DIY wood countertops four years later

It’s been four years since we added the island to our kitchen and made our own wood countertop. The post about our DIY wood countertops is by far the most popular post on my blog, so I thought it would be helpful to share how our counter is holding up.

I will preface this by saying we are not gentle on our counters. We don’t always wipe up right away. We drop things, spill things and bang things. The island is our main prep space, so it sees a lot of action.

However, we do use cutting boards for chopping and don’t set hot pans directly on the wood.

DIY wood countertops

After four years of steady use, the counter has held up very well, and I definitely recommend making your own wood countertops if you’re looking for a cheap, functional, durable solution.

The construction

We used the Kreg Jig and wood glue to join our 2x12s together and then filled the joints with wood filler. All of the joints are still tight. We’ve not seen any gaps between the boards and the wood filler has not cracked or chipped.

My big concern when we first made the counter was that it warped. However, it leveled out once we trimmed it to the right length and screwed it to the cabinets. Since then, the counter has stayed pretty flat. One board is still has a slight arc–my cutting board rocks a bit when I’m chopping–but it hasn’t worsened over the years.

Wood is soft, so there are some dents in the surface from where we’ve dropped a heavy can or jar. I’m not sure it’s possible to have a wood counter and not have some dents in it, especially after four years. If you want a pristine counter, wood may not be the choice for you.

The finish

We chose to stain our counter to match the existing cabinets in the kitchen, and then sealed it with Waterlox. Staining opened up one issue that I did not expect. We have a couple of chips along the edge. The stain didn’t sink too deeply into the wood, so the lighter wood shows at these chips. If we had used a clear sealer rather than a tinted stain, the chips probably wouldn’t be as noticeable.

Chips in the edge of a wood countertop

The Waterlox finish seems to protect the wood fairly well. Water or other spills bead up on the surface and doesn’t soak into the wood. Most things rub out fairly easily even if they’ve been left for a little while.

Initially, I was a bit surprised by how shiny Waterlox was. This seems to be a common concern with the Original Finish that I chose. It appears to have dulled a little bit–or I’ve just gotten used to it.

There are a few spots that have dulled a little more than others. I’d characterize it as “etching” or watermarks where stains have set before we wiped them up. As obvious as the mark looks in the picture below, in real life you actually have to look pretty closely to see it. It just doesn’t reflect as much light as the rest of the counter.

Stain etched on a wood countertop

The verdict

The counter looks and works really, really well. I’m a bit amazed that we made our own countertop and it worked–and four years later it’s still working.

For us, the wood counter was a temporary solution–temporary around here being 5 to 10 years. I’m not sure I’d recommend them for a long-term renovation, but I expect we will easily get another few years out of this counter. We know we’ll do a full gut renovation of the kitchen someday. But until then, we needed more prep space. The island and our DIY counter definitely gave us that.

For the work and money we put into this counter and the function it’s added to our kitchen, we are very happy with the choice to use wood and to make it ourselves.

If you have any questions about our counters, I’m happy to answer them in the comments.

How I organize recipes

Open shelving in the kitchen for cookbooks

One of my favourite features of the island we added to the kitchen is the open shelving on the end that holds our cookbooks.

The books add a splash of colour to the wood and white of the kitchen. The shelves keep them organized and easily accessible. Plus I love cookbooks. I will sit and read them like a magazine or novel. (And, yes, you’re not imagining. The upper shelf is sagging a bit under the weight of all of our cookbooks).

However, not all of my recipes reside in cookbooks. I have a bunch of printouts from recipes I’ve found online (I haven’t progressed to a tablet yet), clippings from the newspaper or magazines, even a few hand-written recipes from family and friends.

To keep these recipes organized, I returned to the lessons learned in school–binders, dividers and page protectors.

A couple of weeks ago, I added a bunch of new recipes to my collection, so I thought I’d share my organization method with you.

How to organize recipes

First are the binders. I have three major categories which each get their own binder: Appetizers and Sides, Entrees, Desserts and Sweets. Entrees outgrew its single binder and is now split into two books. I use different colours for each grouping.

How to organize recipes

Within each binder, I’ve divided the recipes into subcategories.

