The look of wood countertops for way less

January 26, 2021

Hello there! The huge built ins in the basement are moving along quicker than I thought! I've become quite efficient at this build over the years. :) 

The first time I tackled this project I used IKEA butcher block for the counters under the bookcases. It always looks great! But from what I hear, IKEA doesn't carry the true butcher block anymore -- the kind that is wood all the way through. (If I'm wrong please let me know!) 

They had the best price I found anywhere for basic butcher I could cut and stain. The last few times I've built built ins I've used a different tactic for the counter. I first tried this on the half wall bookcase I made in our last house: 
Half wall bookcase with decor

This is a little trick that costs WAY less than "real" wood counters, and it's super easy to create. Because I needed to cover so much surface on this current project, I knew this version would save us a ton of money. 

Instead of thick countertops, I just have a 4x8 panel of wood cut down to the sizes I need: 
wood countertop on cabinets

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They will cut this down for you at most larger hardware stores. I picked birch because it's one of the most inexpensive options, but still looks good. 

Unlike true butcher, the edges on these panels aren't pretty -- the "nice" wood is just on the top, not all the way through: 
birch wood counters on cabinets

If you are OK with a thinner look for the counters on your built ins, you can get banding for the edges. You just iron it on and then paint or stain it to match the counters. 

But I prefer something a little thicker! My easy fix is to add this simple "lattice" trim to the edges instead: 
thin lattice trim for DIY projects

I've used this inexpensive trim for SO many projects! It's just thin wood that is perfect for all kinds of fixes. You can usually find it in a couple different thicknesses. 

I just cut it down to fit around the countertop:
trimming out wood for butcher block look

Make sure it's level with the top of the counters while installing. Then I sand down the corners a bit and then where the counters and trim meet. 

You can add stainable filler in between the two, but I don't think it's necessary. After that you can treat the counters however you'd like -- paint or stain. I used my favorite stain color, Provincial by Minwax: 
provincial stain on birch

You can barely tell there's trim on the front! Someone would really have to look for it to notice. I promise -- most people would never know you spent a fraction of the money! 

One thing you'll want to consider is that different types of wood will stain differently -- I used birch for the counters and my trim was pine, so they matched up well. Some species won't match perfectly when stained. 

Here's a quick tip if you're staining or protecting wood with polyurethane. If I don't have steel wool on hand, I'll use a scrap piece of paper bag to get the wood perfectly smooth instead:
sanding wood with paper bags

It works so well! You can use this in between coats and at the end -- it won't mess up your finish at all. 

The little countertop trick will give you the look of thicker wood counters for WAY less: 
Butcher block look counters for less

I would have spent at least $400 on birch butcher block counters for the built ins. Instead I spent around $70 with this option. 

My advice would be to use this for areas that won't get a lot of water, just because of that tiny gap in between the counter and trim. 

It's perfect for built ins! I did this on my office bookcases as well: 
Dark green bookcases with wallpaper

I'm truckin' right along on these! Here's a sneak peek at the wallpaper I'm using behind the bookcases: 
Gray tweed wallpaper on bookcases

It's a tweed peel and stick wallpaper and we LOVE it! I wasn't so sure about it when it was in the packaging, but once I got one panel up I was sold. You can see how to install peel and stick wallpaper here

You can find this same wallpaper a few places. It's available on Amazon and at Target and Wayfair

I'll be back soon with another update on this big project! I'm SO DANG EXCITED about it! 

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  1. I’m so excited for you! Thanks for the birch plywood and pine trim tip. I will do this one day. So good!!

  2. How about heat on this? My grandma had butcher block countertops, and since it was wood all the way through, you could set a hot pan on it if you liked, etc. Is that prohibited on this?

    1. I don't put anything hot on wood counters. We have true butcher block on our island and we always use a hot pad on that.

  3. This is awesome! You always amaze me!

  4. Absolutely COOL in every way! Thank you very much!

  5. What color is tweed wallpaper? Through the Amazon link there is a beige and a brown.

  6. Love this! Would you mind sharing the paint color you used on this?

  7. Hi. Impressive work. I want to build this, but I keep getting stuck on how the shiplap wall is attached to the bookcase. Please help me to get this same result please. I looked, but I didn’t see how to execute. Is it attached to the built in or if it isn’t how does everything sit flush on the wall?

    Thanks in advance for any assistance.

    1. Hello! The shiplap was nailed directly into the wall! It's not actually attached to the bookcase. You can see how I install shiplap here.

  8. Is this 3/4” plywood on top?

  9. Hi! So I'm trying to figure out what to do about a 10ft long countertop on my built-in project. I love the idea of doing this with a plywood top and edging, but im afraid if i have a big middle seam (at the 5' mark) it'll look bad. I know yours is broken into smaller sections so you don't have this problem currently, but have you done this before?

  10. How did you secure the countertop to the cabinets?

    1. You can nail them into the perimeter around the top, or use screws to attach them through the top of the cabinets. (Just check the length of the screws to make sure it won't come through the top.


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