Q: We plan to create a large butcher-block top (4 feet by 6 feet) on an island in the middle of our remodeled kitchen. In the interface between a sink and the wood, what barriers need to be in place to keep the wood from staining or showing water damage?

We intend to use the surface for cutting, chopping and preparing food for serving and cooking.

Also, would an aluminum sink be better, or should we use tile and an undermounted sink of any material – cast iron, stainless steel, etc.? – Tom (Petaluma, Calif.)

A: Although undeniably beautiful, wood is our least favorite choice for kitchen countertops.

No matter how carefully maintained, it will stain. It will show knife marks. Hot pots or pans will burn it.

And, because of bacteria, cooks must be especially diligent about cleanup after preparing certain foods, especially poultry.

We’re a little unclear here. Is the entire island surface to be a butcher block or just part of it? Are you thinking about cutting a sink into the butcher block? If so, please reconsider.

Wood and water don’t mix. Butcher-block manufacturers use a penetrating sealer on all surfaces to make them repel water. Cutting a hole in the surface defeats their efforts.

If you aren’t planning a sink in the island, a rubdown with mineral oil every couple of weeks will keep a wood surface in good shape for years. Occasionally, depending on how much cutting and chopping you do, a complete sanding and re-oiling should be done.

If you must have a sink in the island, consider reducing the size of the butcher-block surface and set the sink on its own mini-island of tile. Try to maintain at least 6 inches from the sink to the wood – a full foot is better.

Make your cutout in the butcher block for your sink. You’ll want to make four plunge cuts with your circular saw. Make sure you have a good, sharp blade. Finish the cutout with a sharp handsaw, jigsaw or reciprocating saw.

Support the piece that is being cut from the bottom. You can do this by making your first two cuts parallel to each other and then, from underneath, screwing cleats to span the section to be cut out.

Next, cut a piece of concrete backer board, such as Durock or Wonder Board, to overlap your sink cutout by at least 6 inches. For uncomplicated cuts such as this, backer board can be scored and then snapped, much like Sheetrock. Use a heavy-duty blade, though.

Attach with screws, then use a jigsaw to cut out the hole for the sink.

Lay the tile on a bed of thin-set mortar. Use radius trim pieces to overlap the edge of the backer board. When the grout has completely cured – give it two or three days – run a bead of tub and tile caulk where the tile meets the butcher block.

This installation allows for either a tile-in or self-rimming sink. Tile-in sinks are nice because they have no lip and you can push garbage right into the sink and disposal. But setting tile around the sink is a job best left to a professional.

Self-rimming sinks are easy to install – they either clip in from the bottom or sit snugly on top and are held by adhesive caulk.

Before you make your final plans, though, think long and hard about wood countertops.


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