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Master Brian 03-27-2010 10:03 AM

Walnut countertops
 
I am in the planning stages of my kitchen and a basement bar area. I'm going to be building the cabinets myself and am currently entertaining the idea of solid walnut countertops. Their will be a 2-3" thick maple butcherblock countertop workspace and a butcherblock island, but the rest will be out of walnut.

I believe I have lucked into some solid 2" +/- thick slabs of walnut. I'm told some of these are plenty wide to get countertop depth and some pieces are over 7' long. They are all rough cut with the bark still attached to the edges. Obviously, I'm going to have some work cut out, but I want a hand planed look, so I am a bit excited, especially since they are being given to me for no cost.

I do have my doubts about them being wide enough to actually get 24-30" of depth, I am doing a couple of the cabinets 30" deep for a reason. The scrap pieces I've seen are a good 12-15" wide, so worst case, I'll have to join a few pieces and my question is what is the best method for joining these slabs? Just glue and clamp or should I use some sort of biscuit system or dowls or what?? I certainly don't ever want them coming apart.

For the bar countertop, I'm considering trying to leave the bark intact and sealing with a resin or epoxy, but may have to strip the bark and just leave the rough edges. The rest of the wood will likely get finished with miner oil or some other food safe finish.

The other and maybe the main question is how long should this wood age before using? The stuff I'm being given for the kitchen has been sitting in a shed, stacked to allow air movement all around it, for about 2 years. I am also told I can get more, but it's still pretty green wood. Should it be aged for a while before using? I was told I can have the 2yr aged wood for the kitchen, but for my bar and panty, I might have to use the greener wood.

Daniel Holzman 03-27-2010 10:12 AM

I built a few pieces out of walnut, however I decided it was not hard enough for kitchen work. I built a 2 inch thick top for an island out of cherry, which is harder than walnut, but still not as hard as sugar maple, which is presumably why maple is preferred for kitchen use.

But aside from how hard the wood is, two inch thick lumber is going to want to change dimensionally until it is dry, which means 12 percent moisture content or lower. Kiln dry is typically 6 percent. You can certainly work green wood, and you can glue it with special types of glue, but it will probably twist on you as it dries. The best way to tell the moisture content of wood is with a moisture gage, which can be purchased for under a hundred dollars, some of the less expensive ones go for 50 dollars. The boards that have been drying for two years are probably fine, but still should be checked, while the ones that are green are probably going to cause you trouble.

When I glue up wide panels, I generally use biscuits, not so much for the strength but it helps to line up the panels and this minimizes the amount of planing afterwards. I don't like dowels, I generally stick to biscuits, but an option is splines, which work fine also. If you alternate ring direction, you will minimize the warpage of the panels. This is especially important with wide panels, and in a kitchen environment where you are going to get water on the surface.

slickgt1 04-07-2010 11:57 AM

I am not sure how much excitement you will have hand planing all that, but I recommend invensting in an auto planer. I would also put them somewhere to get accustomed to the climate where they will reside. Let them lay there for two - three weeks before doing anything with it. A decent Dewalt thickness planer will run around $500 new, and I have seen them used for less than half that. You can distress it by hand later to give it that look. I like the Festool Domino for joining everything, but that is really expensive and a bisquit will be fine. Make sure you glue, clamp, and let dry. I would clamp a bunch of 2 x 4 on top and bottom to help hold it from twisting while drying.

lanemiller 04-07-2010 12:05 PM

the whole deal just sounds like bad news :( the bark won't hold as well as you would expect, and if that was on the edge of your countertop, anytime someone leaned on it, it would snap right off. Walnut isn't very hard, and you'd have to put an extreme finish on it to be able to use it as a kitchen surface. And like already stated, it sounds green, and you'll have these beautiful countertops, for a week or so when the warp-age starts, and all of the seams pull apart and the wood starts to crack. I wouldn't suggest using the maple for countertops...

lanemiller 04-07-2010 12:12 PM

and as for the hand planing, that would NOT be fun. when you clamp and glue boards together, you never get it 100% right, and then the wood probably isn't coming to you all in the same thickness. To properly install them, they would need to be the same thickness, which would mean that you would have to plane up to 3/4 of an inch off of large slabs of wood. Not a fun thing. Using a large belt sander, or a planer wide enough to fit your countertop in would be the only way to do this in a matter of hours, instead of weeks. I've made a few oak cutting boards, by gluing 2x2 pieces together, and no matter how well you do it, while the glue is drying, the boards will shift, giving you an uneven seam, on both sides. In order to fix this, you have to sand both sides until they are even, if you just sand the points where the seams are, you'll end up with humps and dips, and have a not so level surface. Once again, it sounds like you'll be spending more money to do this for free than buying the proper materials.