In appetizers, the sections are appetizers, soups, salads, sides, snacks, breads and drinks. For entrees, I divided them into pork, pasta, sandwiches, beef, fish, vegetarian, poultry, other meats (venison, lamb), breakfast. Desserts starts with the most important, chocolate, and then goes to cookies, “buns” and bars (including muffins), cakes, pies, fruit, custards and Christmas.

How to organize recipes

The recipes themselves are stored in plastic page protectors. I’m not the tidiest cook, so the plastic sleeves protect the paper from spills and splashes.

However, it’s easy to slide the recipe out of the plastic and add notes about what worked, what didn’t or what adjustments I made.

How to organize recipes

Beyond the binders, I also use magazine holders to organize the smaller pamphlets and cookbooks I’ve collected over the years. I got two wooden holders from Ikea and stained them to match the countertop and cabinets.

Wood magazine holder

I love having my recipes organized.

In fact, I was so inspired that I flipped through the dessert binder and whipped up one of my favourite fall recipes, spiced apple muffins, using the apples my friend gave me from her own tree.

Apple spice muffins

With my recipes all organized, I feel ready to move on from fall baking on to Christmas baking.

Are you doing any baking, either fall or Christmas? How do you organize your recipes?

Hardboard and six favourite projects

There’s one material that I go to over and over for DIY projects: hardboard.

Hardboard

Hardboard is an engineered wood product also known as high-density fibreboard. Wikipedia says that it’s “made out of exploded wood fibers that have been highly compressed.” I’m not sure what exploded wood fibres are. By the time hardboard gets to the store, it has little resemblance to wood. It’s more like a super heavy-duty, super smooth cardboard. The main resemblance to typical construction materials is that hardboard comes in 4×8-foot sheets.

It’s less than a quarter inch thick, fairly light-weight, and cuts and bends easily. Sometimes it’s cut to other sizes than 4×8, finished with white on one side, or it’s also the material for pegboards.

Pegboard

Here are some of my favourite projects with hardboard:

Living room bookshelves – Hardboard makes a very sturdy back for shelves and bookcases. But it’s thin and fairly lightweight, so it doesn’t add bulk to furniture.

Monograms – Letters and words are popular decor trends. Hardboard is easy to cut with a jigsaw, won’t break or crack like solid wood, and is light enough to hang on a wall or sit on a shelf. I’ve found a quick pass of fine sandpaper can be helpful to smooth cut edges.

Ampersand monogram made out of hardboard

Ampersand monogram made out of hardboard

Doors and cabinet makeovers – Faced with boring slab doors in the basement and on the laundry room cabinets, I used strips of hardboard to transform them into barn doors and shaker-style cabinets. I was blown away by how successful the transformation was. I still love these doors. Plus the makeover saved us from spending money on new doors.

Making slab doors into barn doors

Score-keeping chalkboard – Hardboard is super smooth, and with a good primer and a foam roller, it takes paint very well. So I gave a sheet of hardboard a coat of chalkboard paint for a 6-foot tall, but very lightweight and easy to move chalkboard. Much lighter than actual chalkboard.

Cabinet door repair – Our kitchen needs a renovation, but until that day, we’re trying to hold things together however we can. Hardboard to the rescue once again. The cabinet door under the sink was separating from its frame. Backing it with hardboard has seen us through the last three years.

Holding a kitchen cabinet together with hardboard

Nightstand to dresser makeover – This dresser is one of my all-time favourite projects. Combining two nightstands into one dresser worked very well, but the join was very ugly. A panel of hardboard covered the seam and didn’t add much bulk to my narrow dresser.

I continue to find more uses for hardboard. And I’d love to hear if you’ve used it yourself. Any projects to share? What’s your go-to construction material?

Wonky wiring and a pair of pendant lights

At some point today, an electrical inspector will knock on my door. (Hopefully. It’s one of those “sometime between 8 and 5 things”). It’s been awhile since our electrician was here, but I’ve been putting off the inspection because my day job was requiring me to be in the office. I finally got a break at work and am working at home today, so the inspection can happen. I also finally got my fingers in gear to tell you about this update.

Matt and I had upgraded from the boob light in the kitchen to a school-house pendant some time ago. The fixture wasn’t in the right spot, though. It was off centre with the island and a single pendant didn’t look quite right.

Single school-house pendant over the kitchen island

I had ordered a second pendant back when we installed the first one (February 2014), but I didn’t want to tackle adding it on my own.

