If you’ve watched home renovation shows or opened interior design magazines lately, you know that wood countertops are popular right now.
But is it the right material for your home?
In this article, I provide a complete and unbiased breakdown of the pros and cons of wood countertops.
I’ll explain each advantage and disadvantage in detail, so you have all the essential facts to decide whether wood countertops are right for you.
Let’s get started.
Use the links below to navigate this article:
- Wood Countertops: The Basics
- Pros of Wood Countertops
- Cons of Wood Countertops
- Bottom Line: Are Wood Countertops Worth It?
Wood Countertops: The Basics
Before I get into the pros and cons, it’s helpful to understand some basics about wood countertops (also known as butcher block counters).
There are two main factors to consider when you’re shopping for wood countertops, including the species of wood and construction.
The type of wood impacts the overall look (color and graining) and durability (hardness).
Some popular options include birch, American walnut, mesquite, bamboo, white oak, hard maple, cherry, and walnut.
Besides the varying appearances of these woods, it’s important to consider their hardness, which is measured on the Janka Scale (the higher the score, the harder the wood).
For example, butternut is one of the softest woods, while Brazilian cherry is one of the hardest.
Hard maple, which is often recommended for kitchen surfaces, falls in the middle with a Janka hardness rating of 1450. Other woods in the same range include carbonized bamboo, natural bamboo, and sapele mahogany.
When choosing between hard and soft woods, you need to consider how you’ll use the countertop.
For example, if you plan to cut and chop right on the counter rather than using a cutting board, you might want a softer wood. But if you won’t use it for food prep, you likely want a harder wood.
There are four types of construction used for wood countertops: edge grain, end grain, face grain, and blended.
Edge grain countertops are when the boards are laid parallel on their edges and joined together with the edges facing up. This construction is most commonly used for butcher block countertops and other prep areas since the grain can be used as a cutting surface. Many people believe it’s the most aesthetically pleasing option.
End grain countertops are made of small squares lined vertically with the ends facing up (think: checkerboard). This grain type is an excellent choice for prep areas because the natural pattern is gentle on sharp knives.
Face grain countertops are when wood boards are laid flat with the widest part facing up. This construction type provides a smooth, elegant surface but is not ideal for food prep because knife marks will show.
With edge and face grain counters, you can opt for continuous or jointed strips. Continuous strips are when the wood boards run the full length of the counter. Jointed strips are when smaller boards are arranged in a parquet pattern.
If you decide to go with wood, consult with the supplier to determine the best wood species and construction for your needs.
Pros of Wood Countertops
Wood countertops have several advantages, including their appearance, durability, and price.
In this section, I break down each advantage in detail so you know what to expect.
Besides the adhesive used to connect the boards, wood countertops are all-natural.
So, if you want to avoid synthetic materials like laminate and quartz (quartz contains up to 7% synthetic resins), wood is a great choice.
Wood countertops provide a warm and rustic look, perfect if you’re going for the farmhouse aesthetic.
Dark wood provides an elegant contrast against light-colored cabinets. And lighter wood goes nicely with blue, black, and other dark-colored cabinets.
Instead of using wood for the entire kitchen, people are mixing stone with wood. For example, they may use wood for the island countertop but quartz, granite, or marble for the perimeter counters.
Regardless of your design preferences, you can choose from various wood types and colors and find one that suits your desired interior design.
Variety of Design Options
The many different wood species and construction types provide a variety of design options. With wood, you can make the look of your home truly unique.
For example, American walnut is much darker than hard maple, while cherry has reddish tones. Each wood type will take stains differently, too.
Each wood type has a different grain pattern. For example, Brazilan cherry features a very fine-grain, so scratches and dents are easier to disguise, and hard maple has a straight and uniform grain, which is easier to scuff.
You’ll also find various construction styles, including edge grain, end grain, and face grain, which I covered upfront.
Warm to the Touch
Unlike granite, marble, quartz, and other stones, which can feel cold, wood countertops are warm to the touch.
This makes for an inviting surface to eat and entertain.
If you’re looking to keep up with the popular interior design trends, wood countertops are an excellent choice.
Take a look at Google Search Trends, and you’ll see that searches for the term “wood countertops” have been steadily increasing since 2009.
In that same period, search interest for “granite countertops” has leveled off.
This data is not surprising considering that wood countertops fit right in with the “rustic meets modern” look that has become popular in recent years.
Wood is a softer material, and this is evident by the dents and scratches that show up more quickly than on other materials.
But wooden countertops have a long life because you can sand and resurface them multiple times, giving you a brand-new countertop again without the price of fully replacing it.
Natural Antibacterial Properties
Wood naturally slows the growth of bacteria.
Wood absorbs water, which bacteria need to grow. Wood also contains antimicrobial compounds — so when you choose wooden countertops, you’re choosing a more hygienic kitchen.
Keep in mind that if your wood is treated, this may limit these antibacterial properties.
Unlike with stone, you can cut food directly on wood countertops.
While I recommend a cutting board, wood countertops are soft and gentle on knives, especially softer woods.
Over time, knives will scratch and nick the counters, but you can sand and refinish them, restoring the original smooth surface.
Wood countertops have a low carbon footprint compared to other materials and require little energy and processing to manufacture (the boards are cut and adhered together). You can even find ones made from reclaimed wood.
