How to Choose the Best Wood for Kitchen Countertops

best wood for kitchen countertops

If you're looking to update your kitchen and don't know what to do for counters, consider wooden countertops. Why? Because wooden counters add warmth and elegance to your kitchen while also being among the most versatile countertop materials out there. If you're going to do this, though, you need to learn what the best wood for kitchen countertops is.

Simply put, you can't just use any wood for kitchen counters. Some are beautiful, but not suitable for kitchen use. The best wood for kitchen countertops depends on what you're planning on doing in your kitchen.

So, we've put together a list of the best wood for kitchen countertops, along with some advice for how to make your decision and get the best kitchen counters for your specific needs and tastes.

Here Are Some Common Questions About Wooden Countertops

Ceramic tile was once in fashion in part because you could set hot cookware directly on it without damaging the tiles. Then came synthetic materials like Formica and Corian. Metal was popular for a long time, too, and now concrete and other materials are in fashion as well.

The two oldest countertop materials are wood and stone, though, and wood is making a comeback.

If you think that you’ll get what looks like a wooden cutting board with even the best wood for kitchen countertops, think again. Wooden countertops are incredibly versatile, available in a massive variety of styles and colors, and are even eco-friendly.

Why would you want wooden countertops?

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There’s a reason wooden counters are “old-world” solutions to new-world problems. Hardwoods are quite durable, which is why they work as flooring and stair treads. So why not countertops, too?

As an example, if you install a butcher-block style of countertop, you can cut food directly on top of it, so long as you use the right types of wood and food-safe oils and sealants.

They're also more sanitary because the oils and sealants repel pretty much everything. That's a huge plus.`

Another reason is that wood countertops are easy to repair and refinish. With pretty much anything else, damage often means replacement. With wood, you can sand away any damage and reseal or refinish. Heck, you can use lemon juice to clean away certain stains.

You can even change your color scheme without completely replacing your counters. There are many benefits to finding the best wood for kitchen countertops in your kitchen.

It's important to keep in mind that wood is prone to cracking and warping, particularly if the product is poorly constructed. In choosing wooden counters, you should consider absolutely everything you'll expose it to so you know how to make these counters last.

How do you choose the right wood for your needs?

Best Wood for Kitchen Countertops
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Okay, so, great. Wood countertops are awesome. How do you decide what the best wood for kitchen countertops is?

Well…

First off, what do you primarily do in your kitchen? Do you cook like a chef, do you prepare fast meals for dinner, do you spend the weekend prepping next week’s lunches for your kids?

Do you regularly entertain, and if so, do you cook large amounts of food?

Or perhaps you enjoy having a beautiful, unique kitchen, but you don’t really use your counters all that much. Hey, that’s no big deal, many people don’t have time or energy to do serious cooking anymore! Doesn’t mean you can’t still have a beautiful kitchen.

Ultimately, the type of wood you want to use and the type of finish you need depends on what you do.

For instance, if you love cooking and do a lot of cutting, you will want wood like hard maple or hickory because they’re difficult to gouge.

By the same token, if you have cats that will not stay off the counters no matter what you do, hardwoods will resist their claws rather nicely.

Where can you buy wooden countertops?

That depends. You can have a carpenter come in and install them. You can order them at home improvement stores. There are even places that will custom-build wooden countertops and install them for you.

If you run a quick Google search for, "Where can I get wooden countertops," you'll find a whole host of places where these countertops are available nearly everywhere.

Can you build your own?

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Absolutely you can build your own. If you have some carpentry skills, you may be able to build your own wooden countertops. And if you do so, then you’ll definitely want the best wood for kitchen countertops!

However, unless you’re a carpenter by trade, you should first do a lot of research and construct a few small “test” pieces that fit the image of what you envision. This way, you'll learn how to build and finish the countertops in such a way that they aren't prone to warping, cracking, or separating.

How to finish your DIY wooden countertop

One of the things you need to keep in mind with wooden countertops is the finish. Many people use oils such as linseed, tung, and mineral oil for their wooden countertops. You can also use beeswax or carnauba wax as sealants.