Master Brian 04-07-2010 01:33 PM

Slickgt1, yeah, I will let them sit in the house for a few weeks while they acclimate to the climate of the house. I have access to an auto planer, and if the pieces need a lot of work, they'll definately take a few passes through the planer, but I don't want the top surface to be 100% even, so the finish surface will likely be gone over a few times with a hand planer. I want an old/somewhat wavy look. I'm sure it will be a decent amount of work, but it'll be worth it in the end. I've seen it done and it looks great in my opinion.

As for the bottom being wavy, if the wood is thick enough, I don't believe I'll necessarily need anything else underneath it or it will be too high. What I might end up doing is running some strip of plywood flush with the cabinet box edges and useing those to secure the top and help keep any future twisting down. I guess I don't really see the bottom being perfectly flush as a big deal, maybe I'll be proven wrong...

I actually won't have that much countertop space that is made from this walnut. I will have two countertop pieces 27" wide x 24" deep, then two more countertops that are 42-48" inches wide x 24-30" deep, but one of those will house a slide in range, the other will house a 30" wide marble farmhouse sink. So in theory those will be made mostly of only 12" wide x 30" deep pieces. I don't recall the mixture for my finish, but it will be food friendly, mostly out of mineral oil. I already have some 3" thick maple butcherblock material for the workspaces.

Lane, the only place the bark would possibly be left intact is on the basement bar, where I might leave the edges rough, but even there I'm sure the bark will be taken off. Again, I'll use the maple I have for the work areas, but not for everything. That would look too modern in my opinion, if this rough cut lumber won't work, I'll be buying walnut.

Master Brian 04-07-2010 01:45 PM

Quote:

Originally Posted by slickgt1 (Post 425266)
I am not sure how much excitement you will have hand planing all that, but I recommend invensting in an auto planer. I would also put them somewhere to get accustomed to the climate where they will reside. Let them lay there for two - three weeks before doing anything with it. A decent Dewalt thickness planer will run around $500 new, and I have seen them used for less than half that. You can distress it by hand later to give it that look. I like the Festool Domino for joining everything, but that is really expensive and a bisquit will be fine. Make sure you glue, clamp, and let dry. I would clamp a bunch of 2 x 4 on top and bottom to help hold it from twisting while drying.


Oh yeah, I have a bisquit attachment for my router and will plan on that. Although I also saw some recently use pocket screws to build a butcherblock top. In my opinion that would be a lot of money in screws, but might be an interesting option if I only have to join two or three larger pieces together. Thoughts!!

BTW...yes, I already have the pocket screw jig as well.

slickgt1 04-07-2010 03:37 PM

Quote:

Originally Posted by Master Brian (Post 425328)
Oh yeah, I have a bisquit attachment for my router and will plan on that. Although I also saw some recently use pocket screws to build a butcherblock top. In my opinion that would be a lot of money in screws, but might be an interesting option if I only have to join two or three larger pieces together. Thoughts!!

BTW...yes, I already have the pocket screw jig as well.

Yes I actually wanted to say that too. In your case, with un-aged wood, I would definitely pocket screw the pieces together from the bottom. It would definitely help a lot.

Get a big box of Kreg pocket screws. It will be cheaper than buying the little packs from your local big box store. Search online, I'm sure you will find a better deal. I always buy the 10lb box of them.

http://www.toolking.com/2-1-2in-screw?CAWELAID=430271663
small pack. But get the 2

Do not use the double pocket jig, but if that is only what you have, drill only one hole. Two holes side by side will waken that area if the wood does start to pull apart.

After you install the top, make sure you do not perma-mount it. There is still a chance that your planks might crack as they start to age, and you will need bottom access to reinforce / fix that area.

I made 5 solid mohogony 8' doors for my house last year. Poly finished them to perfection, hung them, adjusted everything. 6 months later, 1 door, a solid, not glued together plank poped right down the middle. :censored: The crack is 2 inches from the edge, soooo glad that I have access to reinforce it and start fixing. The poly is what will piss me off the most. Gettting that finish again will mean taking the entire thing off and redoing it all over. The door weighs a good 100 lbs or so, so taking it off is also a chore. So make sure you are able to take that tops off if you need to.

I agree, your project should look really cool. And you seem to realize that you are stepping into a world of pain with this. I can say that I like to take on complex tasks like this as well.

Good luck and post pics. Speaking of pics, is there some easy program that can resize my pictures?

Master Brian 04-07-2010 05:19 PM

Thanks for the reply. Not actually sure how soon I'll get to this, still trying to find a wood for the cabinets that we both agree on.