Plus, wood is biodegradable if you ever need to remove or replace the countertops.
You can find companies that use locally sourced wood, reclaimed or not, to build your countertops.
Buying local also allows you to have more control over the design and the price.
Low Upfront Costs
The cost varies by species, construction, and location, but it is less costly than other materials, such as granite, marble, or quartz.
The average cost of wood countertops is between $30-60 per square foot.
Factors that influence the price include the type and quality of the wood, the size of your counters, and whether you buy from a national or local retailer. Prices vary, so make sure to shop around.
For comparison, quartz countertops cost between $50 and $150 per square foot, and marble costs between $40 to $100 per square foot. Granite is $40 to $60 per square foot.
Easy to Install
You can hire a company to install your wooden countertops, or you can do so yourself. If you’re handy and have the right tools, just cut the wood to size with a standard circular saw.
Easy to Clean
One thing I love about wood countertops is that they’re easy to clean.
Use a 1:1 mix of vinegar and water, complete with a couple of drops of lemon essential oil. Spray this all over your countertops for a nice shine, good clean, and a beautiful scent.
Cons of Wood Countertops
Although wood countertops have many advantages, they’re not for everyone.
Let’s take a close look at the disadvantages, so you understand the whole picture.
Wood countertops require a bit of upkeep to maintain their beautiful appearance and functionality.
First, wood countertops require regular sealing and oiling to protect against stains, scratches, and moisture damage. Plus, it prevents the wood from drying out.
From time to time, you’ll want to sand down the wood and refinish any major flaws.
When the countertop arrives, you’ll need to oil the wood. Mineral or tung oils are affordable options that protect the wood well. Apply the oils again the month after the original installation and then every six months after that.
Wood countertops are sensitive to both hot and cold temperatures.
If you place something hot on the countertop, such as a pan straight from the burner, it can damage the wood. Burn spots show up easily.
Cold items, such as ice packs, can also cause damage.
When the wood is exposed to extremely high or low temperatures, the wood expands and contracts, which can cause it to crack, warp, and cup.
Sensitive to Extreme Climates
Rapidly shifting temperatures and dryness can cause the wood to crack, and high humidity can also cause rotting.
If you live in a region that gets extremely cold, make sure the kitchen is always kept warm.
Likewise, if you live in a humid area, consider a dehumidifier in the home to avoid excess moisture in the air.
Damage From Moisture
One of the most significant disadvantages of wood countertops is that water left on the surface can quickly wreck the wood.
The area around the sink is especially vulnerable to water damage, and homeowners often complain about dark spots and discoloration.
Even a wet towel left on the wood for a couple of hours can damage the wood.
If you decide to install wood countertops, you’ll need to remain vigilant about keeping them dry.
Prone to Dents and Scratches
Unlike rock-hard granite and quartz, wood countertops are susceptible to dents and scratches. Whether it’s a knife, heavy skillet, or other objects, blemishes are unavoidable.
If you’re looking for the most durable countertop material, wood is not the best option.
Sure, you can sand and refinish them as needed, but many homeowners don’t want this responsibility.
Because you need to maintain your countertops, reseal and oil them regularly, the lifetime maintenance costs are higher than other materials.
Lower Resale Value
Due to the upkeep and distinct design, wood countertops can hurt your home’s resale value.
If you’re remodeling a home to sell, it may be a drawback for your potential buyers.
Could Harbor Mold or Bacteria
While wood does have antibacterial properties, there is still the potential for mold or bacteria to grow in dents and scratches that haven’t been sealed properly. It’s so important to clean up food messes immediately and stay on top of resealing the countertops.
Not Compatible With Household Cleaners
Many household cleaners cannot be used on porous or natural surfaces, such as wood. Harsh chemical cleaners can damage sealants and cause discoloration.
Here’s how to properly clean your wood countertops:
- Scrape off food or sticky residue with a spatula or pastry scraper.
- Mix a 1:1 solution of distilled white vinegar and water. Use this as your daily surface cleaner.
- Dry your countertops thoroughly.
- For stain removal, sprinkle salt over the stain. Cut a lemon in half and scrub it over the salt to lift the stain.
Not Suitable for Bathroom Counters
Wood is not recommended for bathroom countertops since there is a lot of moisture and humidity in a bathroom. You could use polyurethane to seal the surface, but that takes away the surface’s all-natural appeal.
Bottom Line: Are Wood Countertops Worth It?
With the resurgence of the farmhouse design and cottagecore aesthetic, wood countertops have risen in popularity.
But there are a few things to consider before installing wood countertops.
The pros are:
- A warm, elegant, and charming look to your kitchen
- Available in a variety of designs and grains
- Lasts a long time
- Natural antibacterial qualities
- Provides a good work surface
But there are also some drawbacks to consider:
- Requires high maintenance
- Easily damaged due to moisture, dents, and scratches
- Can harbor mold and bacteria
- Not compatible with many household cleaners
Bottom line — if you’re looking to add warmth and charm to your home and won’t fuss over minor blemishes, wood countertops are an excellent choice. If you prefer an ultra-durable, low-maintenance material, you might want to consider granite or quartz instead.
If you’re interested in wood countertops, you can get an estimate from local contractors on HomeAdvisor.com. The quotes are free, and there’s no obligation to buy.
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