When we had the electrician here to move the light switch in the master bedroom, I had him relocate the existing kitchen light and add the second.

The wiring in this house is wonky. When the electrician took down the first pendant, I remembered exactly how wonky. There was no box to house the wiring. Instead, the fixture was attached to a couple of plates that were screwed to the drywall, and the wires–which wasn’t the right type either–just stuck out from a hole in the ceiling.

How not to wire a light

Obviously, it wasn’t right, but Matt and I had installed our new light anyways, knowing that we’d hire a professional to fix it soon. Well, soon turned out to be more than a year, but better late than never, right?

I was surprised when the electrician hypothesized that there was another light somewhere else in the ceiling. A close look at the drywall showed us a patch that I had never noticed. When he climbed up into the attic, he discovered the light (disconnected, thank goodness). This one had a junction box. It also still had the socket lamp holder attached to it. The light had just been turned so it pointed into the attic and not through the ceiling. What were they thinking???

Light fixture in the attic

The electrician drilled two new holes, inserted two new boxes and ran the new wires–and did all of it properly.

Wiring pendant lights over the island

I was happy to have a professional electrician fixing all of the mistakes. I was also happy that he was the one crawling around in the attic, not me. I like my DIY, but I’ve learned where to draw the line. Things that are beyond my skills or just plain unpleasant (and this hit both of them) are a clear time to call in professional help.

If you’re in the Guelph, Hamilton or tri-city area, I highly recommend Agentis Electric.

Electrician going into the attic

I did patch the hole in the ceiling on my own though (but I haven’t painted it yet). And here’s the finished product: pair of pendants, properly positioned–and properly wired–over the island.

School house pendant lights over the kitchen island

How do you decide when to bring in professional help? What’s the wiring like at your house? Do you have any light fixtures lying around just waiting to be installed? How do you handle lighting in your kitchen?

DIY wood countertops one year later

See an update on our counters after four years.

A year ago, I wrote about how we DIYed our own wood countertop. Since then, this post has become far and away the most popular on the blog. Given that we’ve been living with our homemade counter for a year now, I thought a good topic for today’s post would be an update on how our DIY counter has worked for us.

The simple answer is the counter has worked great. Here’s what it looks like today.

DIY wood countertop 1 year later

Just a reminder, here’s how the counter looked a year ago.

How to make a wood countertop

Here are a few more details on how the counter performed.

The biggest measure of this counter’s success is the joints. After a year of use, they’re still nice and tight. Squaring off the edges of the boards, gluing the seams before screwing them together with my Kreg Jig, cramming every joint full of wood filler and sanding everything perfectly smooth have ensured that the counter has held up really well for us.

Joints in a homemade wood countertop

The finish has held up as well. The tone of the wood has stayed constant, and the Waterlox sealer has been a great protector. Originally, the finish was pretty shiny. It has dulled a little bit over the past year. We’re not the best at wiping down the counter religiously, but no matter what we spill or how long something sits on the counter (ahem), it wipes up easily.

We have one spot that has stained, but it wasn’t from food. Of all things, it was from a plastic bag. We had set a regular grocery store bag on the counter. The bag had some red writing on the outside, and that dye somehow transferred onto the counter. No matter how much I scrub, this dye will not come out.

Red dye on wood counter

It’s well known that wood is softer than the other countertop materials that are out there. It dents pretty easily. After a year of use, there are some imperfections in our counter. Most are the size of a quarter or smaller, and this one’s about the deepest.

Dent in a wood countertop

The dents don’t worry me at all. We use a cutting board when we’re chopping, but if something leaves a mark, I don’t get upset.

Along one edge of the counter, we have some small chips. These were from a unique incident that had absolutely nothing to do with cooking. The night that we picked up our dining room table, Baxter got a little upset at being left alone in the house. To make himself feel better, he ate the pan of brownies that had been left on the counter. When he reached for the pan, his toenails left some marks on the edge of the counter. These marks are particularly noticeable because they go down below the stained surface. (The dark marks near the middle of the image are features of the board and aren’t a stain or damage that we’ve inflicted).

