Advise/Help needed with old butcher block countertop

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Forum topic by jtrz posted 06-16-2019 12:21 AM 425 views 0 times favorited 5 replies Add to Favorites Watch
View jtrz's profile


174 posts in 2182 days

06-16-2019 12:21 AM

I’ll try to keep this concise and to the point.

The end base cabinet in my kitchen has an old maple butcher block top. The cabinets are old original to the house metal cabinets and aside from this cabinet in question they formica tops with metal edging on them.

When I moved in the right half of the butcher block was covered in 60 years of grease from the stove top that was right next to it. I tried cleaning it off with various cleaning agents and nothing could touch it. I tried a card scraper and it was hardly making a dent even with an aggressive burr. I didn’t want to sand it because I figured I would be gunking up sandpaper quickly and I read somewhere that for butcher block tops sanding wasn’t the best option but rather planing and scraping would get the best results.

So you can see from the photo I decided to knock off the grime with a hand plane and yes I left it attached to the top even though the upper cabinets are completely in the way. Truly terrible hand planing conditions. But I thought I would take a few swipes, get the caked grease off, and then card scrape everything nice and smooth. But the grease was thick and soaked in. Obviously no one had been oiling this top.

Trying to wrap this up…I had to take off a lot more of the top to get the grease off and suddenly my afternoon project was a huge pain in the a** for this newbie. It’s been sitting un finished for a month or more and I want to finish it up today or at least tomorrow.

The main issues:
1) the inch or so of wood right up against the back splash is pretty far from even with the rest of the top because I can’t get my bench planes right up against it. And planing under the cabinet makes that whole area just difficult. I’m not looking for this thing to be dead flat but I would really like to get that inch right against the backsplash cleaned up.

The tools at my disposal that might be able to tackle this are my veritas router plane in the bullnose position. Never used it like that so don’t know if it would work. I’ve got the straight and spear cutters but I’ve never used the spear cutter which I feel might be the one to use.

An old Stanley #90 bullnose rabbet plane. Flea market find and I’ve done a little fettling but the sole is only kind of flat and not all that square to the side. And honestly I don’t really know how to use it. Not sure where to properly place the cap iron on the blade. With the tip at the top of the bevel? I don’t know. I tried it out in the problem area and it cut but it was chattering pretty good. I also noticed after I tried it that I had maybe over tightened because the iron was bowed pretty good where it isn’t supported in the plane.

2) The other issue is that there are a couple pieces of the maple whose grain is not running the same way was the rest so while most of the top is smooth from planing this stuff is rough. Typical problems from working with maple I hear. I’m a relative newbie like I said so this is my first dealing with this type of maple. Card scraper is the key but I just started playing around with those and have never used one for a final finish. I’ve got my scrapers sharp it’s a technique thing so any tips would be great. Especially around the backsplash.

3) I really don’t want to take this thing off the cabinet which I am anticipating as a something I am going to hear and something in retrospect I should have done. It’s screwed onto the cabinet and seems like an easy operation but I just have a bad feeling that another can of worms is going to open up if I do. Ever since I moved into this house every tiny easy project has ballooned due to unforeseen issues and I just want to wrap this sucker up and throw some oil on it.

Ok that wasn’t concise at all so if you managed to get through it and think you might be able to help please feel free.
Thanks as always

-- Jeff | Louisville, Ky

5 replies so far

View tmasondarnell's profile


149 posts in 2799 days

#1 posted 06-16-2019 12:42 AM

Gorgeous kitchen—for those of us who like retro design.

Are you married to the the butcher block or would you be old to replacing it with matching red Formica? I am guessing that the butcher block was added as a replacement for a damaged counter top.

If you you want to keep the butcher block and don’t want to remove it, I would most likely buy a case of sand paper—most likely for the belt sander and go after that last inch.

View jtrz's profile


174 posts in 2182 days

#2 posted 06-16-2019 02:26 AM

I rent the house from my aunt and while I may end up buying it from her at some point I’m not at the point where I’m ready to start throwing remodeling type of cash into it. I totally dig these old metal retro kitchens. I was really looking forward to living here with this kitchen for that reason. But while I’m into the kitchen aesthetically, I have to say that using this kitchen is the worst. I always wanted some vintage metal kitchen cabinets but after living with them my mind has changed. All of the quirky, cool stuff about this kitchen is almost totally impractical for this day and age. I can’t wait to have wood cabinets in the kitchen once again.

You’re right the butcher block must have been added.

Luckily there isn’t enough that I would be forced to pull a belt sander out. I may just go ahead and hand sand it to a point and maybe sharpen the short side of one my cabinet scrapers and use it to take the rest down. I can’t deal with a kitchen full of sawdust from a power sander right now.

I also just remembered another question. I’ve been cleaning up the sides with a block plane and a scraper but the radius is a bit tricky with these especially because it starts to go into end grain. Is this where a spoke shave is called for? I’ve got two that are halfway restored so I could pull one of those out.

The boards are joined with tongue and grooves and where they don’t fit tight its easy to catch an edge with the block plane. I guess another reason for me to just bite the bullet and sand. I’ve eaten and inhaled enough sawdust that a little bit more can’t hurt at this point

-- Jeff | Louisville, Ky

View runswithscissors's profile


3128 posts in 3034 days

#3 posted 06-17-2019 03:42 AM

I’ve gone down the remodel/restore path, and feel your pain. Our current house had a sink/counter of the same vintage as yours. Cast iron sink integrated with draining counters both sides, and tin cabinet underneath. I gave it to the ReStore, and they sold it the next day for $200.

Don’t know whether this will make you feel any better, but a friend of mine decided to install a new toilet seat; naurally, he cracked the porcelain. In removing the hanger bolts, he found rot not only in the floor but in the joists underneath, so he ended up with a major repair job. But had he not done that, I suppose that someday someone (probably a guest) would sit on the throne and find themselves suddenly in the basement.

Moral: Live with whatever crappy stuff you’ve got. Of course none of us are smart enough to do that.

-- I admit to being an adrenaline junky; fortunately, I'm very easily frightened

View Manitario's profile


2818 posts in 3892 days

#4 posted 06-17-2019 04:01 AM

My experience with home renos is that the “time saving” stuff I try usually just costs me more time in the long run. I’d strongly discourage you from using a router or bullnose plane to do the countertop; there is no way to set a nice tight mouth on either of those planes and if you get any tear out on that counter you’re going to have a significantly greater amount of work to fix it.

-- Sometimes the creative process requires foul language. -- Charles Neil

View Smitty_Cabinetshop's profile


17225 posts in 3628 days

#5 posted 06-17-2019 08:34 PM

Find the four screws holding the top to the cabinet and remove them; the top should come off easily and you’ll be able to finish the cleanup on a bench vs. under a cabinet. Or, sanding outside.

-- Don't anthropomorphize your handplanes. They hate it when you do that. - OldTools Archive -

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