As for the pics, I have a program called PIXresizer, but don't recall if it was a freebee or a paid program, I've had it several years and it's great. It can do one pic or multiple pics at a time. Other than that, I tend to use MS Paint. It's included with windows and actually fairly straight forward.

slickgt1 04-07-2010 05:34 PM

Quote:

Originally Posted by Master Brian (Post 425423)
Thanks for the reply. Not actually sure how soon I'll get to this, still trying to find a wood for the cabinets that we both agree on.

As for the pics, I have a program called PIXresizer, but don't recall if it was a freebee or a paid program, I've had it several years and it's great. It can do one pic or multiple pics at a time. Other than that, I tend to use MS Paint. It's included with windows and actually fairly straight forward.


Try to get plywood. Will last longer, resists twist and expansion and all that. If you look around, I am sure you can find plywood that is vaneered with the color and species of wood that you like. This is my choice for cabinet making.

Oh, MS Paint, but that does one at a time. Well better than nothing. Thanks.

lanemiller 04-07-2010 06:23 PM

I definitely would like to see how this ends up.

Master Brian 11-10-2010 04:16 PM

3 Attachment(s)
Ok, well, last night I finally was given this wood. It's actually sitting in a neighbors garage and I'll be bringing it home in the next day or two. I've included a few pictures to show what I'll be working with. It's not the 2" slabs I was told about, instead approximately 1" thick slabs, but I can make that work by laying this over plywood base. Probably add some stability.... :icon_confused:

If the pictures show up, what I'm being given is the 4 long pieces, about 7'+, that are about 1" thick....along with some misc smaller "scrap" pieces. If my figures are correct, I'll have one full 7' long board almost completely left over. Of course, I haven't figured edges into this yet, but that isn't much and the scrap would probaby provide that.

Based on the above, what does everyone think would look and hold up the best. Leaving the boards as wide as possible, currently about 8"+ wide, ripping them all down to about 2" wide or going narrower, possibly 3/4" wide? The 3/4" might not give me enough lumber is my fear. Those are also based on using face grain. Would edge grain be better or is it just a matter of preference???

I know some will say it won't hold up well, but from what I've read lots of people seem to be really happy with their walnut countertops. The work areas will be 2-3" thick maple butcher block and most appliances will be in a butlers pantry with tile countertops and a work sink. What I'm basically looking at is 2) 24" cabinets on both sides of fridge, a 12" cabinet on one side of range and 42" of cabinets with a 20"X30" marble farmhouse sink taking up most of that countertop.

As of right now, the finish is undecided, either it will be finished in food grade oil or danish oil. I'm leaing towards the danish oil, as it might discourage people from prepping on it!!:wink:

Open for any additional thoughts and suggestions!

Keith Mathewson 11-10-2010 09:28 PM

As Daniel stated the most important consideration at the moment is moisture content. If this is green wood you will have a considerable number of problems. Air dried wood properly stickered, covered, etc. takes about one year per inch. Best thing is to get a moisture meter and check it before doing anything.

If it is dry then edge glue them together. For what you are doing forget the screws, dowels, biscuits, dominos, etc.

If you have access to a planer, go ahead and skip plane them as a first step to the handplaned finish you want. Pick up an old stanley #4 or #5 and put a hefty radius on the iron. For the small amount you need to do it wont take that long.

Use plywood as a base to achieve the desired thickness you want. Glue a strip on the front edge to give the appearance of thickness similar to the maple counter tops. You will need to take into consideration seasonal wood movement so when you screw from below through the plywood into the walnut elongate the holes in the front so the screw can move in the slot.

Master Brian 11-10-2010 11:16 PM

I will double check, but my understanding is that this wood has been drying out of the weather stacked so air could reach all sides for at least two years, maybe up to four. I'll see about checking it, but it doesn't look green at all. I realize looks can be deceiving....

My current plan is to cut the boards to lengths, the rip to 2" strips, then run through a 12" electric planer to get the rough saw marks out, then glue up. I can't run the final through a planer, so that's what I'll likely hand plane. I have a newer stanley #6 and am new to it, so I'll look up your recommendation on that. I was able to accomplish the look I wanted on an old wood pine bar I made.

thanks....

Keith Mathewson 11-10-2010 11:34 PM

Brian,

Understand that ripping to 2" and re-gluing will accomplish nothing, unless it is the look you want.

Using a #6 wouldn't be my first choice but I own well over 100 planes. It would be helpful for you to understand where the look you want to achieve came from. The shallow dips usually attributed to the "handplaned" look were done with an aze. A shorter plane with a strong radius on the blade will approximate that look more closely than a fore plane. Either way be sure to use beeswax on the sole to reduce friction.


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