Our Oak Kitchen Counter Tops Looked Like a Hill Billy After a Bad Fight Missing Some Serious Teeth. (How I Screwed Up and Then Fixed My Mistakes.)


Introduction: Our Oak Kitchen Counter Tops Looked Like a Hill Billy After a Bad Fight Missing Some Serious Teeth. (How I Screwed Up and Then Fixed My Mistakes.)

About: There is nothing I love more then making something new and usable again that someone else would have thrown out or torn down!

It seemed the perfect choice for our little country kitchen. We’d made everything else so, it seemed only natural that we would be making our counter tops as well. Initially, when I thought this renovation wasn’t going to absolutely and totally drain our bank accounts, I had been holding out the hope of being able to afford slate… Then reality happened. My second choice was butcher block but, honestly, we couldn’t afford that either and, after building the sink base,the cabinets and the pantry, I ended up really wanting to make our counters too. So, the plan was hatched, we would be making our own “butcher block” for the counters. We did not have enough pine left to make them like we made the butcher block island top, however, we did have a whole pile of oak out in the barn. It was only about about 1/2” by 3” but I thought it would work. It had been used before as each end had an old screw hole in it but I have no idea where it came from or what its passed life entailed all I knew was that it was OAK and it was in long enough pieces to do all of our counters. I got to cutting and Joe glued and nailed it down with our brad nailer. Here it is right after we finished.

Step 1: When Things Go South...

We were both stoked and it was really quick and easy. So, I sanded them down, bought some mineral oil and oiled them according to the directions. Its at this point when things started to take a turn out of the lovely spectrum and into the “oh no….” spectrum. Was it because we didn’t put enough nails in it? Was it the wrong kind of oil for oak? Was it because it sat absolutely dry as a bone in the barn for several decades and couldn’t handle something about the environment in our kitchen? I don’t know. What I do know is that we were taking REALLY good care of them! We weren’t using them as a cutting board, the oil was working, water did not sink in and any tiny little bit of moisture that got on them I whisked right off and I was SO careful not to get water on them ever! Anyway, this is how they looked: like a hill billy after a bad fight missing some serious teeth. I tried re oiling them as they started to separate and warp and, I swear, the oil made them WORSE! Was it because they were just SO dry? Was it because I actually, in fact, have no idea what I’m doing?!?! I will say though, deep down, with my experience working with wood (which is actually pretty extensive at this point) I was not surprised… Just deeply disappointed and VERY disgruntled because of all of the possible scenarios that I knew could happen, this was the worst.

Step 2: How to Fix This Problem!

So, every day, I came downstairs to see the counter top just getting worse and it stared at me every time I was in the kitchen, mocking me. Something HAD to be done. I’m not good at “redoing” anything, we really do build things to last around here, or, at least we TRY to. On top of the knowledge that all those glued boards were going to be a pain in the butt to pull up, I also didn’t want to ruin our brand new back splash which was, of course, put in AFTER the counter tops. And then Joe informed me his dad needed his help so I would be alone for most of this last weekend. First thing I did was some research on water based sealers (polys) if I was going to get this counter top perfect, it would be staying that way this time! No more mineral oil for us! I bought a slightly different type of wood glue, the stuff we used before was basic, the stuff I chose this time was meant for wet environments. I got out our 2” brad nails and used those instead of the 1 1/4” brads. I did not go with a food safe sealer, I had no plans on literally putting our food directly on this counter top, our food is always on a plate, or a towel, or SOMETHING, what I was interested in was having a counter top I could WIPE off and CLEAN! Because, as you can see, they had become an unsanitary horror.

Step 3: The Counters and How I Fixed Them!

I decided the first few boards beside the sink were good enough, I added LOTS more nails to them and then, oh so carefully, started pulling up the rest of the tops. I have only incredible things to say about wood glue, the majority of the counter top came up in huge chunks, held together really well by nothing but the glue we put between the boards and, because we used such short brad nails and didn’t glue it down, it literally popped right up into my arms. I was not shy with the glue or the nails this time and did a certain amount of pounding them in, mostly to make myself feel better, pounding on things is always good for making me feel better! With the counter tops all together again (like they were the first time) I went around with my glue and filled in any lingering gaps. After letting them dry over night I tackled them with the my sander the next morning. (Admittedly, I half believed I was going to come down stairs in the morning to find them all gap toothed and horrible again…) I sanded them really well, starting with medium grit sand paper and then moving on to fine grit until I, once again, had a lovely smooth surface. Back to lovely again! Now, I tackled the task of KEEPING them that way! Out with the poly I chose and, throughout that long day, I put on seven separate coats. Now, I am happy to say that I do believe our counters are DONE DONE DONE.

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    Great failures can lead to great success !

    Wow what a disaster. You did it all wrong, didn't you? Did you ever seal the underside of the counter top? Because if you seal one side, but not the other, you can get some pretty severe movements out of wood. Just because you can't see it doesn't mean it doesn't matter. I think initially you made the trifecta of mistakes. First you didn't acclimate the wood, before working with it. Then you finished one side, but not the other. Finally you used inadequate fasteners to hold it down. Although running the grain perpendicular to the "easy" way didn't help you out any either. Because wood expands more across the grain, than along it. That multiplied everything on you.

    I think if it was me faced with a similar situation I'd have opted for using a dimensionally stable base, some 3/4 exterior plywood, then attached the wood lengthwise to that with mastic, and brads, up from the bottom. Then dealt with that as one monolithic slab. There's no guarantee my scheme would work either, but at least it tries to take wood's fluid nature into account.

    Would my way be hard? You bet. But nothing worthwhile ever comes easy. I think that is beginning to dawn on you now too.

    2 replies

    alternatively, instead of plywood as the base, what you could have done (and could still do) is glue some strips off wood across them on the underside to make it more stable. glue will either keep it totally still or fair, whearas metal fasteners always have a little bit of play, and will wiggle/cut their way loose as the wood shifts every season.

    You want the wood to move. You're actually not going to stop it from happening. Strips of wood across grain is a definite no no when it comes to wood construction too. Plywood is dimensionally stable because the layers alternate, and there are an odd number of plys. In other words it is designed to work. Mastic is a kind of glue, in case you were unaware.