We built this huge kitchen counter with a butcher block countertop in our off-grid tiny house using only basic lumber and tools. The entire project took five days to complete, and cost a grand total of $350 for the building materials. In this article, we’re going to walk you through the process of how we built it, and hopefully give you some inspiration to make your own.
This was the first time we ever built a counter like this, so we made few mistakes along the way, and learned a lot from them. At the end of the article, we’ll share some tips with you to help you avoid some problems, and get the best results.
Before we get into the steps, let’s go over some details about the counter so everything makes sense…
This counter was designed for a minimalistic off-grid kitchen. That means no conventional plumbing or running water. It was built inside of our tiny house that only has 288 square feet of bottom floorspace, so it was important for the counter to not take up too much space while also providing a lot of surface area. The countertop is a bit higher than a conventional kitchen counter because we needed to fit our small fridge under it. You’ll probably want to make yours a little shorter if you’re not doing the same thing.
You might be confused about how the sink works… It’s a basic gravity setup. A large container of water with a spout sits on the shelf above the sink. The water flows down the drain through a pipe in to a five gallon bucket. When the bucket is full, we use the water to water our trees, which we can do because we use biodegradable soap.
Materials and Tools
We purchased all of the lumber and other building materials from our local hardware store. The lumber is just ordinary pine boards, all standard sizes, common at any big box store. The tools are also nothing fancy. There’s a good chance you already have all of them.
- (1) 4’x8′ sheet of 3/8 inch ACX plywood
- (4) 4″x4″x8′ wooden posts
- (6) 2″x4″8′ boards
- (19) 2″x2″8′ boards
- (1) 1″x4″x12′
- (1) 1″x6″x8′
- (1) 1″x12″x8′
- Small box of #9 3″ interior wood screws
- Large box of #9 2-1/2 inch interior wood screws
- Small box of #8 1-3/4 inch interior wood screws
- Squeeze bottle of Tightbond Premium II wood glue
- 60 grit sandpaper
- Polyurethane or finish of choice
- Power drill
- Circular saw
- Miter saw
- Belt sander or sheet sander
- Good quality general purpose paint brush
- Tape measure
We came up with this design, and didn’t follow any blueprints. You don’t have to be a woodworker to build this counter. Anyone with some basic experience using power tools should have no problem building this if they follow the steps carefully. If you’re a more experienced builder, you’ll probably come up with your own variation to suit your needs.
1. Cut the Lumber
First, we cut all the boards to the proper dimensions using our miter saw and circular saw. We cut the plywood in half with the circular saw to make two 2’x8′ planks. Everything else we cut with the miter saw. The 4″x4″s were cut into six 38″ legs and five 20″ legs; the 2″x4″s were cut into four 24″ boards, five 16″ boards, and four of them were left 8′ long; the 1″x4″ was cut into one 96-3/4″ board and one 24″ board; the 1″x6″ was cut into three 6-13/16″ boards and two 22″ boards; and sixteen of the 2″x2″s were cut into sixty-four 2′ boards. The remaining 2″x2″s were cut to custom lengths, which we’ll go over in future steps.
2. Assemble the Legs
The legs are assembled by screwing three 38″ posts into an 2″x4″x8′ as shown. This is pretty much just like framing a wall. We drilled two 3″ screws in to the bottom of each leg.
3. Assemble the Bottom Platform
We carried the legs into the kitchen and stood them up with the 2″x4″s on the ground, spaced 2′ apart from the outer edges of the boards. We connected the two sets of legs with a 24″ 2″x4″ along the inside edges as shown. Then we laid one of the 8′ planks of plywood across the top of the legs, and screwed a 2″x4″ over it lengthwise on each side. Our legs weren’t perfectly straight – common lumber is never perfectly straight – so we had to bend them quite a bit to get everything to line up perfectly. Lastly, we put the 16″ 2″x4″s on top of the plywood in between the soul plates, evenly spaced from one end to the other.
