View Full Version : Need advice on kitchen benchtop choices

Make it work
16th Jan 2010, 03:41 AM
Hi all, we are in the middle of a huge kitchen reno and are almost up to the benchtops.

We planned to use 80 x 19 Blackbutt floor boards, glued and screwed to 12mm marine ply and finished with Organoil.

Although we love the look, we are begining to second guess the suitability of timber as a benchtop and are asking you to share your experiences with different benchtop materials, maintenance, ease of installation, practicality as well as a cost. (we are on a fairly tight budget)

We already have the materials to go with our first choice but are concerned about the life span of the timber in this application, so that is why we have asked the question.

It would kill me to have to start pulling the kitchen apart in a few years because it is either tired looking or did not stand up to the job.

Thanks in advance

Master Splinter
16th Jan 2010, 03:50 PM
If you are on a really tight budget, it is very, very hard to go past standard laminate benchtops for utility and robustness.

A DIY benchtop laminated together out of flooring timber and plywood runs the risk of warping over time - you've got two materials with different expansion characteristics - I think you'd be better off using a double layer of boards laminated together with epoxy, as at least that way the material would be the same on both faces of the benchtop.

Honorary Bloke
19th Jan 2010, 08:54 AM
MS is on the money. :)

Please do not consider mixing timber and plywood this way. It will end in tears. The blackbutt will expand and contract and the ply will not and cracks will be the result. And soon.

You can build the bench top from double thickness blackbutt, as MS mentioned, making sure the grain runs in the same direction. Or, go with the laminate.

25th Jan 2010, 04:20 PM
Sorry, but as an old woody I disagree - but wouldn't use ply as the substrate. Timber is a highly versatile safe and solid choice for bench tops. In my first house I had no money and a huge mortgage etc and so used laminated cupboard fronts with timber surrounds and 45mm planks that I joined (dowel and glue those days) - and I used radiata (rats of the forest my forester brother in law calls it!). It looked great and was still in good serviceable condition 12 years later when we sold and is still in use after 23 years. Polyurethane semi-gloss coated.

My current kitchen benches have been in for 11 years and are brush box floorboards with polyurethane coating too (see pic). Glued and screwed to other lengths of brush box and fixed to the cupboards fork underneath. I used glulam for the bench tops in many kitchens over many years and all were very satisfied.

Advantages: it is real timber; the are forgiving of dropped items, they are clean and easy to maintain (oiled or poly finish both easy to maintain - I have one that has been maintained now for 15 years using olive oil!); there are many colour choices and finishes; and did I say they are real timber . . .

Disadvantages: it is real timber - so need to select well, finish well, maintain well and use well (you should use a timber bench, marble bench or a laminate bench as a cutting block or sit hot saucepans etc directly on them - same with wood although wood is more forgiving of heat and scratches and marks can be removed or left as patina/ ageing); using real timber means you really need to select it well and acclimatise it to the new site. Not many other problems IMO.

Really it's personal choice - some people love it and some hate it, but for utility it is actually hard to beat. Funny - the fad of stainless steel in residential kitchens is odd to me. I have worked in commercial kitchens and the stainless steel there makes sense as it can be cleaned and scrubbed (and it gets that steel wool polished satin finish from constant scrubbing), but it is actually hard to keep looking clean and will always get scratches and marks, it is a killer for knives and a hot pan on a bench can permanently buckle it. So timber is my choice.

More important IMO is a) have the bench tops at the right height - and that is higher than most standard kitchens which still use 900mm +-20mm, but I reckon 100-1050 or even 1100 is more useful for most people. means some adjustments for things like dishwashers (I have added a a drawer unit under to lift the height), but saves on backs and all sort of other usability issues. Important to know who the users are though - no point if the family is short! and b) the bench top lip should overhang by at least 50mm not the usual 20-25mm. The reason I do this is to i) get a bit of extra bench space and ii) more importantly any spills from bench tops go onto directly the floor not the cupboards fronts. Seems trivial - but ask the person who uses the kitchen most or clans up most!

Bit of a rave there, but hope it's useful.

Stone Queen
27th Jan 2010, 02:43 AM
Hi, This might help

Kitchen benchtops usually require sturdy, non porous material such as reconstituted stone and granite that can take a lot of heavy wear, hot pots, etc

Quartz benchtops have a more luxurious aesthetic, offering the look of natural stone without any of the drawback associated with natural stone such as scratches, stains etc.
The end result of a quartz benchtop surface is harder and more durable than natural and is completely nonporous, so unlike timber, stainless steel, marble and granite, quartz benchtops do mot require sealing and are highly resistent to permannt staining from spills such as coffee and red wine etc. Best of all reliable colour consistency stronger, hygenic and virtually maitenance free. I love the look of timber benchtops, but stone benchtops last a life time. The price is not expensive, you just need expert advise. If you need further assistance ill be happy to help.
Cheers Rhonda

29th Jan 2010, 05:49 PM
I'm a wood fan!
Have laminated Tas Oak in my kitchen with a 2pc finish stuff on it. It's very hard wearing - been on there now for about 12 years.
Kitchen in previous house we did the same (lived there for 7years) and again it was wonderful.
No probs at all and gives the home a lovely earthy feel.
Water isn't an issue.
I guess if you scorch it with something hot, it could always be sanded back and re-enamaled again. Can't do that on laminex.
Good luck with whatever you choose.

