Butcher Block Island Countertop Installation

butcher block island countertop

Have you ever noticed how in some really nice kitchens the island countertop is made from butcher block, while the rest of the countertops are granite or quartz?

No? Well … neither did I, but my wife sure did!

And I’m glad she did, because when we had our granite countertops installed, we told the guys not to measure and cut for the island because we were going to handle that part ourselves!

And I have to tell you, it makes a real difference in how the kitchen feels when you have a warm wood accent right in the middle of it. It just makes it feel more at home.

Plus, it saved us some money… something that I’m sure Susanna will tell you I really, really like.

And it wasn’t hard to do at all.  It’s an easy and fast project… cost us only $250 which includes the addtion of two cool corbels from Home Depot.

So whether you’re doing a full remodel and replacing your existing countertops, or you’re just thinking of an easy way to freshen up your kitchen, you should definitely consider installing a butcher block island countertop.

You’ll likely have to custom order your butcher block countertop being that everyone’s kitchen is different.

There are a few places locally that you can go, but since my sister is an interior designer, she knew a really great company based in Kentucky that provides high quality butcher block tops at low prices with reasonable delivery charges.

We went with her suggestion and ordered our top from AWP Butcher Block.

They were great!  We told them what we wanted, and they even did something special just for us that they don’t normally do. We’re really happy with it and with their costumer service.

Before you order your butcher block top, you’ll need to figure out exactly what size you’re going to need. You can just measure your existing countertop and order your butcher block in the same size. Or you can be brave like us and add some length to one side.

Just make sure you consider how much walking space you’ll have around the island if you make changes. A good rule is to have at least 30 inches on all sides. And the standard “overhang” is 1 ½”. So you don’t want less than that on any side!

Once you have your new butcher block countertop, you’re ready to begin. Here’s what you’ll need:

½” spade drill bit
1” to 2” long wood screws
Fender washers
3/4” thick plywood or scrap wood
Kitchen sealant or construction adhesive
A beautiful pre-cut butcher block island countertop

The first step will be to remove your existing island countertop.

I’m assuming you don’t have a beautiful solid surface countertop like granite or quartz (because then why would you want to get rid of it). But if you do, then you’ll have to figure out how the countertop was attached to the island (usually just with adhesive) and do your best to get the countertop off without damaging any of the cabinets.


butcher block island countertop

But if you’re like me, you probably have a boring, or perhaps a little hideous, laminate countertop like this one.


butcher block island countertop

Before you start tearin’ things up, you’ll want to remove any drawers from the island.

It’s not critical to cover your stuff inside the island just yet, since removing the countertop shouldn’t make a big mess. But I’ll understand if you want to be extra cautious.


butcher block island countertop

Now, take a look under the outside edge of your countertop. It should look a lot like this.

As you can see, most countertops like this have a double thick section around the edges, and then are much thinner in the middle. In order to make the countertop sit at the right height, they use plywood strips that are usually screwed into the top of the cabinet edges. Then, all they do is glue down the countertop on top of these “spacers.”

So there are no screws or nails that you can see. Which means all you’re left to do is grab a pry bar!


butcher block island countertop

What you need to do, to get the countertop off, is to wedge a pry bar between the top of the cabinet and the underside of the countertop.


butcher block island countertop

It’s best to use the front corner of the cabinet, since that should be the strongest part of the cabinet. You don’t want to crush your beautiful island!


butcher block island countertop

Keep working it from multiple sides until you pry it loose.


butcher block island countertop

Haul that ugly thing out of there!  5 o’clock shadow is optional…


butcher block island countertop

Now you may end up ripping the screws out of the cabinets, or you might only break the glue between the countertop and the plywood strips. OR if you’re like me, you’ll do some of both.

No worries… just use a drill/driver with the right bit to take the screws out and get rid of the plywood strips.


butcher block island countertop

Next, you’ll want to temporarily place the butcher block countertop on top of the island. Get it in just the right position that you want it to be (with equal spacing on all sides) and then use a pencil to mark guide lines on the underside.

This way, you’ll be able to line up the countertop quickly when you set it in place, before the adhesive starts to dry!

The next steps make a little mess, so if you haven’t already covered the inside of the island, do it now!

Better yet, clear out the island.  We couldn’t keep all the debris out and had to vacum it out anyway.


butcher block island countertop

Attach a couple strips of ¾” thick plywood or 1x lumber to the top of the cabinets to give your beautiful butcher block something to attach to that will rest just about 1/8” above the cabinet top.

You don’t want to just glue it to the cabinet edges for 2 reasons:

First, you need to have a little air gap around the edges of the cabinet for air circulation.

Second, you don’t want glue squeezed out all around your island!

But you don’t want the gap to be noticeable, just about 1/8” or less will do. You’ll need to precisely cut the plywood so it snugly fits inside the top of the cabinet.

Then, screw the plywood to the cabinet faces. This part can be a little tricky if you haven’t done it before. But if you follow my tips it should be a breeze!

