Saturday, November 16, 2013

How-To: Faux Reclaimed Wood Counter Tops

Changing out counter tops can be a very expensive ordeal. At our last house, we never updated the counters, since we knew we wouldn't get our return on the money, and we didn't plan on staying long. 
When we were making the plans for our kitchen remodel at the current house, we looked at all sorts of materials.
My dream for years was to have Carrera Marble...I knew that is what I wanted hands down. After I finally had the house, to be able to get the counter I had always wanted, I had decided it wasn't the right choice. With the staining factor, having the kids home with the nanny during the day, and the amount that we cook,  I knew it would be next to impossible to keep it in good shape.
So I started over.
I thought I had decided on 2 kinds of granite, one for the main counters, the other for the island. Of course, I have expensive taste, and the Black Absolute, with the leathered finish, I chose was very expensive. 
So we had to come up with another option.
 We loved the look of reclaimed wood. I found some old barn wood, but it needed to be planed at least 1-2 times, and I felt like it looked like brand new wood afterwards, so what was the point? The only logical option seemed to be, to use new wood and make it look old. Between me and my husband we knew we could pull it off. We started with the island, and vent hood, as a test run, since it was a smaller area. 

To start with, we had to get rid of the beautiful burned, and stained laminate counter tops.
Already better.

Next we installed a piece of plywood to be the base of the counter, all the wood would sit on top of this. 
At this point we extended the previous width of the couter. I wanted more of an overhang, to stick some bar stools under neath. The overhang is now 14".  We braced the end with posts purchased at Lowes. Simple "L" brackets helped to support as well. 

The plywood was attached directly to the top of the island base, with screws.   

We also added some decorative trim around the bottom, and on the edges. Knowing the whole island was getting a fresh coat of paint, meant  it didn't matter what materials we used.
To start the wood top, we chose to use 2 sizes of wood, 6" and 8". We went with Poplar. It's still technically a soft wood, but hard enough for an everyday surface. The layout, and sizes took a bit of mapping out.

The first thing we installed were the outside edges. We wanted the top to look like it was very thick, with out stacking more than one layer of wood on top. A 1 1/4" thick piece of pine helped to achieve this look. Mitering the edges, and making sure it was all level with the top of the plywood, it was screwed directly into the side of the plywood. The top layer of poplar, will sit on top of the side trim pieces. Its alot harder to get a good seem after the top is on. The holes were filled with wood putty. 

This process was really a two person job.... and you need some muscles, oh which, I don't really have...but I gave it my best shot.  I held the end board down, flush with the edge, with as much pressure on the board as I could muster. My husband screwed from underneath, all the way down the board, into the plywood, and all the way into the poplar. Using short enough screws, to not poke through. For each piece we did the same thing. Trying to get them all level was the key, but some unevenness lends to the reclaimed look. I didn't want it to look like butcher block. 
On some of the edges there was a seem between the trim pieces, and top pieces. I just filed this with wood putty as well. 

At this point the corners were pretty sharp, and a bit of a safety hazard for the kids. I used a palm sander, and went at it. 

Again the wood is supposed to look old, so each area was sanded differently. Some corners were sanded down more than another. In between some f the pieces of wood, I used the edge of the sander,  and ran down the length of the board, alternating pressure. 

Here is how it ended up. 

Since reclaimed wood is roughed up, I used several kinds of tools, to bang up the top to give it an old look. This also helps, with the natural distressing the counters will receive from my family's mistreatment. We have had these counters for close to a year, and they have held up so well. 

 Here are a couple of my secret distressing tools...
A basket.. hold over the area, and bang in a hard quick motion with a hammer, very high tech, I know. 

This is a hook to hang things from the garage ceiling, that we didn't need anymore. A large screw could work to, but plan to throw it out afterwards. I used a hammer, sometimes dragging the marks close together like scratches, other times making several rows with it. 
I also used the end of this hook  to make hole in groups, and the end of a hammer to indent the wood for heavy dark marks.

The staining was next. Id love to say, there's a secret formula, and here's exactly what to do....but as with most of the things in my house, its a make-it-up-as-you-go technique. 
I made dozens of sample boards, my husband is very visual.
 I used everything from the steel wool in vinegar, mixed with tea, finish, and tried tons of stains combinations. 

What worked best was taking 3 different stains, and mixing my own colors. 
I started with mostly paint thinner in a container, and add just a bit of stain, so there was only a little bit of color. 

Raw poplar takes stain very quick, so it's really easy to go to dark. With this technique, you can build up the color as you go along. I used a small foam brush, and started with a light coat. The color here was a mix of, summer oak, dark walnut, and a weathered grey (not pictured). 

Since this was so watered down, it really soak into the pores of the grain, you can see little bits of the texture throughout, it looks much more aged than straight stain ever would. 

