2018 December 10    Woodworking

Introduction


Did you ever think it made sense to build a kitchen countertop out of pine?

Neither did I, until I went to a local home center and priced out a piece of laminate counter.  It seemed like way too much for a small piece, plus too much waiting, and too much extra expense for specialty tools that I wouldn't use for anything else.

And that was if I did the installation myself.

This is the story of a wooden countertop. 






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In This Article


1.) The Basic Countertop

2.) An Apparently Unrelated Mishap

3.) Oh You've Gotta Be Kidding

4.) Good Result

Conclusion


The Basic Countertop


Pine planks 3/4" thick, glue-laminated edge to edge.  Boards this thin should be well-dried over a period of years, or they might cup as they dry out.

The edges have to be straight.  If you have a decent table saw that's set up correctly, you can make edges that are good enough for edge-to-edge lamination.  If necessary, finish the edges with a carpenter plane or a jointer plane.

After gluing and clamping the planks, I placed weights on them to keep the countertop from bowing upward.  Any heavy piece of steel or cast iron, or bricks or something, can work.  Just make sure not to smudge the pine surface before you even get a wood finish on it.  (Wax paper helps here.)

Once they're glued together, some edges will probably be higher than others.  Later you can plane the surface to make everything flat.



By the way, I just put these pine planks right over the old laminate countertop.  Since the home center guy said there's no realistic way to glue another top over that stuff, and since I know that wood glue really doesn't stick well to it, I figured, "What could go wrong?" 

But if you put about 300 lbs of various weights on the plank top while the glue dries (and if the counter doesn't collapse), it increases the chance that the pine countertop will stay flat after it's dry.  No guarantees, though (Disclaimer.)

After the glue joints dried, I removed high spots with a carpenter plane. 



It's faster than using a belt sander, and it generates very little dust (just a 5-gallon pail of wood shavings).  The resulting surface might need some sanding, though, or just leave it with a bit of wave. 



Then:  mark along the plank ends with a straight edge;  cut along it with circular saw (carefully) so the ends of the countertop are straight and square.  You might also want to sand the countertop edges lightly, so they're not a sharp 90 degrees.




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An Apparently Unrelated Mishap


So I welded up this anvil stand a little while ago.  Late in the build session, I just wanted to "get it done already".  (Tip #3 in my yet-to-be-published article on Essential Arc Welding Tips:  "Don't Weld When Tired".)

Long story short, I was moving around the 70- or 80-lb steel tripod that was standing on the welding table.  And the 1/2"-steel-plate edge of it fell onto the handle of my favorite shop hammer.  (Tip #4:  "Reduce Clutter On Your Welding Table"....)

So I heavily wood-glued and clamped up the handle with about four or five C-clamps.  (One of the all-time most essential tools.) 


That's after extensive repair.


Glue residue and sharp edges had to be sanded off;  that removed a lot of that old finish.  That old, awesome-looking, shop-worn, dark finish that takes so long to acquire.



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Oh You've Gotta Be Kidding


Couple-three weeks later, I had that hammer handle that I'd repaired.  But I just didn't feel like working in 25 degrees (Fahrenheit) with wood finishes and stuff.




So inside, I had this square piece of 1/8" steel plate on the pine countertop.  After using it as the straightedge to saw the countertop ends off straight, I'd kept it around for times like these.

On this pine top, I'd already applied two coats of my favorite linseed oil and beeswax finish.  So I wasn't really thinking of putting another wood finish over that. 

Not even sure how this happened (actually, yeah:  clumsy!!), but I went to apply a Danish oil that's actually a varnish oil to the hammer handle, and WHOOPS...


"I meant to do that."


From there on in, what else to do but apply it to the whole top? 



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Good Result


Actually that wood finish goes well with pine. 



It mottles or darkens some areas of wood grain, also coloring the various nicks and dings that might be in the surface.  It makes for a kind of randomness, so the pine doesn't look bland or overly uniform anymore. 

Overall you get this nice, grainy, vintage-looking sort of wood finish. 

Some people say that varnish oils are not good for heavily-used surfaces.  It's true that this finish is more "in" the surface than "on" it, but maybe that's not an actual problem.  It works great for tool handles, and those get heavy use with all manner of nicks, dings, and dents. 

I also like the way it looks on the countertop. 



The instructions say to let it dry 8-10 hours, but 8-10 days is more like it.  This can vary depending on a few things, but even following the instructions carefully, figure on days of drying time.

A hard, plasticky finish can get scuffed, scratched, chipped, discolored, heat-damaged, etc.  With a real countertop, people are going to spill stuff on it, set hot casserole dishes on it, and that sort of thing. 

What makes a plastic finish start to look awful can actually make an oil finish look better.  And if the wood gets too dinged up for your liking, that area can always be sanded out and some finish re-applied as necessary. 



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Conclusion


A pine countertop may not be for everyone, but then again, is any countertop?  This is why there are different materials.

Pine can acquire a unique sort of character that improves with age.  A dark-staining varnish oil finish speeds up that process.

As long as you don't use it as a cutting board, the countertop should actually last for many years, probably even generations.

Watco Danish Oil is one of the most popular wood finishes on the market.  It's very easy to apply.  It can create that "shop-worn" vintage look, and you can apply it multiple times.  I do not think the surface would be "food safe", but again, this is not a cutting board. 



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