The trick is to get a pilot hole drilled at a sharp angle into the plywood, about 60 degrees from vertical. But you won’t have much luck if you hold your drill at this angle right away because the bit won’t bite into the wood and it’ll just slide away from you.


butcher block island countertop

Instead, start drilling straight down, but only just a tad.

Then, with the drill still going, rotate the drill to the angle you need and immediately start guiding the drill into the wood. And presto! You have an angled hole.

But alas, you aren’t done yet.

You still need to have a counter bore for the head of the screw to fit into. You can’t have any of the screw sitting above the top of the plywood, because then your butcher block won’t sit on the plywood!


butcher block island countertop

butcher block island countertop

So grab a larger bit (the same size as the head of the screw) and repeat the drilling process, except only go just about ¼” into the wood.


butcher block island countertop

Then drill your screw thru the wood all the way and make sure that the head of the screw is completely under the top of the plywood. Now hold your wood just above the cabinet where it will go and make sure the screw will actually make it into the cabinet.

But be careful! You can’t have the screw go all the way thru! So you’ll want to size your screw carefully. I ended up using a 1-1/4” screw.

Don’t worry, if it won’t work, then just move your hole closer or farther away from the edge and try again. You’ll get it!


butcher block island countertop

Once you’ve checked the screw length you’re ready to install it.

Back the screw out, put the wood in place and make sure it is about 1/4” above the cabinet top.

Then start screwing!

As the screw gets tighter, it will pull the plywood back down some, and it should end up just about 1/16” or 1/8” above the cabinet top (just like you planned it!).


butcher block island countertop

You’ll want two screws on each side, so the wood won’t rotate. And you’ll just need two strips across the island.

Make sure you follow the same process for drilling, counter boring and selecting screw length, since you won’t get every hole drilled exactly the same… unless you’re really good… which I’m not.


butcher block island countertop

Once both strips are screwed in place, use your ½” spade drill bit and drill one hole in each strip of plywood.

The hole in the first board should be about 1/3 the way towards one side, and the hole in the second board should be 1/3 the way towards the other side (the exact position isn’t critical).  You’re going to use this later on.


butcher block island countertop

Now you’re ready to glue!

I used construction adhesive, because that’s what I had, but most people recommend using kitchen and bath sealant. Sealant is more flexible and can handle the swelling and shrinking that a piece of wood goes thru as the weather changes.

Apply the adhesive liberally in a wavy pattern to the plywood strips (but try not to get it right on the edges).


butcher block island countertop

Then pick up the countertop and hold it in place just over the island.

Set it lightly down when you can tell that it is at least somewhat close to the right position.


butcher block island countertop

Now quickly look under the countertop and line up the guidelines you made earlier.


butcher block island countertop

Once you have it in the right position then press firmly down on the countertop just over where the plywood strips are.


butcher block island countertop

It helps to reach under the strips and push from that way too, since the strips can start to bow in the middle a little bit.

After you give the adhesive a little time to dry (just 20 minutes is enough) you can carefully go under the island and install your screws with the fender washer into the large holes.

butcher block island countertop

I didn’t have any fender washers, so I got creative and used three different sized washers all stacked together.  Who cares if it looks silly… no one will ever know…

Make sure you pick a screw size that is just ½” or so longer than the thickness of your plywood. A long screw could split the butcher block, and a really long screw will go all the way thru the top! That wouldn’t be good!


butcher block island countertop

You can also drill a shallow pilot hole (less than ½” deep) before you install the screw, if you want to be extra sure that you don’t split the wood.


butcher block island countertop

The fender washer will allow the wood to swell and shrink without cracking.

Since we designed our top to overhang on one side, we decided to add some corbels underneath.

And since the overhang was small, we didn’t need them to actually support the top.  We just attached them to the cabinet, and not the top.


butcher block island countertop

I just marked where I wanted it to go.


butcher block island countertop

Drilled two holes near the middle.


butcher block island countertop

Grabbed a screw and drilled it in to the cabinet by itself (just to make sure the screw wouldn’t go too deep and risk splitting the corbel).


butcher block island countertop

butcher block island countertop

Then I put the corbel in place and ran the screw in the pre-drilled holes.


butcher block island countertop

butcher block island countertop

butcher block island countertop

butcher block island countertop

As for maintenance, it’s not bad at all.

Once a week Susanna just rubs it down with some Butcher Block Conditioner.  It makes it look brand new again.

That’s all there is to it!

So if you think a butcher block island countertop will make your kitchen POP! then be brave and take the plunge!

Let me know how it turns out!

Please leave questions and tips below too.

~ Jason

2 Responses to “Butcher Block Island Countertop Installation”

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  1. Durl Lovell says:

    I have done this project as well with our island. You can see the pic n Elisha’s Facebook page under projects. We were able to get the butcher block from IKEA. I also have a tip if you don’t want to spend the money on the conditioner you can use any kind of cooking oil. I was a baker for several years and that is what I used to conditioned my table then and it’s what I use now to do the same with our island.