Chips in the edge of a wood counter

In my post a year ago, I talked about how the counter had warped a little bit and how we were able to flatten it by trimming the end and carefully screwing it to the cabinets. The boards have warped a little bit more over the past year. If you run your hand over the surface, you can feel a bit of a wave. The middles have curved up and the edges have curved down. The warp isn’t severe enough to impact the usability of the countertop and it’s not noticeable to the eye, unless I pull out the level to show you the gaps.

Warp in a DIY wood countertop

We don’t coddle the counter, and a year later it’s obvious that it’s had some use. I am really pleased with all of the choices we’ve made a year ago: going with wood, the colour of the stain, the Waterlox sealer, and especially making it ourselves. Everything has worked out really well.

The counters are still going strong four years later–although there are a few provisos.

I’m dreaming of a white ceiling

I know a lot of people are adding colour and patterns to their ceilings these days, but I am still white ceiling person. Even if I wasn’t, the colours and patterns we’ve had on our ceilings for the past two years would not be my choice… ever.

There were the specks and smears. (Sorry for the poor photo quality. I find it really difficult to photograph our dim hallway).

paintingprep5

Then there were the stripes.

paintingprep2

Our home inspector’s explanation for these lines was that the insulation in our attic was insufficient. As a result, the ceiling joists got cold. The temperature difference between our warm drywall inside the house and the cold joists in the attic resulted in condensation. Dust and dirt in the air in the house stuck to that condensation, making stripes.

When we upgraded the insulation in the attic, our contractor had a slightly different opinion. Of course I now can’t remember what he said.

In addition to the obvious dirt, there was the overall grey tinge that you saw on Friday.

I’m a bit embarrassed to say that we’ve been living with these ceilings since we moved in two years ago. However, I am no longer ashamed. We used Benjamin Moore’s Fresh Start primer to make our dreams of a clean white ceiling come true, and I thought it might be helpful to post a bit of a review of this paint.

Out of all of the things I care about in my house, the shade of white on my ceilings is not one of them. My usual method is to use primer to paint the ceilings. For the hallway, foyer and kitchen, I didn’t splurge and go all the way to buying real paint, but I did choose a slightly upgraded primer, rather than the standard formula. The “high hiding” label on the Fresh Start can was what sold me. I had a lot of dirt to hide.

Benjamin Moore Fresh Start Primer

Fresh Start is a slightly thicker consistency than standard primer, which made me feel like I was covering more dirt. It’s not sticky, though, and was easy to apply.

Whether because of the thicker consistency or because our drywall absorbed the paint, we ended up using more than I expected. I had bought a second gallon, not realizing I had one at home already. The extra paint ended up being a good thing because for our 310+ square feet of hallway, kitchen and foyer we used a gallon and a quarter, just for one coat.

I had hoped that we would be able to get away with a single coat on our ceilings, but we ended up having to do two. I’m not sure if it’s that our ceilings were just too dirty, if the Fresh Start didn’t cover as well as I thought it would, or if we applied it a bit thinly in a few spots, but the next day there were sections where I could still see some of the grey.

The second coat went on very quickly (about an hour) and used much less paint (probably just a bit more than half a gallon). The second coat also did the trick. There are no more dirt spots, and none of the grey has bled through.

Since we were working on a ceiling, it would have been helpful for the Fresh Start to have a tint, like some of the specialized ceiling paints out there. These go on light pink and then dry white. In the dim lighting of our hallway, it was sometimes hard to tell where we had yet to paint. At least, it was on the second coat when we were painting over white, rather than grey.

One coat, two coat. One can, two cans. It doesn’t matter now. All that counts is that the Fresh Start did its job, and we now have the white ceilings that I’ve been dreaming of since we moved in.

There’s still one more painting post coming up this week. Check back Friday to see the progress we’ve made on the walls. (Hint: there will be colour!)

Until then, I’m really curious to hear how you handle your ceilings. Are you all about white, like me? Or are you one of those daring folks that embrace the “fifth wall?” What’s your go-to primer? Anyone else tried Fresh Start?

And just in case you’re wondering, Benjamin Moore has no idea who I am, I bought my own paint, and this post is just my opinion.

Progress report

Happy Valentine’s Day, everyone. Given the occasion, I have to start with a quick note of love.

Thank you all for reading, commenting and following along on our adventures. I feel like I’ve found so many new friends, even though many of us have never met. Your warmth and support makes my day everyday, so today I have to give some of that love back. I can’t send you all chocolates and roses, but I can say a very sincere thank you.