4. Assemble the Top
At this point, you’ve probably realized we’ve been building the counter upside down, so the next step was to flip it over. Then we screwed down the other sheet of plywood in to the 2″x4″ top plates using a few 1-3/4″ screws on each side. This creates a flat surface to assemble the butcher block on, and also adds strength and stability the the counter. Lastly, we ran another pair of 24″ 2″x4″ across the bottom legs widthwise for even more stability.
5. Outline the Hole for the Sink
Before starting on the butcher block, we outlined where the hole for the counter needs to go. Then we measured the dimensions and position of the outline. This will make more sense in future steps.
6. Create the Butcher Block
We don’t have a workshop and 100 pipe clamps, so we had to come up with another way of creating butcher blocks. Screws make pretty good clamps, and can even bend crooked boards to make them flush, so we used a simple screw-and-glue technique to achieve the same result as clamped-and-glued boards.
On the far end of the counter that meets the wall, we screwed down one 2″x2″ along the edge with two 2-1/2″ screws. This is the anchor board that supported the rest of the butcher block as we screwed the rest of the boards together from the side. You can remove these screws when the counter is done, or sink them like we did. As we screwed the boards together, we put a thick strip of glue along the side and bottom of each board, and were careful to stagger the screws so they didn’t hit each other.
When we got to the section where the sink goes, we screwed outside of the outline we made so when we cut out the hole, we won’t hit any screws.
7. Cut Out the Hole for the Sink
As soon as we got one board past the outline for the sink, we drew a new outline using the measurements we took in step 5, let the glue dry overnight, and then cut out the hole with our circular saw. If you have a 7-1/4″ framing saw, you’ll have no problem sawing all the way through the counter. If you have a reciprocating saw, even better. Unfortunately, we only have a 5-1/2″ hobby saw, so this was a nightmare. We should have cut through the plywood before we put down the butcher. Regardless, we made it work.
The reason we did this before finishing the butcher block was so that if we messed up, we wouldn’t ruin the whole counter. Once those boards are screwed and glued together, they don’t come apart. In other words, if you screw up a section after the counter’s finished, you can’t just replace that section, you need to replace the whole countertop. Doing this early also enabled us to put the sink in place so we could see if there would be any potential problems with it.
8. Finish the Butcher Block
This step is pretty self explanatory.
9. Add Moulding Around the Sides and Back
In a perfect world, one 2″x2″x8′ should produce four identical 2′ boards, but in reality, this isn’t the case. Every time you cut a board with the miter saw, you lose a little bit of extra wood to the width of the saw blade; so your last board will always turnout a little less than 2′. This means that when you assemble the butcher block, one edge will be perfectly flat, but the other will be staggered. The easiest way to fix this problem is by putting a piece of moulding over the back edge. We used another 2″x2″8′ for this, but a “1×2″ would also work.
We put the 1″x4″ boards along the front and side, screwing them in with four 1-3/4” screws on the front, and two on the side.
10. Build the Storage Box
Since our counter doesn’t have drawers, we built a box on the left end of it to hold utensils. It also serves a couple other purposes: 1. It prevents things from sliding off the edge of the counter, which is really important for us since our generator is down there. 2. It covers a small gap.
In theory, sixty-four 1-1/2″ boards side by side should add up to exactly 96″, or 8′; however, that doesn’t work in reality. After the boards are all screwed together, your counter will likely be slightly less than 96″. This isn’t a huge deal, though. You can cut a thin piece of wood to fill the gap, fill it with wood filler, or simply cover it like we did.
The box was made out of the 1″x6″ boards we cut in step 1. We assembled it by screwing the boards together with 1-3/4″ screws, and screwed the bottom down to the countertop. You can probably tell from the photos how we put it together – after all, it’s just a rectangular box, nothing fancy.
11. Sand and Fill Gaps
2″x2″s are not exactly 2″x2″. Their nominal thickness is 1-1/2″x1-1/2″, but even that’s not totally precise. So what you end up with is a countertop that is not flat. The only way to fix this is by sanding it until it is perfectly flat. This takes a long time and a lot of patience.
