Introduction: Butcher Block Kitchen Prep Station

Butcher Block Kitchen Prep Station

The footprint  of this project is 33 ¾” wide, 25 1/8” deep and 35 ½” tall. The island has one 4” deep drawer and two open shelves.

The  butcher block top overhangs 2” on both sides and 1 1/4” front and back. The top is 37 ¾” wide, 26 5/8” and 1 ½” thick. The entire project is made from maple.

The construction of the butcher block top was featured in a previous Instructables.

The legs are made from 2 pieces of 1 5/8” stock that were glued together and then milled to 3” square.

The construction  joinery is mortise and tenon. The slats for the shelves are screwed to the stretchers and concealed with contrasting wood plugs.

This project requires basic woodworking skills and access to woodworking machines. Woodworking machines have sharp cutting edges and are NOT forgiving. You should be properly trained  in the use of these machines. Ensure that you wear safety glasses and  hearing protection, use push sticks, hold-downs , clamps  and a cutting sled to cut the project parts safely.

On a scale of 1-10, 10 being very difficult, this project is a “4”.

Materials Needed:
  • Approximately 30 linear feet of maple, 2” thick for the legs.
  • Approximately 20 linear feet of 1 ¼” thick maple, 6” wide for the aprons and stretchers.
  • Approximately 40 linear feet of  1” thick maple, 3” wide for the shelf slats.
  • 150 and 180 grit sandpaper and 0000 steel wool.
  • Yellow woodworkers glue
  • Min-Wax Wipe-On Poly varnish
  • Locking Casters (4)

Tools & Equipment Needed:
  • Table saw
  • Router table (straight and dovetail router bits)
  • 8” jointer
  • Planner or  flat bed drum sander
  • Block plane
  • Bar or pipe clamps

Step 1:

Step 2:

Step 3: Stock Preparation for the Legs

Making the stock flat with square edges is critical for any woodworking project.

I started with preparing the stock for the legs since two pieces need to be glued together to achieve 3” thick pieces.

Start with making one face of 2” thick  rough sawn stock (actually only measures about 1 7/8” thick) flat with a jointer. You will loose at least 1/8” during the flattening process.

Use a planer or flat bed sander to make the opposite side flat and parallel.

Use a jointer to make one edge square to the faces.

Trim the opposite edge of the board on a table saw to make the stock rectangular.

Use a band saw or a table saw to cut 3 ¼” wide lengths of wood at least 32” long.

Tip: It is always better to make the stock oversized when laminating pieces together and then sizing them down as required.

Step 4: Laminating the Stock for the Legs

Mill the boards for the legs about 1 5/8” thick. You will need 8 boards at least 32” long. I used a flat bed sander to surface the opposite board’s face. A planner may cause some grain tear-out.

Select sets of boards to create the most pleasing visual appeal. Mark the ends to ensure proper alignment.

Clamp the boards together without glue in order to ensure that the joining faces are flat with no voids or gaps. Make adjustments as necessary to ensure a seamless joint.

Layout bar or pipe clamps and yellow woodworkers glue and a brush to spread the glue.

Spread a light film of glue on the mating surfaces. Let the glue setup for a minute.

Glue pieces together.  Align the edges of the two boards as best you can to create a flat surface. The wet glue will most likely cause some slippage and misalignment, that is why you want them slightly oversized.

Repeat the process until you have the set of 4 legs glued up.

Let the boards dry at least 8 hours.

Step 5: Sizing the Legs

The glued legs are oversized. You need to make them square and reduce the size of the legs to 3” square.

After the legs dry, use a jointer to make one face flat on each board. Mark the face that has been joined.

Use a jointer to make one of the sides square to the face. Mark that side.

With a face and a side square to each other, you now want to use a planner or flat bed sander to make the opposite face and side parallel to each other.

I first used the planner to make the untouched side and face level. Then I used a flat bed sander to creep up on 3” square. You should rotate the legs a quarter turn as you pass the boards through the sander, thus ensuring that your removing the same amount of material from each surface.

Once the legs are sized to 3” square, use a  cross cut saw to size the legs to 30” long.

