Twin 12' cherry countertops. M

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Project by illusioneer posted 05-09-2016 03:53 AM 4800 views 10 times favorited 14 comments Add to Favorites Watch

When I started my little project, the last woodworking project I tried were some oak bookcases I built 20+ years ago. They were not fine craftsmanship but did last in our home for 15 years. So to say I was not current in woodworking is an understatement. The kitchen remodel was planned for several years, but we could not agree on the countertops. “I could always make them out of wood” I said several times… Then one day a yes came back.

I started researching wood and finishes. I came upon an article about coloring cherry with a strong oxidizer (potassium dichromate) great! Waterlox kept showing up as a good countertop finish, bam!
Wood, color and finish done time to find some wood. I found a local mill and handed a stack of cash to the man…a voice from somewhere within me said “you’ve got one shot at this”... I panicked.
My Subaru Outback and my soul were burdened as I hauled 120 board feet of cherry home.

I knew I would have to stretch the 8’-10’ boards to over 12’ for this project. I cut lap joints and snap! I had boards over 12’. This is about the time I realized these countertops would have to be hand planed, in place. So off to eBay in search of a hand plane…old planes don’t die, it turns out. They just need some TLC. So I won a questionable Stanley #7 and hoped I could salvage it. It took 2-3 days but I now have a very nice antique plane, and cabinet scraper, and a rabbit plane and…. You have to be careful when you start shopping on eBay.

I lined up my boards and planed the adjoining edges together (learned that online). Then came the big glue-up… What the heck IS a caul, anyway? After days of research and planning AND making cauls, I had 2 monster panels that were decidedly not as flat as my imagination had planned. If I thought hand planing the sides of 12’ boards was a lot of work… I now had a 12’ long 5’ wide panel to face plane on both sides… The next couple of weeks are a fog of blisters and sore muscles. I try not to remember this time in my life. I did glue-up the second panel though.

I almost forgot! The color and finish I checked off my list before starting this project? My wife wasn’t crazy about the test pieces I made. So I began experimenting with colors and finishes during the whole project… More about that later.

After flattening my 2 panels I cut 1.5” around the perimeter to fold and glue to the underside, turning my 3/4” wood into 1 1/2” thick panels around the edge. You end up with book matched grains that look really cool. I routed a large ogee edge and this is when I realized that 15” of overhang created a WHOLE LOT of leverage that needed support. I wanted a floating look for the overhang, and after a couple of failed attempts I finally used 1” square steel tube and welded it together where it needed more strength.

Back to the color and finish… Cherry is tough to love at this point. Fighting the ever changing grain in the highly figured wood while planing was enough to make me wish I had chosen mahogany or anything except cherry. When it comes to coloring cherry I tried everything. I finally hit on something we both liked. First a double coat of 1lb shellac then General Finishes cherry dye stain over Mohawk’s ultra penetrating dark red mahogany dye stain… I know these products are not suppose to work together, but I had tried everything at this point. The first test piece was 6”x6”...and looked awesome. So I used the sink cutout ~18”x24” to see if it worked on a larger scale… It did! Ok so 3 months of making and remaking sample finishes had paid off. I mounted the countertops with brass wood screws and fender washers in oversized holes and eagerly approached the crowning moment of any wood project… Finishing.
I diligently recreated the techniques I had tested and it looked awful! Okay, don’t panic! It’s wood… Sand it down and try again. I sanded it down and decided to run more test pieces before my second attempt. I used the cutout from the cooktop and created a gorgeous piece… Okay, maybe I didn’t have enough shellac to keep the dyes from over penetrating. I started again, making sure I used plenty of shellac. I used the tried and true techniques I used on my test pieces…it looked awful! Okay, time to panic!
Best I can tell, if your finishing something 2’ long or less it works great. But on 48 square feet of counter it looks really bad. So I sanded it down again and re-routed the edges, they were losing depth and definition.

In the end I went with the color and finish I had decided on before starting… Potassium dichromate and Waterlox. While some might consider the months of trial and error, looking for the perfect coloring and finishing technique for cherry, a waste of time. I don’t! I learned more about coloring highly figured cherry (in 3 months) than many will learn in a lifetime. The most important lesson is… If you want to color your project, DON’T USE CHERRY. Potassium dichromate is the only way I’ll ever try to color cherry again.

