Done well, a DIY wood countertop can be a great feature in any kitchen. It’s not difficult or scary and there is plenty of help available to assist you with the project.

Mistakes are as easy to avoid as they are to make. Knowing what they are in advance is the key. Here are a few of the most common things that trip up novice DIY folks.

Wood topped kitchen island.

This killer walnut kitchen island top is not hard when you start with a fully cut out blank by J. Aaron.

DIY Wood Countertop Tips From The Experts

  1. Seal the bottom of your countertop as well as you seal the top. Wood needs to breath equity from the top and bottom. There are a couple of reasons wood countertops can crack and curl. Failing to seal the underside is one of them. If you’re sealing your DIY wood countertop with a varnish use this opportunity to break in your brush and let all the broken bristles fall of in the bottom coat before doing the top.
  2. Another reason for cracking is installing the top in a way that offers no room for the natural expansion and contraction of the wood to take place. To fix this problem take the simple precaution of drilling the holes in the frame work of the cabinet larger than the screws your using so the countertop has a some wiggle room. We use a 1/2″ drill bit on our installs. See our How To Install A Wood Countertop page for more info on this.
  3. When your DIY wood countertop arrives get busy and get it finished and mounted on the cabinet. Don’t put it off for weeks. Warping isn’t a terribly common problem but it can happen. It’s never fun to discover that no matter what you do one corner of the top simply refuses to be united with the cabinet. Getting the job done in a timely manner is a simple prevention for this issue. If it does happen there are ways to deal with it, but that’s for another blog post.
  4. Maybe I’m stating the obvious but read the directions on the products you use. Don’t just read them follow them to the letter. If you have questions call the manufacturer so you’re 100% clear on how the product is designed to be used. This will save hours and dollars. 
  5. If you do opt to seal your top with a varnish or polyurethane you’ll need a decent brush. You aren’t a professional wood worker who plans to pass his brushes on to the next generation so there’s no need to spend a lot of money. A good natural bristle brush that will serve your purposes nicely should cost no more than $10 to $20 max. Keep it clean and it will be your best buddy for the whole project.
  6. Use the right finish for your desired end result. To make this simple here is a list of products to use.
    • For cutting surfaces use mineral oil or butcher block wax.
    • For kitchen coutertops with sinks but you want a natural butcher block look use Rubio Monocoat 2C oil. Nothing else is as good or easy.
    • For furniture style tops that a sheen is desired use Zar brand INTERIOR 100% oil poly. It flows out better than any other on the market. Test the color fist on the bottom to see if you like the natural look of the wood before opting to stain it. If you do want to add a stain use Minwax brand oil stains. DO NOT use anything else. The other brands dry too quickly and make it very difficult to get the stain back off without leaving streaks.
    • Do not use water based top coats of any kind. There are great ones on the market and we use one but it is a professional product and needs sprayed on in a dust clean spray booth. All amateur versions perform poorly if a glass of water is set on the surface.
  7. Use a square or rectangle orbit sander rather than a round bottom random orbit sander. This Makita 1/3 sheet sander is a great choice. Why you may ask. It’s easy for an amateur to dig into the surface with a round bottom sander producing a hard to remove half round mark you’ll see in the finished surface. You’ll find it virtually impossible to do this with a square or rectangular footed sander. Round random orbit sanders are faster but you’re only finish sanding the surface and a lot a material removal is not necessary.Makita Sheet Finish Sander
  8. Keep all the food wrappers, cookie crumbs and greasy fingers off of and away from the wood top. Wash your hands if you eat or handle something oily and please don’t pick up a greasy garage rag to wipe off a smudge. Keep the area clean. Oil will keep the sealer from adhering and you’ll have peeling finish very soon. Use Acetone to remove the oil before finishing. Did you know Harley Davidson has a list of foods their finish guys can not eat at lunch to reduce the potential for issues.

So, there are the 8 most important things I can tell you about doing the finishing of your DIY wood countertop. I’m not the final word on the subject so I’m adding a few links to this post to help you along. I hope you enjoy the process. It can be pretty therapeutic if you relax and follow the rules.

Custom wood kitchen island top

And it’s all so very worth it when you have the finished countertop in the kitchen and all the tools and supplies put away for the next project.

Here are a couple links you may enjoy and find helpful.