Valentine’s Day means that we’re halfway through the month, so it’s time for an update on my February goal of painting the main floor hallway and kitchen.

Here’s what was on the to-do list for the first half of the month and how we did:

  1. Patch and sand holes from chair rail. By Feb. 7. Final coat went on Feb. 4, although I didn’t manage to sand it until Feb. 7. Doesn’t matter, though, ’cause it got done.
  2. Buy paint. By Feb. 7. Done Feb. 6.
  3. Wipe down the trim. By Feb. 7. Done Feb. 7.
  4. Remove cover plates on plugs and switches, take down old light fixtures and install pig tails. Feb. 8. Done Feb. 8.
  5. Paint the ceiling. Feb. 8. Done Feb. 8.
  6. Prime the walls. Feb. 9. Done Feb. 8. A whole day early.
  7. Paint the trim. Feb. 14. After 5 1/2 hours of painting spread out across the past four evenings, I can say this one is done as of last night. Another whole day early.

Plus two new additions:

  1. Remove the old doorbell chime box and patch hole. Mostly done Feb. 9. This is Matt’s add-on that still needs one more coat of paste, but it shouldn’t delay this weekend’s plans.
  2. Paint a second coat on the ceiling. Done Feb. 9. Expecting a single coat of paint to cover our filthy ceiling ended up being a bit of wishful thinking.

Even with additions, everything–every single thing–is on track.

Progression of painting our hallway

After the frustration of 2013 where I was not very successful in accomplishing projects around the house, the progress we’ve made this month makes me tremendously happy. Sure wiping down all of the baseboards and trim (9 doorways, remember) was not my ideal way to spend my Friday night, but I did it, it’s done, and I made my deadline. Planning every step and setting deadlines have been super helpful.

Some soundbites from last weekend:

  • “This ceiling is disgusting.” (Matt) It totally, complete was, but no longer.
  • “Why didn’t we do this sooner?” (Matt) Ummmm… we killed ourselves on the basement reno?
  • “This hallway feels wider.” (Julia) “Wider or whiter?” (Matt) “Uh… I guess both?” (Julia)

Here’s an illustration of our disgusting ceiling. The white circle is where the light fixture used to be.

Dirty ceiling before painting

We’ve only primed, but it has already made such a difference. I’m excited to add colour this weekend. Here’s what’s coming up next:

  1. Paint the walls (two coats). Feb. 15-17 (a three-day weekend).
  2. Install new light fixtures. Feb. 22.

I’ve learned that it’s just too easy for me to procrastinate and push projects off. So far with my new technique of mapping the steps out in detail and scheduling each stage, I’m staying on track. This is a major breakthrough for me.

And people, I am so excited to see the final product and to share it all with you. Will the reveal be an acceptable late Valentine’s gift? I think it’s going to be even more awesome than I expected.

What have you been up to this month? Care to share your mid-month update? Do you have any special plans for Valentine’s Day? I think my present will be a night off from painting. Happy weekend, everyone. And happy Valentine’s Day.

How to stain and waterproof a wood countertop

Update: See how our counters have held up after one year and after four years.

With our new kitchen island, we decided to do an inside out colour scheme. By that I mean that we reversed the existing finishes that were already in the kitchen.

Around the perimeter of the kitchen, we kept the natural wood cabinets and the light countertop. On the new island that we added in the middle, we chose white cabinets with a wood countertop.

Kitchen island painted white with wood countertop

I wanted to keep the wood tones consistent, so when it came to finishing our DIY wood countertop, the usual methods–wax, oil–were out, as they would have left the countertop too light in colour. I sampled lots of stain until I found one that matched the existing cabinets as closely as possible–Early American from Minwax.

To prepare to stain the countertop, I wrapped the island in plastic drop cloths to protect our nice white cabinets and went over the wood with a tack cloth to pick up any dust and bits that might interfere with the finish.

Preparing to finish a wood countertop

For staining, I used the standard technique of brush it on, let it sit, wipe it off.

Staining a kitchen island

After letting the stain cure, it was on to the waterproofing stage. Given that I was working on a countertop, I wanted something very durable and of course food safe. I chose to go with Waterlox after reading positive reviews online.

