How to Install Butcher Block Backsplash

Installing a butcher block backsplash in your kitchen can add warmth, texture, and visual interest to the space. Butcher block is made from hardwoods like maple or oak and is incredibly durable. With proper care and maintenance, a butcher block backsplash can last for decades. Installing one is a relatively straightforward DIY project if you’re up for the challenge. This guide will walk you through the entire process, from selecting the right butcher block material to sealing and protecting your new backsplash.

Choosing Your Butcher Block Material

The first step is deciding what specific type of butcher block you want to use. Here are some of the most common options:

Maple Butcher Block

  • Maple is a pale hardwood that sands to a smooth finish. It has a fine, uniform grain that looks clean and modern.
  • Durable and resistant to wear. The Janka hardness rating for maple is 1450.
  • Stains and finishes evenly for consistent color.
  • On the affordable end of the spectrum for solid wood.

Oak Butcher Block

  • Oak has a bolder grain pattern with dark mineral streaks that add visual interest.
  • It’s very durable with a Janka hardness rating of 1290.
  • Stains deeply and holds dark finishes well. Provides a traditional look.
  • More expensive than maple but still budget-friendly.

Walnut Butcher Block

  • Prized for its rich dark brown color and flowing grain pattern.
  • Extremely hard at a Janka rating of 1010. Scratches and dents less easily than other woods.
  • Requires less maintenance because the tannins make it more resistant to water and stains.
  • One of the pricier exotic hardwood options, but provides a luxury look.

Bamboo Butcher Block

  • Made from gluing together strips of bamboo stalk. Provides an eco-friendly option.
  • Very durable at a Janka hardness of 1,380. Resists moisture and swelling.
  • Light blonde color that stains easily. Mimics the look of more expensive woods.
  • Affordable option good for modern or industrial style kitchens.

Once you decide on the right wood species for your goals and budget, purchase boards or panels in the dimensions needed for your backsplash area. Keep thickness between 1/2 to 1 inch.

Preparing Your Backsplash Area

Before installing the butcher block backsplash, you need to make sure the wall surface is properly prepared:

  • Clean the wall thoroughly – Remove any oils, grease or soap residues using degreasing cleaners and rinse well. This allows the adhesive to bond properly.
  • Repair any imperfections – Fill holes or cracks with spackle and sand smooth. Butcher block shows any dents or uneven areas underneath, so take time to fix them.
  • Remove existing backsplash – Carefully pry off and discard old backsplash tiles or panels using a putty knife or pry bar. Wear safety glasses and gloves.
  • Create a moisture barrier (optional) – For added leakage protection, apply waterproofing membranes like RedGard to the entire backsplash area.
  • Prime the wall – After cleaning and prepping, apply a coat of primer to create a uniform surface for the wood panels to adhere to. Allow primer to dry fully.

Your workspace is now ready for installing the beautiful new butcher block backsplash!

Cutting and Fitting the Butcher Block Pieces

Butcher block planks typically come in standard widths like 4 inches, 6 inches or 8 inches. So you’ll need to cut and arrange pieces to fit your backsplash layout.

  • First, measure the backsplash area and sketch out a plan for how the pieces will be arranged. Mix up the grain direction for visual interest.
  • Use a table saw or circular saw to cut the planks to the proper lengths as measured. Cut slowly and carefully to get clean edges.
  • Use a jigsaw to make any necessary custom cutouts, like around electrical boxes or outlets. Cut just inside the line.
  • Sand all edges with 120-150 grit sandpaper to remove saw marks and round over sharp corners. Wipe away dust.
  • Dry fit the pieces on the wall until you achieve the desired arrangement. Lightly tack pieces in place with painter’s tape.
  • Make minor adjustments using a block plane or belt sander to perfect the fit. Number the pieces so you can reassemble properly.

Once the butcher block backsplash pieces fit together cleanly, you’re ready for final installation.

Securing the Butcher Block to the Wall

There are a few methods available for securely attaching your butcher block panels to the wall as a backsplash.

Construction Adhesive

This popular option involves applying heavy duty construction adhesive directly onto the wall surface.

  • Use Loctite Power Grab, Liquid Nails, or similar construction adhesive designed for wood bonding.
  • Run a zigzag bead across the back of each piece using a caulking gun.
  • Press each piece firmly into place for 30-60 seconds to flatten and spread the adhesive. Use a J-roller to help.
  • Use painter’s tape to support pieces while the adhesive dries. Let cure fully for 24-48 hours.

Silicone Adhesive

For a flexible, waterproof bond, use a pure silicone adhesive instead:

  • Apply GE Silicone II or a similar product rated for kitchen use in a zigzag pattern.
  • Immediately press pieces into place with steady force. Tape in position.
  • The silicone remains flexible to allow the wood to expand and contract minimally.
  • Slightly more expensive than construction adhesive but provides a water-resistant seal.