Mark the ends to identify the positioning of the legs.

Step 6: Stock Preparation for the Aprons & Stretchers

The aprons and the stretchers are all 1 ¼” thick.

The aprons are 5” wide and the stretchers are 2” wide.

Select the most visually pleasing pieces of wood for the aprons.

Using the stock preparation process described in previous steps mill the rough sawn 1 ½” stock to 1 ¼” thick.

On the table saw, cut the aprons and stretchers to their respective widths. Rip them 1/16” oversize so you can joint or hand plane the cut edge to remove any saw marks.

Use a cross cut sled on the table saw to cut the side aprons and side stretchers to the exact same length. Use a stop guide to ensure they are all cut them to 19 1/8” long.

Use a cross cut sled on the table saw to cut the back apron and the front and back stretchers to the same length, 27 ¾”long.

Step 7: Cutting the Mortises in the Aprons & Stretchers

The joinery for this project is ½” loose tenons. This requires mortises in the legs and aprons. You will need a ½” router bit that has a cutting depth of at least 1”. I used a spiral solid carbide router bit.

Mark the positions of the mortises in the aprons and stretchers. The mortises are ½” wide and 1” deep. The mortises are centered in the thickness.

The top and bottom mortise shoulders on the aprons are a 3/8” and ½” on the stretchers. The shoulder size is dependent on the width of the piece.

The bit size and cutting depth will create a lot of torque, so the stock will need to be adequately secured to the bed of the horizontal router. Setup the horizontal router with hold-downs that will center each piece on the router bed. I used a number of toggle clamps to secure the work pieces.

Align the router bit sideways movement according to the mortises layout. Center the  router bit in the thickness of the pieces.

With the stock secured route the mortises in each of the stretchers.

Change the position of the hold-downs to accommodate the aprons and repeat the setup process.

Route the mortises for the aprons.

Step 8: Cutting the Mortises in the Legs

Layout the positions of the mortises in the legs for the stretchers and aprons.

The aprons are setback from the outside faces ½” and are flush to the top of the legs.

The stretchers are centered in the legs.

Careful layout is critical. Use the layout you made on the stretchers and aprons as a check the size and position of the mortises.

The legs are 3” square so I had to make a special base to secure the legs to the horizontal router.

I used the mortise layout on a leg to position the toggle clamps. I also used adjustable hand clamps to ensure that the legs were secured to the fence.

I also used a stop block clamped to the fence to consistently position the mortises.

It is important that the fence is square to the table and perpendicular to the router bit.

Route the mortises in the legs.

Step 9: Making the Loose Tenons

Mill maple stock to ½” thick. Check the thickness against the mortises you made in the legs, stretchers or aprons. The tenons should slide into the mortises with hand pressure only. They are too tight if you have to force then and too loose if the fall out when turned upside down.

Cut the width of the tenons to slightly less than the width of the mortises for the legs/aprons and legs/stretchers.

You want to create shallow grooves in the loose tenons to allow for glue squeeze-out, otherwise the pressure will act like a piston and the tenons will not seat.

Set the height of the table saw blade to 1/16”. Set the fence at ½” and run the stock through the saw blade. Turn the board and run the other edge through the saw blade.

Reset the fence to 1” and flip the board and cut two saw kerfs. Repeat the process for both tenon widths

On the router table, use a quarter round bit and round over the edges of the tenons.

Use a cross-cut sled on your table saw and cut the tenons to length, 1 7/8” long.

Step 10: Making Cabinetmakers Buttons

A cabinetmakers button moves along a groove in the apron to allow the top to expand and contract as humidity changes.

I used cabinetmakers buttons to attach the butcher block top to the base. A cabinetmakers button is a block of wood with a tongue on one edge. The tongue slides into a groove in the apron and the block is fastened to the top with a screw.

There are a number of fabricated metal brackets that provide the same function, but I choose to make them myself.

Use the table saw to cut ¼” wide by ½” deep groove along the inside top edges of the aprons, ½” from the edge.

Use a piece of maple stock 1” x 1 ½” and mill a ¼” tongue, ½” deep and ½” from the edge.