Waterlox to finish a wood countertop

I followed their very detailed how-to guide on their web site to make sure I got the finish I was looking for. Waterlox was pretty easy to use.

I did four coats, brushing it on liberally with a natural bristle brush and letting it dry for 24 hours between each application.

Here’s some of the pros, cons and lessons learned.

First, Waterlox stinks when it’s wet. After the first coat, we developed a routine of putting the Waterlox on right before going to bed. We opened the windows, turned on fans, switched off the heat (since we had windows open) and closed the bedroom door. Given that it was March, it wasn’t necessarily the best weather to have windows open, but it was necessary both for the odor and for the cross ventilation needed to dry and cure the finish. The worst of the odor did ease after a couple of hours, thankfully.

Second, sanding between coats is not recommended with Waterlox. Instead, the guide tells you to wipe down the countertop with mineral oil before each coat to get rid of any dust. I did this, but I still feel the finish isn’t quite as smooth as I would like. I’m used to using Varathane where I sand between each coat and get a super smooth finish. The Waterlox guide recommended using a very fine steel wool between the second-to-last and last coat of finish to sand out any rough spots, which I did, but it’s still not perfectly smooth.

Third, the finished surface is very shiny. I used Waterlox Original Sealer/Finish, which is recommended for the first few coats (or all coats, if you choose) and is listed as having a medium sheen. A satin finish is available, but honestly I was too cheap to buy another can, so I did all four coats with the Original.

How to make a wood countertop

After the final coat of Waterlox, we let the island top cure for a full week without putting anything on it.

Now that we’re using the island, the finish seems to be both waterproof and durable.

Water droplets on a wood countertop

Given that it is a wood counter, we use a cutting board if we’re chopping and cork pads for any hot dishes. However, there are still occasions to put the finish to the test. If we spill (which of course never happens), liquids bead up on top of the surface. When we slide dishes across the counter, we don’t have to worry about scratching the finish. The wood wipes down really easily and looks fresh.

Finishing our homemade wooden countertop was a question of both form and function. I wanted to match the wood tones we had in the kitchen, and I also needed it to stand up to actual kitchen prep work. Done and done.

Update: See how our counters have held up after one year and after four years.

How to make a wood countertop

How to make a wood countertop

We’ve lived with our homemade wood countertop for more than a year now. To see my report on how it has worked for us, click here.

See the update after four years with our counters here.

Since we’d splurged on having our new kitchen island professionally made, I had to balance the scales and DIY the wood countertop.

There are some tutorials online and lots of inspiring photos, but in the end we pretty much winged it. Here’s what we did.

For our island’s 80 inch by 42 inch top, I decided that four 2x12s were the way to go. I chose spruce–the cheapest option at my local lumber mill. My first tip is to be very careful in selecting your lumber. I went through nearly the whole pile looking for the straightest, cleanest boards possible. Watch for chips, knots, bends and warps.

Once you’ve selected your boards, the first step is to trim them so that their edges are square rather than rounded. This will help you to get a smooth even surface when you join your boards together. I took a half inch off each side of my boards–or the staff at the lumber mill did for me.

Squared edges on lumber

We let our boards acclimatize inside the house for a day or so–especially important as the lumber had spent the winter outside and was completely frozen. We could hear them snapping as they adjusted to the temperature.

Once we were ready to start constructing the countertop, we laid out our boards and decided the best configuration.

Making sure we kept everything in order, we marked the backside of the boards for screw holes.

Measuring and marking lumber

We spaced the screws 8 inches apart.

Then, I set up my newest toy and drilled holes using my Kreg Jig–yup, I got one!

Using a Kreg Jig to drill holes in a wood countertop

I was pretty confident that the Kreg Jig would give us really tight joints, but we glued each board as well with carpenter’s glue just to make certain. Be careful not to use too much glue, as you don’t want drips or seepage on the good side of your top.

Gluing boards for a wood countertop

Holes drilled and glue spread, it was time to put it all together. Matt held the boards even and kept the joints tight while I went along with the drill and set each screw.

Connecting boards for a wood countertop

Soon enough, we had a large slab of wood. Don’t be confused by the stamps and the holes from the Kreg Jig. This is the underside.