Mechanical Fasteners

Screws or nails can be used alone or in conjunction with adhesive:

  • Pre-drill clearance holes to prevent splitting the wood. Drill undersized pilot holes first.
  • For a concealed look, use 3D wall panel screws inserted into studs at an angle along the top and bottom of pieces.
  • Finish nails can be punched in around the perimeter and filled with wood putty for a seamless appearance.
  • Combining mechanical fasteners with adhesive provides an incredibly strong bond.

Regardless of the method, take care to properly space fasteners or adhesive beads to keep the butcher block as flat to the wall as possible. Uneven bonding can cause warping over time. Press pieces tightly into place while securing.

Sealing and Protecting the Wood

Butcher block requires sealing to prevent water damage and staining in a backsplash application. You have two basic options:

Oil Finish

  • Apply 2-3 thin coats of food grade mineral oil using a clean cloth.
  • Let oil fully absorb for 30-60 minutes between coats.
  • Buff off any excess oil until the surface feels dry to the touch.
  • Reapply oil monthly or whenever the grain looks dry.
  • Enriches color and provides light protection. Easy to recoat as needed.

Polyurethane Finish

  • Brush on 2-3 thin coats of oil based polyurethane, sanding lightly between each with 220 grit paper.
  • Allow at least 2-4 hours of drying time per coat.
  • Provides a protective plastic-like film and more stain resistance than oil.
  • Harder to repair or recoat. Use satin or matte sheens to minimize shiny appearance.

No finish is 100% waterproof, so be sure to quickly wipe up spills and splashes to maintain your butcher block backsplash. Proper care keeps it looking like new for years of everyday use.

Maintaining and Refreshing Your Butcher Block

Follow these tips for keeping your butcher block backsplash in great shape:

  • Wipe up spills right away to prevent stains and watermarks.
  • Wash occasionally with mild soap and water. Rinse thoroughly and dry completely.
  • Reapply protective oil or polyurethane coats as needed when the finish appears worn or dry.
  • Sand lightly with fine sandpaper to refresh the surface and remove stains. Avoid abrasive cleaners.
  • To revive a faded or tired finish, sand the entire surface with 180 grit paper and reapply your coating.
  • For deep scratches and cuts, use wood filler in a close matching color before recoating.
  • Avoid placing hot pans directly from the stove or oven onto the wood surface. Use trivets and hot pads.

With periodic care, your butcher block backsplash will develop a rich patina and provide beauty in your kitchen for years to come. The warm wood tones and pronounced grain patterns will never go out of style.

Frequently Asked Questions About Installing Butcher Block Backsplash

Many homeowners have additional questions when taking on the project of installing a butcher block backsplash. Here are answers to some of the most common queries:

Does butcher block need to be finished before installing as a backsplash?

It’s best practice to finish butcher block prior to installation. This allows you to apply protective oil or polyurethane to all sides evenly. Trying to finish the wood while mounted risks uneven penetration or blotchiness where pieces meet the wall.

What’s the best wood species for kitchen backsplash use?

Maple provides the hardest and smoothest surface for a backsplash. Oak adds bold graining. Walnut offers luxury. Bamboo is eco-friendly and affordable. Any wood with a Janka hardness rating above 1000 will resist water and knife scars.

Can you use plywood instead of solid wood for a backsplash?

Plywood lacks the durability, moisture resistance and attractive grain patterns of solid wood. Stick with higher quality hardwoods or bamboo panels specifically designed for butcher block usage. The investment will pay off.

What thickness of wood should be used?

A thickness between 1/2 and 1 inch provides the right balance of aesthetics and function for a backsplash. Thinner wood risks warping. Thicker is heavier and requires extensive shaping or milling to fit around outlets and fixtures.

How far apart should the wood pieces be spaced?

It’s common to space pieces with a 1/16 to 1/8 inch gap to account for wood movement. The spacing is minimal for a tight-fitting geometric wall pattern. Adhesive fills small gaps well for a seamless look.

What if my backsplash area isn’t perfectly square or flat?

Use a power planer, belt sander or block plane to make minor adjustments in thickness on the back side of pieces to account for dips or bows in the wall. This custom fitting helps panels sit flush despite imperfections.

How do you cut holes for electrical boxes in butcher block?

Use a jigsaw fitted with a fine finish blade to cut openings for outlets or switches. Clamp a guide board to ensure straight cuts. Make multiple passes around the perimeter rather than forcing the blade through the dense wood.

Can you use epoxy as the adhesive instead of silicone or construction adhesive?

Two-part epoxy forms an incredibly strong permanent bond. But it lacks flexibility to allow for wood movement, eventually resulting in cracks or buckling. Stick with silicone or adhesives specifically designed for installing wood panels.

Final Thoughts

Installing a butcher block backsplash enables you to add a unique focal point to your kitchen using warm, natural wood tones and interesting grain patterns. While the process requires careful planning and patience, the end result is well worth the effort. Be sure to properly prepare your wall surface, measure and cut materials to fit perfectly, adhere using the best bonding method for your goals, apply a protective finish, and maintain the wood over time. With this comprehensive guide, you can install an eye-catching butcher block backsplash like a pro. Here’s to successfully completing your project and enjoying your new backsplash for years to come!