Use a cross cut sled to cut individual buttons, 1 ½” long.

On a drill press, drill a #10 countersunk hole into the center of the button.

Ease all the edges of the buttons.

I used 10 buttons to attach the top to the base.

Step 11: Ease the Edges

Use a block plane or a quarter round router bit to ease the edges of all the aprons and stretchers.

You do not want any sharp edges on any of the pieces.

Step 12: Assembly Prep

All the parts are ready for assembly.

Glue the tenons into the aprons and stretchers. Apply glue to the mortises and set the tenons in place.

Use clamps to seat the tenons all the way into the mortises. Let the glue set for a couple of hours before starting the assembly process.

This is also a good time to drill the holes in the bottom of the legs for the casters. Place a leg in a vise, position the caster and mark the hole location. Use a 1/8” drill bit and drill the four mounting holes.

Step 13: Pre-Finishing Parts

I find that pre-finishing the parts prior to assembly is easier and avoids the build-up of finish at the joints.

NOTE: I only applied finish to the underside and edges of the slats. The top side of the slats should NOT be finished until they are screwed to the stretchers and the screw holes are plugged.

Tape up all the exposed tenons and mortises with blue painters masking tape.

All parts should be sanded to 220 grit.

Wipe down all the parts with paint thinner to remove dust particles and to prepare the wood for finishing.

You can use any finish that is water resistant. I choose Minwax Wipe-On Poly because it provides good protection and is easy to repair and maintain. I also wanted to preserve the natural color of the wood so the finish is a clear semi-gloss.

Follow the manufacture’s directions and apply the finish with a clean cotton rag. I applied 3 coats and sanded with 400 grit sandpaper between coats. After the final coat I use 0000 steel wool to remove any dust particles and to dull the finish slightly.

Step 14: Dry Fit Parts

Assemble the base with clamps and check that all the joints fit tightly.

Stag the clamps, glue and wet rags you will require during the glue up process.

Step 15: Gluing the Side Assemblies

It is easier to glue up this project in sub-assemblies.

Setup all the parts for one side of the base (2 legs, side apron and 2 side stretchers).

The spacing of the stretchers has to be consistent on all four sides of the base to ensure that the two shelves are level.

I made top and bottom spacers to ensure proper placement.

Spread glue into the mortises on one leg. Spread glue onto the tenons of the apron and the two stretchers and place them into the leg mortises. Repeat the process for the other leg, place the leg onto the apron and stretchers.

Place the shelf spacers and make sure that the apron is flush to the top of the leg and that the stretchers are positioned tightly against the spacers. Secure with clamps.

Ensure that all the joints are light and square.

Use a tape measure and measure the diagonal of the unit to ensure that it is square (the measurement must be the same from corner to corner). Place a clamp diagonally to adjust for square.

Let the side assembly dry at least 8 hours. Repeat the process with the other side.

Step 16: Stock Preparation for the Shelves

The two shelves are made from ¾” thick, 2 5/8” wide and 24 ¼” long slats that are spaced ¼” apart. The slats are screwed to the front and back stretchers and the screw hole is then plugged with a contrasting wood.

Select 1” stock and rough cut it to 3” wide and 26” long. You will need 20 pieces.

Flatten one face on the jointer and then mill the opposite face parallel with a planner or a flat bed sander.

Reduce the thickness to ¾”.

Using the jointer, make on edge square to the face. On the table saw rip the boards to 2 ¾” wide. Hand planning will remove the saw and jointer marks on the edges and reduce the boards to their final thickness of 2 5/8”.

Use a cross cut sled on the table saw to cut the slats to their final length, 24 ¼”.

Step 17: Chamfer the Ends of the Shelf Slats

Setup your router table with a  45 degree chamfering bit. Use a scrap of wood to set the depth of cut.

Routing end grain will cause tear out on the out-feed edge of the wood. To avoid this and to better control feeding the wood into the cutter, use a piece of plywood 6” wide and 12” long as a push block.

Hold the slats against the plywood push block and against the fence and feed the stock through the cutter.

Repeat the process on both ends of the 20 slats.