Shellac is an excellent film-building finish, and it's food safe. In fact, many finished wooden bowls and cups use shellac.

Another possibility is food-safe epoxy, which will give you a very glossy but durable finish for your counters. If you're thinking about using epoxy as a finish, make sure the container says food-safe or food-grade. That way you know you're getting epoxy that will work for your kitchen counters.

How do you clean and maintain wooden countertops?

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To clean these countertops of everyday use, you simply wipe them down with a damp sponge or cloth the same as you do any other countertop.

If you're using oil for the finish, though, you want to oil your counters about once a month to maintain protection.

However, if you've got oil or wax buildup you'd like to remove or need to remove to get rid of stains and scorch marks, you'll need to do a few more things.

If you're trying to remove oil buildup, use a liquid oil stripper. You can find these at any home improvement store. Once you've stripped off the old finish, sand your counters with progressively finer sandpaper.

If you have stains, you can remove them at this stage, or you can use something like lemon juice to remove them. You can add some salt to the lemon juice for a little extra cleaning power.

When your counters are ready for refinishing, remember to dust them off before proceeding. You don't want all that sanding dust getting in your finish.

Then reapply your finish, and don't forget to mop up spills as quickly as possible to avoid more stains!

Also, try to avoid using vinegar on your counters. Vinegar can dissolve the glue that's holding the boards together, which will ruin your counter.

How We Reviewed

We went to kitchen websites, Bob Vila's website, and sites like Architypes to gather general information on wooden countertops.

For information on finishes, we used websites like Fine Woodworking, DIY Countertop Epoxy, and Permabond, which list and explain various food-safe finishes including food-safe epoxy.

We also used This Old House and Grothouse to compile our list of the best wood for kitchen countertops.

Finally, we used The Spruce and A Couple of Cooks to gather information about care and maintenance for wooden countertops.

Overall Price Range for Wooden Countertops

Wood counters have a wide array of prices. What you'll pay depends on what type of counter you want, how you want fixtures like your sink installed, and especially what kind of wood you want to use.

Exotic hardwoods, like Brazilian cherry, will run you a lot more than domestic hardwoods like oak, birch, and walnut.

There's also the labor to consider, especially if you're having your counters custom built. In general, though, you can expect to pay anywhere from $12 to $300 per square foot for wooden countertops.

The Best Wood for Kitchen Countertops

So, now, which woods do you want to consider for your countertops?

Below, we've listed our nine favorites in no particular order. Each has its own unique characteristics, from subtle grains and light colors to dark and dramatic grains and colors.

Hard maple

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Hard maple has a simple, understated look. The grain is straight and subtle even if you decide to stain it. Maple is also very durable, so it's perfect for butcher-block countertops.

In fact, maple is one of the most popular woods to use for butcher-block counters even though it can be difficult to work with. It gives you a warm, traditional look with superior durability, so if you want to use it as a cutting board, go ahead.

Also, maple is domestic, so it costs less and is a more sustainable source of wood! Just be sure you're using hard maple, and not soft maple. Soft maple won't hold up nearly as well as hard maple.

​White oak

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Another domestic hardwood, white oak has a simple, straight, and open grain. When you stain white oak, the grain absorbs a lot of the stain and really comes out.

However, unlike hard maple, it doesn't have a smooth texture. You can feel the grain, which isn't a problem as long as you aren't looking for something extremely smooth.

Another thing about white oak is that, if you're looking for quartersawn wood instead of straight boards, this wood is perfect for that. White oak is famous for its quartersawn look. It has similar durability to hard maple, making it yet another popular wood for wooden countertops.

​Teak

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Teak is popular for a wide variety of reasons, not the least of which is its very warm appearance. Unlike maple and oak, teak has silica embedded in its fibers, making it difficult to work with.

However, teak naturally has a high oil content, so it requires less oiling and finishing than other woods. As it ages, it becomes darker, going from honey-colored to a richer brown.

