Wooden countertops offer lots of opportunities for homeowners and designers to customize their choices. There’s the wood species to begin with. Do you want dark or light? Would you rather have plank, end gain or edge grain construction? How thick and what kind of profile will be best? A big question is what type of sealer do you want as a finish for your new countertop. Then there’s the decision to be made as to whether you want the surface silky smooth or artfully and authentically distressed. It may sound a bit complex but it’s half the fun of building or remodeling and few elements in a home get more attention and exposure than the counter and island tops in the kitchen.

Hand hewn wooden kitchen island top

A J. Aaron hand hewn wooden kitchen island top. The wood is sapele with a satin polyurethane sealer.

At J. Aaron we’ve added another wrinkle to the planning. Hand hewn surfaces are as old as woodworking itself so we wanted to include them in the options we offer. The term may bring to mind the beams in an old barn or cottage in the Cotswolds. You may be reminded of  antique floor boards or an rustic mantle piece. The term itself leaves lots of room for variety. Everything from the roughest log cabin elements to fine handmade furniture employs the technique.

Rustic wood table top

This table top texture was created with an old school spokeshave or drawknife. NOTE: This top was not done by J. Aaron

Hand cut wood mantel

Wood mantel made from re-claimed wood cut with an axe. NOTE: J. Aaron did not make this mantel.

Planing is the term used for shaving thin layers off a wood to create smoothness and reduce thickness. Usually done these days by machines employing many blades that make a totally flat surface, it was once backbreaking labor for a man with a broad bladed axe or a hand held single blade tool. If the aim was to square up a log for a roof beam or part of a cabin wall the tool was the axe. Biting deep and leaving a distinctive pattern of marks, these axes played as big a part in taming the wilderness as the plow or the musket. If the craftsman was building a humble table for the family kitchen or a fine jewelry chest he would have used any one of many sizes and shapes of hand planers with razor sharp steel blades that were often passed down through many generations of carpenters.

But back to the present! If the wood top in question is to be primarily a serving area such as a bar or table top the surface can be done in a pronounced way. This is popular and appropriate for rustic or otherwise historic designs. These rougher surfaces are often seen when using reclaimed wood. There’s definitely a feeling of, “The stories it could tell,” when you’re dining off a wood top that shows the marks an axe left two hundred years ago.

Hand hewn wood kitchen island top

In a more traditional or even contemporary design a less obvious treatment can still add the texture and tactility that makes a good looking counter or island top just that much more appealing.

Our clients who want the look of hand hewn surfaces but still require an essentially smooth top can have both. At J. Aaron we fabricate the top exactly as we would any other and add the hand planing just before the final finish and sealer. If the client chooses a reclaimed wood for the project there will be other elements such as nail or peg holes that will show up in the finished top. To add another layer of interest one can opt to have the hand hewn top lightly distressed as a final step just before the sealer.

The warm glow of a wood countertop is a great contrast and complement to stainless steel, stone or other materials in a kitchen. A gentle hand planed surface shows interesting plays of light and invites you to run your hand across it. Wood, though it may have been hundreds of years since it was harvested, continues to have a “life” about it that  just speaks to us of hearth and home. Adding a hand hewn element may like gilding the lily but in this case excess really does succeed.