Step 18: Drilling the Holes in the Shelves & Making Plugs

Setup the drill press with a #10 countersink drill bit.

Use a scrap piece of wood and clamp a stop block that will allow for the positioning of the drill bit 1” from the end of the board.

Setup the drill press fence so that the hole will be center in the slats.

Drill both ends of all the shelf slats.

Use a plug cutter to create contrasting wood plugs for the holes.

Step 19: Attaching the Shelf Slats to the Stretchers

I decided to attach the slats to the stretches prior to the base being glued together. My rational was that this provided me better access to the shelves for plugging the screw holes and for finishing.

Dry assemble the case. The two sides are already glued up so all this requires is placing the back apron and the sets of front and back stretchers.

The space between the stretchers is ¼” so I milled strips of wood ¼” thick and ¾” tall for spacers. This ensured me the proper spacing along the length of the shelf.

I then clamped a fence along the front edge of the stretcher that provided me a method of ensuring a consistent ½” overhang on both the front and back edges.

I marked the placement of the holes with an awl and pre-drilled the screw holes in the slats. Maple is very hard and if you do not pre-drill the holes you run the chance of breaking off the screw during the screwing.

Use a #10 wood screw that is 1 ¼” long. Screw the slats to the stretchers. Repeat the process for the other shelf.

Disassemble the base.

You now have two assembled shelf units.

Step 20: Setting the Plugs

Use yellow woodworkers glue to glue the plugs into the screw holes. The plugs should be at least 1/16” proud of the surface of the slats.

Let the glue dry for a couple of hours.

Use blue painters tape to protect the surface of the slats. Use a saw and cut the top of the plugs.

Use a chisel to flush the plugs to the surface of the slats.

Use 220 grit sandpaper to sand the slats and plugs flat.

Step 21: Finish the Top Side of the Shelves

Wipe down the surface of the shelf units with paint thinner.

Use Minwax Wipe-on Ploy and apply 3 coats of finish to each shelf unit. Sand with 400 grit sandpaper between coats.

Step 22: Glue Up Base

Use bar clamps and glue the shelf units and the back apron to the two assembled side assemblies.

NOTE: Make sure that the front and back stretchers are at the same height as the side stretchers.

Step 23: Making the Drawer

Mill the wood for the drawer box and for the applied drawer front. I used maple hardwood for the drawer.

The drawer will be constructed with through dovetails on all four corners.

NOTE: The drawer size is dependent on the type of drawer slides you use. I used Blum Tandem full extension under mount drawer slides. There are specific sizing requirements that effect the overall drawer dimensions. Select the drawer slide mechanism you will be using before cutting the drawer stock.

The drawer box is 4 ½” deep, 27 3/8” wide and 21” deep. All the drawer stock is milled to 5/8” thick.

The drawer has an applied front that is 27 ¾” wide and 5” tall and ¾” thick. Select the best piece of maple for the drawer front.

Cut the parts for the drawer box to length.

Step 24: Cutting Through Dovetails for Drawer

I used a Leigh dovetail jig to cut the through dovetails for the drawer. Follow the directions in the users manual.

Step 25: Making the Groove for the Drawer Bottom

The drawer bottom is a ¼” piece of pre-finished maple plywood.

The objective is to cut the groove the same size as the thickness of the plywood bottom. Adjust the fence until the groove is sized correctly. You want the panel to fit easily; not tight but not wiggly either.

You need to cut a ¼” groove on the inside bottom edge of the drawer components (front, back and sides).

Set the table saw blade to 5/16” high and set the fence at ½”.

Use a test piece of wood and make the test cut. Check to ensure that the depth of cut and the inset is correct. Make adjustments as necessary.

Make the initial cut by running all the drawer components through the saw blade.

Reset the fence to 9/16” and make another test cut on your sample block. Test fit it to the plywood panel.

Depending on the thickness of your saw blade a second adjustment should achieve the ¼” groove.

Step 26: Sizing the Drawer Bottom

The drawer bottom sits into the 5/16” deep groove in the drawer box. The bottom has to be cut to fit.

Clamp a drawer together. Make sure the dovetail joints are tight.