I covered the whole surface, it gets lighter as it dries. While still damp, and not dry all the way through. I took a darker version of the stain, mostly just the, still thinned out with paint thinner. With the edge of the foam brush I started to highlight the areas of grain. 

Also making it heavier in any distressed areas, or knots. 

Here you can see the variation in color. Since the color is so thinned out you can really build up different areas.

Just staining alone isn't enough to bring this out. I went over some areas more than once. Some times even letting alot sit in one area. Since the underneath was still wet, it helped it to bleed. If you do this first, or after it has completely dried, the color will take to heavy in each area. The seams got a heavier coat as well to give the separation between boards.  

I alternated colors, and areas, until I got the  aged look I was going for. 

We did the vent hood at the same time.

 Sealing was next on the agenda....I did alot of research on what the best product was going to be, I decided on Waterlox. It's meant to really seal in the pores of the wood, and "lock" out the water. 
It comes in a can, and runs about $40. One can did it all, and I still have a little left over. I used a medium sheen here. I purchased this at a specialty wood store in town, Woodcrafters. You could get it online easily as well. The box stores don't carry it. 

So this stuff is stinky, and I mean REALLY stinky. I again, used a foam brush, and coated the surface with one thick coat. Once it's on, its important not to touch the areas again. They will all bleed together, and soak in.

 As it soaks in, certain areas will dry faster than others. The more porous the area, the faster it will soak it. Once completely dry, you can add another coat. I lightly sanded between coats, its not necessary, but I felt like the grain started to pucker, this smooths it out a bit. I added coat after coat, until no more soaked into the wood, meaning the last layer sits on the top of the wood. This layer drys really slowly.
 Every type of wood will seal differently. I used 4 coats on mine.
This is really a step you can flake on. The sealer is super important for the longevity of the counters.
Once it was fully coated, and dry, I gave the whole top a good sanding with the palm sander. The grain is already filled in so I wasn't worried about the durability of it, I just didn't like how shiny it looked. 

I did test several areas to see how it held up. I put a large spot of water on the finish, and left it overnight, to makes sure no water would seep in, it didn't even soak in a bit!

 I also tried the staining potential, putting  tomato sauce on an area, and let it sit overnight, no staining.

We loved how it came out, and it held up so well. We were ready for the rest of the counters. We waited until we did the full kitchen remodel to start (see that here). 
They all got the same treatment with the same steps. We did alternate the size boards we used on these though. 

Putting front trim on first. Then attaching the board closest to the outside first, and working our way in. You have more wiggle room this way. You can cut the back piece how ever you need. Our walls weren't flush, and we didn't want this to reflect from the front. 

We butted the counter directly up to the edge of the new cabinet, leaving a little gap for expansion. We also installed the back splash before the last piece. I felt like the line would look cleaner.

It looks like a log cabin here, to much wood for me, I was just itching to paint it all!! 

In the end I added a trim piece all the way around the counter, so any gaps were disguised, and painted it to match the back splash.

 There will be a seam with most counters. We considered doing an angle, but it seemed unnatural, and a ton of work to get each board lined up perfectly. 

So what was the cost??
For the counter top Poplar, the pine edging, and the plywood base, we spent about $187...a small fraction of what granite would have cost. The trim pieces for the island itself, and the wood posts, cost about $85. Not a bad island make over for $272.
The other counters came out about the same, we used one long board, split in two, for two counter areas. The island had to be one long board.  About $185 for the rest of the counters, including the pine edging, and the top trim piece to finish it of next to the back splash. 

I know it seems like alot of work, but it very simple, just alot of layers, and some time. I measured and laid it out on paper, so I knew exactly what sizes I needed, and had the guys at Lowe's cut the wood for us. Poplar is tough, and I didn't want to chew it up to much on the table saw...and why not save some time. 

WE love, love, love, our kitchen. It feels a bit farmhouse, meets beach house. 
Here is where you can see the whole kitchen, and what we did. 
I'll also fill you in on how I did the crown molding, the easy way....and the scoop on the cabinet we added at the edge of the kitchen, and how we converted the bottom door into a pull-out trash can. 

Check it out over at Remodelaholic too......

I party with Remodelaholic


  1. did you do anything (wood putty/ glue) to the seams of the wood planks on the counters?

  2. Alyson,

    i'm mid-kitchen reno and miraculously found your blog... answering all my kitchen hopes and dreams... can i ask how the countertops are holding up any issues over the dishwasher or with the sink? please email... i'd love to chat about the process and pick your brain... so i can answer all my dad's (the builder/contractor on this project) questions.

  3. I am also interested about how they are holding up? any water damage? I am re-doing my kitchen hoping to sell my house soon, I have a VERY limited budget for my projects.

  4. This may be a dumb question but are the counter tops stained before they are installed or after? I assumed they were stained before since the waterlox is so smelly but from looking at the pictures it looks like they are stained after. Which is it? :)