The best way to do this is with a belt sander, but we managed to get it done with our little sheet sander. We used 60 grit paper, and with a little bit of practice, were able to get the counter perfectly flat in one afternoon.
We also had some gaps in the countertop that needed to be filled. Don’t be alarmed if this happens to you, too. We filled the gaps with sawdust from the sander and wood glue, then sanded the excess glue off after it dried. As you can see, it worked quite well.
12. Erect the Second Level
The large shelf that sits on top of the counter is obviously 100 percent optional, but in our case, we really need this extra storage space. We’re not fans of cupboards and cabinets, so a large second level seemed like the best solution. Interesting side note: we were originally going to make the counter one level, 11′ long, but doing it this way instead actually gave us an extra 2 sq ft of surface area, and freed up 6 sq ft of floorspace where we can now build or put something else.
We stood up the legs where they needed to go, and carefully set the 1″x12″ on top of them. Then we screwed the plank down to them using two 1-3/4″ screws in each leg. Then, from underneath the counter, we screwed two 2-1/2″ screws in to the bottom of the legs.
You may have noticed the legs are arranged in an unconventional way. The first and third leg are set back to the moulding; the second leg is offset to the opposite side of the shelf; and the fourth leg is actually two legs butt up against each other and set all the way back. This was the best way to achieve maximum stability and usable countertop real estate.
Note: the caulk around the moulding and the sink was a mistake – long story – but didn’t matter because these spots are getting covered up anyway.
13. Apply the First Coat of Polyurethane
Before moving on to the final steps of constructing the counter, we applied the first coat of poly. We did this for a couple of reasons: 1. Poly takes a really long time to dry, and the first coat needs to dry for 24 hours before sanding and additional coats. 2. This would allow us to poly areas that will later have more moulding put over them, which isn’t essential, but since the poly is for protection as well as looks, it seemed like a good idea – e.g. if water gets under the moulding, it won’t soak in to the wood.
14. Add the Final Moulding
After the poly has dried for a few hours, it’s safe to – carefully – add the final strips of moulding. The final strips of moulding went along the back in between the legs for the shelf, and around the sink. Obviously, the size of your sink will determine the length and width of your moulding. For us, 2″x2″‘s worked perfectly. We put another strip of moulding along the back to double the width so that it would be usable counter space instead of wasted space – you can’t really put anything on a 1-1/2″ surface, but 3″ is perfect for spices, bottles, and small jars.
15. Apply the Final Coats of Poly
All together, we put five coats of poly on the countertop, and three coats over the entire piece. Be prepared: this takes a really long time. We recommend waiting at least 4 to 6 hours between coats. We spread it out over two days. We found that the last two coats dried faster than the first few.
Here are some pics of the finished counter being put to use…
After we finished the counter, we talked about things we wish we’d done differently. These are just little things that would have made the job easier.
- We should have put up the moulding on the front of the counter before we made the butcher block. It would have been easier to line up the front edges of the boards with the edge of the countertop.
- When we started putting down the butcher block boards, we were rotating them to find the most attractive face, not the best fit. We quickly realized this was a mistake. It makes more sense to rotate the boards until you find the best fit because an ugly or rough face can be sanded away later.
- We recommend buying a few more boards then you need in case you make a mistake or get a bad board. We bought our 2″x2″s in bundles, and suffice it to say, some of the boards were barely usable. Luckily, we had extras. You should also plan on going through a lot of sandpaper.
- We should have sanded the butcher block before we put the first strip of moulding over the back. We put it on there to see how it would fit, with the intention of removing it during sanding, and then putting it back. But due to how far back we had to set it, the screws are just barely going through the edges. We didn’t want to risk damaging it by removing it, so we just left it.
- As long as your counter is flush to the wall, it shouldn’t wobble; but if it does, you’ll need to anchor it to the wall. We would probably do this with L-brackets screwed and mounted on the inside of the back legs.