The following is a post from contributing writer Jami.
We love wood counters at our house. They are classic, provide a warm, homey look (usually contrasted with white beadboard!), and – most importantly – are inexpensive. So we were pretty happy to discover that using basic tongue-and-groove flooring makes an easy DIY wood counter.
We have wood counters in our bathrooms and laundry/mud room, and plan to install them in our kitchen in the next few months. For the bathrooms and kitchen, where a smooth finish is necessary, we use Ikea’s butcher-block counters.
For our laundry/mud room, though, we just wanted a counter that looked nice, but was cheap and easy. So, making the 4-hour-round-trip car-ride (towing a trailer) to our nearest Ikea – easily adding at least $60 to the cost of the counter – was not in the equation.
A trip to a local building discount store, however, turned up 6-ft. long pieces of tongue-and-groove fir flooring for only $3.99 each. Since we needed seven to cover our base cabinet width (21″) our total for the wood came out to about $28.00 (compared to $59 + $60 for the Ikea counter). Cha-ching!
Any type of basic tongue-and-groove flooring will work for this (our part of the country carries mainly fir – in other areas it’s pine), even used wood flooring, if you can find it for a decent price.
And making the counter? It was as simple as gluing the tongues into the grooves and using a clamp to hold them while they dry. A few small nails around the edge and it was ready to be finished – which is another easy couple of steps.
I really love how it turned out (though the cabinet itself is not quite finished…eh-hem). It looks great in the room and has been a good surface for starting plants as well as holding goods for the freezer and baskets of laundry. And it’s got me thinking of all the other things I could use this easy DIY technique on: rehabbing an old side table, dresser, or topping an old table in the garden shed.
- Tongue and groove flooring lengths – enough for width and length of counter (we found fir flooring at a local discount store – like Home Depot)
- Wood glue
- Large (25-36″) bar clamps (we used 3 for our 6-foot counter purchased at Home Depot)
- Finish nails (1-1/2″)
- Hand-held sander and paper (or just a wood block with sandpaper wrapped around)
- Wood pre-stain
- Wood stain in desired color
- Water-based polyurethane
- Foam brush/applicator
- Paint brushes
- Optional: quarter-round molding- enough to cover side and back edges
1. Cut wood in desired lengths (or if you’ve bought them at a store, have them cut for you).
2. Apply wood glue lightly to one tongue at a time, setting each into a corresponding groove until all the pieces have been used and your desired width is reached. Make sure to wipe away any traces of glue while it’s wet or the stain won’t take in those places.
3. Space bar clamps evenly (we used 3 clamps for our 6-ft. long counter) and tighten to hold all the pieces together securely while it dries. If it seems to want to bow slightly, use something heavy to hold it down, like a brick or piece of wood.
4. Once dry, attach counter to base cabinets with finish nails along side and back edges only, 1/8-1/4″ from edge.
5. Sand counter in preparation for staining. Don’t worry about getting it perfectly smooth – this counter shows its flooring heritage. We actually didn’t finish our counter for about a year after installing it so there were some water stains to deal with- though they were only lightened a bit by the sanding. Hey, more character!
6. Wipe counters clean and apply a water-based pre-stain wood conditioner according to directions.
7. Apply wood stain according to directions. We used an oil-based stain (that worked with the water-based pre-stain and topcoats) in walnut, so I found it easiest to use a disposable foam brush/applicator. If, after wiping extra and drying, the stain is not as dark as you’d like, apply more coats as desired.
8. Once the stain is thoroughly dry, begin applying the polyurethane topcoats according to directions. I applied 5 coats total and didn’t sand between coats (I rarely do since none of my projects are about perfection!).
Water-based polyurethane only needs 2 hours between coats, so I simply wrapped the brush in a plastic bag until the next coat.
By the way, the counter the bag-wrapped brush is on was created this same way, but about six years ago- in a very busy laundry/mud room area and has held up very well. There are just a few scratches- and those aren’t much, they really just show up in the photo, and aren’t noticeable in person.
Since we used a dark stain, the nails along the edges aren’t noticeable to us (and you can tell here that we’re really not perfectionists – bent nails and all).
Thus, we haven’t attached any quarter-round molding to this counter – yet. I think it’s on the agenda…someday. If you’d like to add edging, there are just a few more steps.
Optional edging steps:
1. Cut quarter round molding to fit edges. Simple miter cuts are needed for corners which are easy using a miter box and saw if you don’t have access to a powered miter saw.
2. Stain molding and finish to match counter.
3. Attach using a thin line of wood glue and a couple of small (1″) finish nails to hold in place.
Step back and enjoy your classic wood counter – full of character for a fraction of the cost of traditional wood counters (and even Ikea’s!).