Wood Countertops 101, Part 2: Pick a Construction Style

Do you know your construction styles?
By Eric Krezel
March 02, 2011

Specifying wood for a kitchen countertop, island or butcher block provides homeowners with plenty of opportunities to customize their kitchen surface to suit their individual tastes, personalities and lifestyles. The variety of species is broad, ranging from domestic and exotic woods to sustainable and reclaimed wood options—offering something for just about everyone. Once a decision has been made, the next step is selecting a construction style.


There are three different construction styles from which to choose.

• Plank style is a design-driven construction that is chosen to show off the wood’s grain and beauty. Plank style refers to a piece of wood that is laid flat to show off its grain characteristics and pattern. You’ll see all the nuances of the wood and the wavy grain patterns contribute to make plank style the most visual choice of all the construction styles. It is usually chosen to complement warm, rustic and vintage décors.

• Edge grain provides a harder, stronger construction that makes it the best choice for overhangs that are typically found in an island seating area. It can bear more weight without supports than any of the other construction styles. Historically, edge grain was the choice for butcher-block food prep areas. In this construction, the wood is laid on its edge, providing a very strong surface with a clean, linear appearance. The wood surface tends to have a uniform color without a lot of visible wood grain. Often homeowners will choose this style if they desire a contemporary, classic look.
Here, a teak countertop uses edge-grain construction, giving the top a linear appearance.

• End grain is yet another construction style that is very popular for butcher blocks, chopping blocks or food preparation areas. Here, a piece of wood is stood on its end and many 2-in. x 2-in. ends become the surface, which gives the look of a checkerboard. Some end-grain construction countertops are subtle, using the same wood species to form a tone-on-tone offset checkerboard, while others are more dramatic and use contrasting dark and light woods to form a very visual checkerboard.
This lyptus wood countertop uses end-grain construction, which gives a tone-on-tone offset checkerboard pattern.
End-grain construction in this close-up of a lyptus countertop reveals an interesting offset pattern.

Of the three construction styles, end grain lends itself to smaller areas of the kitchen as a focal point, such as a food prep area or coffee bar. It is durable and can easily be fitted with an undermount sink but is not recommended for overhangs. If you’re looking for an edgy design, this is it. Whether constructed from the same wood species or contrasting woods, this surface option is very distinctive and eye-catching.


Although finishes were covered in Part 1 of this series, they do bear repeating, as choosing the right one can be critical to the health of your wood surface and its user. • Crosslinked penetrating tung oil finish can be used with all three styles can be finished with to seal and protect the wood. A penetrating tung oil finish will give each style the look of upscale fine wood furniture. Plank-style construction islands will have a slightly satin finish. Edge- and end-grain styles will have a slightly more matte finish.

Choose this finish if you plan to use a cutting board whenever you prepare food. The finish is durable and cleans up easily. Spills bead up, making it a low-maintenance, low-worry finish.

• Food safe penetrating oil finishes are ideal for use on edge and end grain constructions if they are to be used as butcher block food prep stations or chopping blocks. You can cut on the surface and any scratches can be easily sanded out.

This finish requires more maintenance than a tung oil finish and should be re-oiled every three to four weeks to maintain its beauty. Spills should be wiped up immediately. This matte finish would not be recommended for an island that uses plank-style construction.

Polyurethane and lacquer finishes should be avoided. Polyurethane and lacquer are not oil finishes that penetrate the wood but, rather, are put on in layers that sit atop the wood surface. Furniture makers use polyurethane to finish the wood because it is inexpensive and easily put into mass production. The problem with these finishes is that moisture can get underneath the layers and cause the dreaded white rings that often occur when a glass sits on a surface without a coaster. In addition, both polyurethane and lacquer can chip or flake off. Penetrating oil finishes will not do that.

Part three of this four-part series will look at how to sell wood countertops.

—Eric Krezel is the inside sales representative for Craft-Art, Inc., a manufacturer of fine wood countertops. 
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