Beach House Kitchen – Wood Counter

Friends of mine had a very large, solid oak entertainment center right out of the 1970’s. It was 6′ x 6′ x 2′, had album-sized cubby holes, and weighed almost 200 lbs. When they decided to move to a smaller house, the lumber came my way.

After taking it apart, I ripped a number of pieces into 2 1/2″ wide strips.

Image 2016-07-06 - 1864

I undercut one side of each strip by about half the width of my saw blade. This will allowed the boards to be assembled very tightly together – no gaps.

Image 2016-07-06 - 1865

Once I had the blade and fence set for the undercut, I put a feather-board in place to make it safer and easier.

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Here is the cross-section of each strip after cutting. When they were assembled, the tops were very tight.

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The lumber cart came in handy for moving the oak around the shop. The dado slots were from the entertainment center assembly, but didn’t pose a problem. They went on the underside, and for the front pieces I cut the dado sections out.

Image 2016-07-06 - 1867

I mounted the boards on a 3/4″ piece of Baltic birch plywood, which is very stable and flat. I started with gluing and nailing 1″ wide strip on the front of the plywood. After that, starting at the front, I attached the boards to base.

Image 2016-07-06 - 1870

I should have taken an picture of fastening the strips to the plywood. I glued, then toe-nailed the strips in place. Then I put screws in from the underside – about 3 per board.

The staples pushed the boards together like wood flooring, then the screws pulled the boards very tight to the plywood, ensuring a solid glue bond.

Image 2016-08-08 - 1949

It was a little awkward going from top to bottom, but not too bad. I could have milled a tongue-and-grove profile to do it, but I think this was effective and the least amount of work.

The result is a 1 1/2″ thick, very flat slab.

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The side view shows how the gaps look.

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If my sink didn’t have a broken corner, I would have just cut the counters off straight. I bought this one for $30, so it was worth the little bit of extra effort. Here is a picture of the break with the piece glued back in place with epoxy.

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I cut the end with my track-saw from two directions, then finished the cut with a pull saw. I would have used my jigsaw, but I left it at the beach (that happens a lot). The cut was pretty rough…

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I used my belt sander and a 60 grit belt to smooth the cuts.

To fill the gaps in the ends, I cut thin strips of wood. I filled the gaps with Titebond II (water resistant) and inserted the strips. It took 2 or 3 of them to plug the holes, and I put a bit of glue between each piece.

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Once the glue dried, I cut off the excess material and sanded it flush. How noticeable are the plugs? Not very. Here is the final result.

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As for covering the broken corner of the sink, you would never know it’s there.

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Since the IKEA sink has the built-in back shelf, I wanted to use it. I think the insets ended up looking like a design feature, not a cover-up. The first people who came over and looked at it, noted it was a neat detail.

Image 2016-07-09 - 1893

Sealing the Wood

Sanding and sealing a wood counter top is challenging. There are tons of threads on message boards about how to do it, disasters that have occurred, and expert opinions from people who mostly likely have never actually done it.

Here is the process I used. It’s it the right one? I don’t know – it’s given great results so far. I also did this for our kitchen table, and it’s been great for 3 years.

To get the wood smooth, I used a 5″ orbital sander, then a detail sander, then hand sanding.

  • Orbital sander 60 grit both directions
  • Orbital sander 80 grit both directions
  • Orbital sander 120 grit with the grain
  • Install the counter top, using silicone between the sink and the wood
  • Detail sander 220 grit moving the sander along the grain.
  • Apply 3 coats of mineral oil over a couple of days
  • Let it dry for a week. The oil needs to fully sink in before applying anything else on top of it.
  • Sand 220 grit by hand
  • Apply polycrylic sealer, which raises the grain a bit
  • Sand 220 grit by hand
  • Another coat of sealer
  • Abrasive pad by hand
  • Another coat of sealer
  • A final coat of sealer

This process takes a lot of time. I spent an hour on each side and multiple discs of sandpaper just with the orbital sander. If you can, do the heavy sanding outside.

I’m very happy with the color the oil brought out and the variation in the oak.

Image 2016-08-07 - 1948

We plan on periodically using a wax to keep the edges waterproof. I’ll do an update to this post in a few months after we see how things hold up.

Time and Money

Money was negligible, since the wood was given to me. Guessing $30 for the pieces of plywood and other materials.

Time is a different story. To build, install and finish these took me a total of 3 days – about 2 days in the shop and 1 day in the kitchen. This is more than I would have originally expected, but it was worth it to get good looking counters.


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