Bungalow Kitchen Reno: Preparing the "Ingredients" (a.k.a. The Great Butcher Block Track-Down)

As a reminder, here's the before...
After diving into our bungalow remodel (which I introduced in my last post), things actually moved along fairly quickly, and we tried to be as tactful as possible as far as scheduling and planning. We knew that our kitchen would be difficult to use, so we set up stations throughout the house to hand wash dishes (master bath sink), cook things in the toaster oven (buffet in living room), and, most importantly, make our coffee (Michael's desk in the office, which worked out nicely since I spend 80% of my day in there anyway...in fact, trying to remember why we didn't keep the coffeemaker in here...). Nevertheless, much take-out was consumed in the process, which was rough on all fronts, but it comes with the territory. 

The first step was the project that started it all: new sink and new counters. We were very fortunate to have a family member of a friend of ours recommended to help us with this stage of things. I have to say, one of the most daunting aspects of home improvement for us is often finding the right people to help us (without doing it halfway, charging us our firstborn, or being unpleasant to have in our home for days on end). God was absolutely looking out for His kiddos in this regard, as we couldn't have been happier with the folks in our home. Stellar work, lots of laughs and high-fives, and even Scrappy didn't seem to mind the extra humans in his lair.
Speaking of which, say "Hello" to Dave, everyone...
"Hi, Dave!"
Before scheduling the counter and sink install, we had two very important jobs: (1) find the materials ("ingredients," if you will), and (2) prep the butcher block. Both jobs were vital to the final outcome, from both a functional and aesthetic perspective, so we didn't even schedule the install until both items were knocked out.

We managed to snag some solid wood butcher blocks from our "local" IKEA (I use quotation marks because it's an hour and a half away from us). The butcher blocks are no longer offered in the store or online, and are being discontinued as soon as supplies have sold out. This news is actually what accelerated the kitchen reno project, as we knew we couldn't find a deal like we would at IKEA, and we were not willing to use the partial particle board counters. We tracked them down and brought them home as soon as we could to get working on them. 

Inside scoop: if you're trying to get the solid wood butcher block, contact your local IKEA to see if they still have any in the warehouse. If so, you'll have to buy them with the home delivery service. Weird rule, but it actually worked out nicely for us because we didn't have to schlep them in the Jeep, and the delivery charge still made the whole purchase cheaper than the alternatives. Of course, if you're not in a delivery zone, this option is probably not available. Which, boo.
This is me sanding.
Dress by Forever21 (I know you're dying to know)

We sanded off the factory finish, knowing we wanted to stain, using 180 grit sandpaper on a mouse sander, finished with a 220 grit sandpaper. (We weren't trying to get too deeply into the wood, as they were already fairly smooth, so these finer grits were perfect.) I had never used a sander before, but by the end of this whole project, we were BFFs.  

Quick sanding tips: 

  • Always sand WITH (i.e. in the direction of) the grain of the wood
  • Wear goggles and a mask -- Safety first! 
  • Get more tack cloths than you think you'll need
  • Don't underestimate the amazingness of brown paper bags as sanding tools (More on this later...)

I'm sure there are many different approaches that could be taken, but we talked with our expert (Dave) and decided to sand first, install second, and stain last. The thought was that we could fully stain all exposed sides in place, and have a better sense of the desired tone once it was actually in the space. We did, however, apply three coats of Waterlox to the underside of that longest run of butcher block (near the sink and dishwasher) to protect from condensation and warping over time, given those areas would be most vulnerable.


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