Structure wood countertops

Structure - The face grain construction version has the lumber positioned face-up. The planks are wide from 5” to 10” or more; the individual plank width depends on the total countertop depth and the dimensional assortments of the lumber available.

Face-grain walnut

If the face-grain structure is built out of flat-cut lumber, it shows the natural swirls and curves in the wood grain. The knots, if any, and are fully displayed and usually each plank contains portions of both heartwood and sapwood. With species with sharp difference in color between sapwood and heartwood such as walnut or hickory the planks must be positioned in such a way that the color flows naturally from one plank to the other.

Face-grain flat cut red oak

If built out of rift cut, the grain is tighter and the pattern more uniform so that sometimes the seams between the planks are hardly visible, creating the illusion of a solid chunk of wood.

Rift cut white oak

Either way, the result is an elegant, furniture-like appearance which will surprise you for years to come with little-noticed details that are revealed from a certain angle only. The main limitation of the face-grain option is the thickness. The raw lumber is usually 2” thick and so the thickness of the final finished product falls between 1 ½” and 1 ¾ “. For countertops 2” and thicker, the edge-grain structure might be the only feasible option.

Face-grain hickory

In the edge-grain structure, the lumber is positioned on its edge. The thickness of the surfaced lumber, usually between 1 ½” and 1 7/8” becomes the width of the strips forming the board. When grainy wood species are being used, the result is a stripey, sometimes variegated appearance. With a wood that has a tight and even grain or an uniform color, the resulting surface will have something zen in its simplicity. When built in this configuration, there are virtually no dimensional limitations; you can build the counters as thick and deep as you want.

Edge-grain full-strip walnut island top
Edge-grain full-strip maple countertop

The end-grain structure involves the lumber being positioned vertically, on its ‘end’ so to speak, therefore the surface will show the annual rings. With some species such as black locust, the pattern is obvious; with others, like white maple, it is hardly visible. Depending on how the individual staves are being cut, the end-grain structure could be either checkerboard style or

Checkerboard end-grain walnut butcherblock
Checkerboard end-grain black locust island top
Brick style end grain beech wood (close-up)

Despite a common mistaken belief, the brickwork version is not stronger than the checkerboard one as most adhesives used nowadays have a bond stronger than the wood itself; the only difference between the two lays in the aesthetics. Traditionally, the end-grain is the option of choice for working surfaces used for real food preparation, especially when a lot of chopping and cutting is done because the end-grain is very gentle on the knife’s edge. When used for real food prep, the wood surface is usually treated with food-grade mineral oil or a mixture of beeswax and mineral oil. Since neither of these treatments seal the wood effectively, the end-grain structure is more prone to movement than the previous two. For this reason, as well as to compensate for its lack of elasticity, the end- grain structure is usually built thicker, about 3”-4’.

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