Back side of a wood counterop showing holes from the Kreg Jig

We took our incredibly heavy countertop and flipped it over. I trimmed one end with my circular saw to get a nice flush edge. I left the other end ragged, because I wanted to wait until we had the island, just to make sure I got the length exactly right.

While the joints were really tight and pretty smooth, I still filled everything–every joint, every knot, every divot–with wood filler just to even out any imperfections.

Using wood filler on a wood countertop

Then, it was on to sanding stage. Using my little orbital sander and lots and lots of sanding pads, I went over the countertop time and time again. I started with a 60 grit and slowly worked my way up to finer and finer grits (80, 120, 240 and 400).

Sanding a wood countertop

Despite choosing a very cheap grade of lumber, it came up beautifully smooth and even with the sanding. Take your time with your sander and don’t skimp on this step.

We did have one issue arise with our DIY wood countertop. Once the boards were all together and the top spent more time acclimatizing inside the house, it started to warp a bit. I attribute this to the frozen state of our lumber before we started construction. By the time the island was installed and we set the counter on top, we had a pretty good wave going on.

Unfinished warped wood countertop

Aaaah! A wonky wavy countertop was not at all what I envisioned. Our cabinet maker diplomatically limited his comments to “I dunno about that countertop.” My Dad suggested shimming under the one edge, where the gap between the underside of the countertop and the top of the cabinet was about 1/4 inch.

To everyone’s surprise–including mine–trimming the length of the countertop helped immensely. I don’t know whether most of the warp was happening at one end of the boards, but it was laying nearly flat after we cut off the extra length. Screwing the countertop into place on the cabinets leveled it out a bit more–even though we were very gentle and didn’t overly tighten the screws for fear of opening the joints between the boards.

My enthusiasm for my DIY wood countertop was rekindled. However, it was basically a large hunk of raw wood sitting in the middle of our kitchen–an attractive hunk of wood, but not the most useable surface.

The next step was to finish and waterproof the wood–which I’ll talk about on Wednesday. Stay tuned.

See my review on how our wood countertop held up over its first year.

See my review after four years.

DIY fail… sorta

As a person who enjoys construction and DIY, I feel slightly guilty to admit that I did not DIY the big beautiful new island now sitting in my kitchen. I had planned to build it myself. I pinned lots of inspiration to my kitchen Pinterest board, took measurements and drew plans, but when it came time to put saw to wood, I wimped out.

Kitchen islands

Island inspiration (clockwise from top left) 1, 2, 3, 4

My original plan was to find a second-hand kitchen that had cabinets that could be reconfigured into an island. However, weekly visits to the Habitat for Humanity Restore did not reveal a suitable candidate and made me realize that any reconfiguration would not be straight forward. Then, one day at the Restore I found eight cabinet doors with cathedral arch tops that mimicked the style of our kitchen cabinets. I bought the doors, came home and drew up a plan.

Plan for a kitchen island

Once I sketched the plan, I realized that I simply needed four cabinet boxes and two sections of open shelving. Simple! My Dad and I could build it ourselves over the Christmas holidays!

That plan was discarded after my Dad and I spent the holidays building the TV cabinet, and I decided furniture construction is neither my best skill nor my favourite way to spend my days.

It was time for some professional help. I called my Dad’s kitchen guy and emailed him my sketch and my inspiration photos. There was a bit of sticker shock when we received the quote, but I’d already made up my mind that DIYing a kitchen island wasn’t for me, so we decided to go ahead.

We saved some money by using the doors that I’d bought at Habitat (for $5 each) and eliminating the corner posts that I’d drawn on my original design in favour of basic cabinet boxes. However, we balanced that out by paying our cabinet maker to spray the doors white, rather than painting them ourselves.

I don’t have a good excuse why I wasn’t in the mood to DIY.

However, on the bright side I did eventually return to my normal self.

Habitat was also my source for cabinet pulls. I found handles that matched the existing ones in the kitchen for just 50 cents each. I hopped on the ORB (oil rubbed bronze) bandwagon, spray painting all of the handles, including our very chipped original ones.

Brass cabinet pulls spray painted with Oil Rubbed Bronze

I knew things were definitely back to normal on the DIY front when I decided to make the wooden countertop myself. That’s a story for next week, though.

Is there anyone else out there who’s gone through a DIY slump? How did you get through it? Who else is an ORB fan? How do you decide what to do yourself and what to hire out?