29th Jan 2010, 06:19 PM
I'd go with the double thickness flooring as per MS.

FWIW, we put Granite on the benchtops in 2000. Would do it again in a heartbeat. They have had no maintenance, polishing, etc since they were installed, and look perfect today as they did when installed. The yanks seem to talk about regular polishing of Granite, but it seems a con to me. It is rock after all...


Make it work
1st Feb 2010, 02:12 AM
Hi all and thanks for the replies, they have really helped me to understand the issue.

I have been doing a lot of reading here on this brilliant site and elsewhere as well as making a few calls to certain companies who should be in the know with these sort of matters and I have decided on a course of action.

Wonder Wife said (and I agreed), we always wanted timber, we already have the timber, we know it will need some maintenance, now lets go and MAKE IT WORK... so here we go.

You guys said that the plywood substrate has a different rate of expansion and contraction to the blackbutt, and I read that a blackbutt benchtop 600mm wide can expand as much as 2 or 3mm depending on the humidity. This could either make the top bow upwards if it expands or crack through the grain of the timber if it contracts. The latter is more likely seeing as it will be installed in a rather humid time of year here in Sydney and it will be so for the next couple of months.

My plan is to put 1mm saw cuts in the ply @ 85mm spacings and through 4 of the 5 layers of ply. These will line up with the T & G joins in the blackbutt. Then I will glue and screw the BB to the ply. I will cover the new saw cuts with some narrow tape to stop glue from filling the gap.

Effectively this will allow the ply expand and contract with the hard wood top.

I also plan to fix it down from underneath through oversize holes (10mm) drilled through the carcase and using a screw and washer so as to give the benchtop assembly the ability to move but still be held down. Same principle as polycarb roofing.

My third action will be to seal it from the bottom and edges as well as the top to minimise the effects of the himidity in the air and therefore minimise the expansion and contraction of the hardwood.

Please feel free to coment, call me crazy, or what ever you think but either way, thanks for the replies.

I'll let you know how it goes. (If nobody manages to talk me out of it)

1st Feb 2010, 12:17 PM
I'm not getting how all this workup on the Ply option is going to make the job easier for you, or better in the long term than a double layer of the same timber?

It might work fine, but then again, it might not. I once built a monitor hutch out of fresh radiata and put a thick edge around it in hardwood. All the experts told me that it looked great, but would pull itself apart after a few seasons. It's still hanging in there 4 years later so I must be lucky, but that was only an afternoon's work - I don't think I'd fly against the collective wisdom for a benchtop.


Master Splinter
1st Feb 2010, 08:49 PM
Just do two layers of timber. Glue together with epoxy, stagger the joins between the layers so they don't overlap.

That way, your timber is glued to something with exactly the same expansion characteristics - as a general rule, unbalanced laminations will distort over time (even a thin ply skin on a solid core door can cause warping unless there is a skin on the other side as well).

Even leaving one surface unfinished can cause distortion due to uneven moisture take up - so make sure you finish both sides with the same stuff (don't leave the exposed bottom side unfinished)

Make it work
1st Feb 2010, 09:50 PM
Unfortunately, I don't have the height to do 2 layers of Blackbutt, I am limited to 31mm max on one end of one side and it will take a whole lot of surgery to make 38mm fit. That's why I went for 12mm ply as a substrate.

Makes you wonder how the hardwood floors in any of the old houses survived when they were finished and sealed on the top side but open to the elements and often damp sub floors on the unsealed bottom side, at the same time nailed down to hardwood joists that do not have the same expansion characteristics as the flooring.

These floors are far bigger than the 630mm I am using so how come it is not such a problem for a floor as it is for a bench made from flooring?

Oh yeah, earlier today we decided that the expansion cuts in the ply will be placed in the centre of the hardwood strips so the T & G joints are supported a bit better.

Make it work
6th Sep 2011, 12:30 AM
FOLLOW UP REPORT - We made our benchtop as described in Feb 10, straight after the last post and finished with a Hard Wax Oil. It looked FANTASTIC and still looks brand new over 18 months on, there is absolutely no signs of warping, bowing, shrinking, cracking, discolouration or deterioration. I fixed it to allow for expansion or contraction but to date it seems to be very stable, even though we have had quite a wide variety of climatic conditions.

I just thought that anyone who may be interested should know that the method I suggested has so far seems to be a winner, I promise to report anything to the contrary

BTW - The total cost was under $400 all finished.

7th Sep 2011, 08:04 AM
with timber tops you have to allow for expansion/contraction of the different materials .you will be effectivley making a floating floor type of benchtop and the main problem is the expansion/contraction while still keeping the feature boards level and free to move .with solid timber tops we only use a few screws in strategic locations .may i suggest that you use dome headed screws with washers through an oversized hole as fixtures between the substrate and top

Make it work
7th Sep 2011, 08:55 PM
Thanks Tom but the job is all done. I was just posting a follow up so that anyone who searched and found the original post would know the result.

When I finished it was like a solid timber top and I fixed it down as you said, just in strategic locations.

She's a beauty, especially for under $400.

12th Sep 2011, 05:54 PM
pics or it didnt happen :P

Make it work
12th Sep 2011, 07:07 PM
pics or it didnt happen :P

That's fair enough, here you are... plenty more where they came from...