In the end. We are extremely happy with the results.

-- We all have a moral obligation to make the world a better place, through integrity and disposition. " be joyful, and the world becomes a better place!"

14 comments so far

View BurlyBob's profile


10524 posts in 3728 days

#1 posted 05-09-2016 05:14 AM

Those are absolutely stunning.

View recycle1943's profile (online now)


7015 posts in 3084 days

#2 posted 05-09-2016 10:56 AM

beautiful, functional – and an absolute “one of a kind” kitchen

-- Dick, Malvern Ohio - my biggest fear is that when I die, my wife sells my toys for what I told her I paid for them

View DonB's profile


591 posts in 4155 days

#3 posted 05-09-2016 11:08 AM

After all that you’re actually going to put things on the counter top and island? Sort of like letting your kids grow and leave home. Beautiful finish, well worth your obvious efforts.

-- DonB

View swirt's profile


7693 posts in 4434 days

#4 posted 05-09-2016 12:33 PM

Looks great. And thank you for detailing your efforts. It was a fun read.

-- Galootish log blog,

View Matthew Eye's profile

Matthew Eye

95 posts in 2830 days

#5 posted 05-09-2016 01:17 PM

Wow those are beautiful. And yes, thank you for the story.

-- "When it comes to working on stuff, buying more tools usually helps" - Matthew Eye

View WhoMe's profile


1568 posts in 4706 days

#6 posted 05-09-2016 01:44 PM

From the looks of those gorgeous counter tops, all the effort was worth it. Wow.

-- I'm not clumsy.. It's just the floor hates me, the tables and chairs are bullies, the wall gets in the way AAANNNDDD table saws BITE my fingers!!!.. - Mike -

View david38's profile


3518 posts in 3806 days

#7 posted 05-09-2016 01:47 PM

very nice

View DocHamm's profile


120 posts in 4153 days

#8 posted 05-09-2016 02:36 PM

Awesome work! They look fantastic. I hope they stay that way for a long time. Are you going to make a matching dining table? ;)

-- "The Noblest Art is that of making others happy." ~ P.T. Barnum

View illusioneer's profile


10 posts in 2289 days

#9 posted 05-09-2016 04:14 PM

Thank you all. The day after finishing my kitchen, I had knee replacement surgery. Then I’m getting the other one done. So, no projects for the next 6 months or so.

-- We all have a moral obligation to make the world a better place, through integrity and disposition. " be joyful, and the world becomes a better place!"

View Thom's profile


36 posts in 2886 days

#10 posted 05-09-2016 04:22 PM

Well worth your time they are amazing all your hard work definitely payed off. Awesome job

-- Thom CT.

View Desert_Woodworker's profile (online now)


9847 posts in 2677 days

#11 posted 05-09-2016 08:18 PM

Nice and your description or story of it 5 stars. I am considering wood for a counter top but what I am not sold on is the top coating finish. My last posted project is a small bath vanity top with a metal coating and it is holding up well. But for a high traffic counter top in my kitchen I am still researching it. Your project gave me inspiration.

-- Desert_Woodworker

View Rob23's profile


25 posts in 3002 days

#12 posted 05-09-2016 10:33 PM

wow – you did an incredible job! Equally as impressive is your write-up!

View wunderaa's profile


248 posts in 3665 days

#13 posted 05-19-2016 12:58 PM

Absolutely fantastic work!

A word of caution for anyone wanting to copy this finishing technique. Potassium dichromate is a strong oxidizer, skin, lung irritant and carcinogenic. PLEASE read and understand the MSDS and take proper precautions, using appropriate PPE.

That being said, it IS a wonderful finishing agent, serving to oxidize and age certain woods like cherry, oak and mahogany, bringing their color out to what it would be after many years of oxygen and UV exposure.

View illusioneer's profile


10 posts in 2289 days

#14 posted 07-04-2016 07:30 PM

Many of the materials and tools we use are dangerous! You should always know and mitigate the hazards before using anything new. Wunderaa is correct, use potassium dichromate only after understanding the risks.

-- We all have a moral obligation to make the world a better place, through integrity and disposition. " be joyful, and the world becomes a better place!"

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