Mark the depth of the groove on the outside edge of the sides and on the front and back pieces. Measure the distant from the sides and the front and back to determine the size of the drawer bottom.

It is best to make the drawer bottom 1/16” smaller in both directions to ensure that the bottom does not bind and inhibit the joints from seating tightly. Dry fit the drawer together to ensure that the bottom is not inhibiting the joints from coming together.

Use a block plane or a piece of sand paper and ease the edges of the bottom panel. This will help the bottom slide easily in the grove during assembly.

Step 27: Gluing the Drawer

Prior to gluing up the drawer, sand the inside of the drawer components. Once the drawer is assembled, it will be more difficult to sand thoroughly.

The two most important things in gluing a dovetail drawer is to ensure that the dovetail joints are tight and the box is square.

Setup the drawer components, clamps, yellow woodworkers glue, rags and measuring tape you will need. 

Because dovetails are cut a little proud of the stock, you need to use cauls (a small piece of wood that will be placed in the middle the tails) to ensure adequate and consistent clamping pressure. I used double sided tape to position the cauls onto the drawer sides before starting the gluing process.

Spread glue on both the pins and tails of one side and one end of the drawer box. Slide the pin board (front and back pieces)  into the tail board (side pieces) .

Spread a small amount of glue into the ¼” bottom groove. Too much glue will make a mess and will be difficult to clean off. You do not have to concern yourself with wood movement since the bottom panel is plywood. Gluing the bottom panel will make the box stronger.

Slide the bottom panel in place.

Spread glue on the other pin board and seat the board. Repeat the process with the other tail board to complete the box.

Clamp the drawer making sure the joints close tight. Use a tape measure and measure the diagonals to make sure the drawer is square. Place a clamp diagonally to adjust square if necessary.

Let the glue dry at least 4 hours before cleaning up the joints.

Step 28: Drawer Cleanup and Fitting the Slides

Use a low angle block plane to clean up the dovetail joints. The pins and tails should be a little proud. Plane the pins and tails flush and sand the outside of the drawer box.

The drawer slides I used require that a notch is cut on the back edge of the drawer. Cut the notch with a hand saw and chisel the waste away.

I also drilled two holes in the front of the drawer box to secure the drawer front. These holes should be countersunk. Place the holes 2” from the sides and centered in the width.

Step 29: Mounting the Drawer Slide

Since the base is a leg and apron construction, the inside faces of the sides are not flush with the legs.

A cleat needs to be attached to the sides so the drawer slides can be mounted.

Mill a piece of hardwood 1 ¼” wide, 2” tall and 19 1/8” long. Drill 3 countersunk holes for mounting.

The drawer slide needs to be setback from the front edge to create a shadow line and to account for the drawer front. The two drawer slides need to be level and consistent otherwise the drawer will not close properly.

Use clamps to ensure proper alignment.

Secure drawer slides to the cleat and leg.

Step 30: Mounting the Top

The top is fastened to the base with cabinetmakers buttons.

Position the buttons and secure with #10 wood screws 1 ½” long.

Step 31: Attaching the Drawer Front

Center the drawer pull on the drawer front. Careful measurement is critical before drilling the hardware mounting holes.

Drill the holes a little larger than the screws to allow for minor adjustments.

Since the drawer front was finished previously, I used blue painters masking tape to protect the finish. I used 1/16” scrap of wood as a spacer and taped it to the top of the drawer to ensure proper drawer position.

Use double side carpet tape to position the drawer front onto the drawer box. Once positioned, I screwed the drawer front to the drawer box through the holes for the handles.

Use two #10 1 ¼” wood screws and secure the drawer front from the inside of the drawer.

Remove the screws from the handle holes and drill through these holes to mount the handle from the inside. Clamp a scrap piece of wood to back up the drawer when you drill the handle holes. This will ensure a clean hole and eliminate tear out.

You will most likely have to purchase longer screws for the handles since the screws supplied with the handles will be too short.

Step 32: Mounting the Wheels

Mount the wheels with the supplied screws.

Turn the project over and start cooking!

Step 33: Bill of Materials

Bill of materials and plan view layout of aprons and stretchers.