Wood Countertops: A Buyer’s Guide

Unsure whether wood countertops are a good fit for your home? An expert weighs in.

Wood Countertops

Photo: Texas Treads

When it comes to naturally beautiful countertops, it’s hard to beat the warmth and character of wood. Before you opt for wood as a counter surface, though, it’s helpful to know its benefits and drawbacks. To gain a deeper understanding of the material’s pros and cons, we reached out to New York architect Andrew Franz for his insight. Read on to find out if wood countertops are the right choice for you.

What woods can be used for countertops?
While maple and bamboo may be the most popular species on account of their availability and sustainability, many hardwoods are equally well-suited for countertops. A lot has to do with the look and use or regional preferences. Local woods, such as mesquite in the Southwest, can perform just as well as black walnut or cherry. Many FSC-certified or reclaimed woods are also good choices and meet LEED certification guidelines for sustainability. Softwoods like pine are generally not appropriate or high-performing.

Related: 12 Wow-Worthy Woods for Kitchen Countertops

What makes wood a good countertop material? 
It is readily available and sustainable and comes in an endless variety of colors, species, shapes and finishes. It’s warmer to the touch than any other counter surface. It can be cut, fabricated, and installed easily by a carpenter, so it may be less expensive and faster to procure and install than stone and solid surface alternatives. The color and character improve with age. And it can be sanded, refinished, and touched up with relative ease.

What are its pros?
You can cut and eat and do almost anything on it. It’s also quieter; you won’t hear banging or clinking sounds when pans or glasses are placed on it (and breakage is less likely should glasses or other items fall). Wood is not vulnerable to citrus, as some stones are, and many species are naturally heat-resistant.  When properly sealed, it also offers natural, anti-bacterial benefits.  Lastly, with so many looks—striped, end-grain cubes, solid tops with “live edge” detailing—wood countertops are as comfortable in modern kitchens as they are in traditional ones.

Its cons?
The best finishes are the natural ones that require oiling 2-3 times a year—or more. Some people don’t like so-called live finishes. Wood must also be kept dry around sink areas and after spills.

What about cost?
Well-fabricated solid butcher block or wood countertops are made to order and use high-grade woods that have been dried and sorted for long wear. All surfaces must be carefully finished with multiple coats of oil or sealer prior to installation to prevent damage from water or heat. Cost of materials is in the range of $50-$100 per square foot, but this price varies depending on location and species.  Talk to a reputable installer to get more detailed information.

Click here to see a dozen examples of wood species appropriate for countertop applications.

Want more? Check out our buyer’s guide to Granite Countertops.