) and fastened in such a way that it has a little breathing room, that shouldn't be a big deal. There are lots of large pieces of wood furniture (e.g. dining room tables) that survive just fine without warping or cupping.

A bigger concern is waterproofing, especially if you're going to put the wood counter near water, like around a sink or above a dishwasher. The wood needs to be kept well-oiled—at least several times a year you will need to oil it to keep it in good shape, maybe even once a month, depending on its condition. You know the wood is oiled enough if you can splash some water on it and the water beads up. If the water seeps into the wood, the counter isn't properly finished and will rot / mold / stain.

In terms of general care, wood doesn't do well with pools of water or spills sitting on it for a while, and of course it can be marked by knives etc. If you can live with regular maintenance you should be fine, but you have to be honest with yourself about whether you're willing to take on the responsibility. You can't just let a spill sit there for a while until you get around to cleaning up.

Personally I might use wood counters for part of the kitchen—maybe an island or general prep area—but not around water.

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