Teak is an exotic hardwood, though, sourced primarily from Myanmar and Thailand, so it'll cost you more than maple or oak. However, its durability and its easy maintenance make it a strong contender for the best wood for kitchen countertops.

​Birch

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Like hard maple, birch has a primarily straight and very subtle grain. That makes it perfect for countertops when you have dramatic cabinets or flooring. Its golden hue is also good for warming up icy colors, like light blue or gray.

As a bonus, despite being hard, birch is easy to work with, even with hand tools. It also takes stains and finishes very well, which is why it's among the best wood for kitchen countertops.

If you're planning on building your own counters, you might want to consider birch. And unlike teak, birch is another domestic hardwood, making it a beautiful choice for less money.

​Hickory

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Hickory has a more dramatic look than birch or maple. It's also the hardest, and therefore the most durable, of all domestic hardwoods.

Unlike the woods we've already listed, hickory has a wavy grain. As such, it's more prone to warping than woods with straight grains.

Even so, if your counter is built and installed correctly, hickory will stand up to an awful lot. It's so durable that American pioneers used it in wagon wheels. Even the Wright Brothers used hickory in their airplane construction. That's how solid hickory is.

It's not necessarily the best wood for kitchen countertops because of its wavy grain, but it's definitely up there.

​American walnut

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American walnut is a richly colored wood that comes alive when it's finished, even just with oil and wax. Because of the beauty of its grain, it's often used for cabinets, furniture, and even gun stocks. It has a slightly open grain, so like oak, it's got a bit of a texture to it. However, that texture adds to its beauty.

It's not quite as hard as hickory, birch, teak, maple, or oak, so if you plan on doing a lot of cutting on your counters, you might want something else.

But if you want wooden countertops for their beauty and durability isn't an issue, walnut is up there with the best.

​Iroko

Choose the Best Wood for Kitchen Countertops
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People often use iroko as a substitute for teak. It's not quite as hard as teak, nor as stable, but it's nearly as durable. It also has a unique grain to it, adding a measure of the exotic to your kitchen.

Like teak, iroko isn't domestic, so it is more expensive than the domestic hardwoods. Besides that, you need to take into account the fact that iroko is initially a very light yellow when first cut but quickly darkens to more of a honey color.

If you're looking for something more likely to stay very light-colored, you're better off using white oak or hard maple.

​Bamboo

Choose the Best Wood for Kitchen Countertops
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Bamboo technically isn't wood. It's grass. Nevertheless, it's popular for furniture and flooring, and in countertops as well.

One consideration with bamboo that you don't necessarily have with other woods is that it's often treated with chemicals. Because of that, you can't just buy any old bamboo and hope to turn it into a countertop. You need to find bamboo that's chemical-free.

Nevertheless, bamboo is environmentally friendly and gives your counters an interesting look. It also has natural anti-bacterial properties, making it easier to keep sanitized.

You have to pay much more attention to maintenance if you want bamboo countertops, though. Like hickory, it's not necessarily the best wood for kitchen countertops, but it, too, is up there.

Cherry

Choose the Best Wood for Kitchen Countertops
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Cherry is another wood that's not as hard as some of the other woods listed above. It is, however, domestic, and it has a somewhat unique color to it. In fact, cherry wood darkens to a beautiful reddish color as it ages, even under finishes.

You're also more likely to find wavy or curly grain with cherry, which will give your counters an exotic look without the exotic price.

Since it's softer than other domestic hardwoods, you're better off using something else if you want to be able to cut food on it. Other than that, though, cherry is definitely among the best wood for kitchen countertops.

​The Bottom Line on the Best Wood for Kitchen Countertops

As we've stated above, the best wood for kitchen countertops depends heavily on what you plan to use it for as well as how it looks.

But there isn't a wood species out there that won't warm up your kitchen beautifully. The difference is that, since counters take a lot of abuse, there are woods that just aren't suitable for them.

The woods we've listed above, however, work great for countertops.

There are others that work well, too, so if you have wooden kitchen counters made of a wood we haven't listed here, please feel free to tell us in the comments!

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