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My Finished DIY Butcherblock-Style Countertop Made From Red Oak Hardwood Flooring

I actually have one finished project in my pantry now! One thing I can actually, officially cross off of my “to do” list for that room. My countertop that I made from red oak hardwood flooring is finished! Here’s how it turned out…

And it was super simple! All I had to do was sand, wood fill, sand, sand again, sand once more, bleach, sand, bleach again, sand again, stain, sand, and topcoat!

😀 Okay, so it wasn’t exactly super simple. But none of that was terribly difficult, and I was able to get through all of those steps, by myself, in one day.

So let me back up a bit. First of all, if you missed the first part of this project, you can click this link to find it:

That post was all about how I built the actual countertop, so now let me show you how I finished it. After I built the counteretop, this is what it looked like…

It was definitely a good start, but if you looked closely, you could see just how rough it was. I used the unfinished red oak hardwood flooring that Home Depot carries in stock at the local store, and it’s labeled “utility grade.” There’s a reason for that. It’s pretty rough and requires quite a bit of sanding. And I also had some very noticeable gaps between lots of the boards. When installing this as flooring, you have the advantage of standing over the flooring and using a mallet to get the boards really snug against each other. Plus, just the act of hitting the mallet against the flooring nailer as you nail the boards together also helps to get those boards really tight against each other.

I didn’t have those advantages in making this countertop. So I ended up with a whole lot more gaps than I would have had I been installing a floor. It was the most noticeable on this corner…

See all of those little gaps between the boards?

But I wasn’t worried. It’s nothing that a little wood filler can’t fix. 🙂

Before I got to the wood filler, though, I gave the entire surface a good sanding. Unfortunately, since I was working with red oak, which is a very hard wood, this was no job for my little rotary sander. I had to pull out the big bubba for this job — the dreaded belt sander.

I hate using this thing. It’s a full-body workout. But since my rotary sander wasn’t making a dent in the wood, even on the highest setting and with the 40-grit sanding discs I tried, I had no choice but to pull this thing out and put it to use.

(To avoid confusion, I just want to point out that the belt sander in the photo above is sitting on my finished countertop. 🙂 )

I used 50-grit sandpaper on the belt sander, and it worked beautifully. (Please note that if you’re making a countertop out of soft wood, like pine, you could probably get away with using a rotary sander, and I highly doubt you’d have to start out with 50-grit sandpaper. I’d suggest testing out 80-grit or 100-grit at first just to get a feel for how it’ll work, and then adjusting from there as needed.)

So once the entire thing was sanded with the 50-grit sandpaper on the belt sander, I did go back over the surface very quickly with 100-grit sandpaper in my rotary sander.

Then it was time for the wood filling. This was no job for the dainty little tubs of wood filler that you buy at the big box stores, and that you smoosh into small cracks and nail holes with your finger. No, that wouldn’t do.

This was a job for full-trowel wood filler, and just as the name suggests, you use a trowel to apply it to the entire surface.

This isn’t a product that I could find locally, so I had to purchase it on Amazon (click here to find the one I bought). And when buying full-trowel wood filler, you purchase the specific one for the species of wood you’re working with. This isn’t a one-color-fits-all kind of product. So I bought the one specifically for red oak.

I troweled the wood filler over the entire surface, making sure to push it into the cracks as I went along. This was actually a very quick (and oddly satisfying) process.

Here’s how it looked when it was (mostly) dry…

Once it’s dry, you can use a rotary sander to sand it smooth, but I chose again to use the belt sander just to make the job go faster. As much as I hate the belt sander, it took about 1/3 the amount of time it would have taken me to sand with the rotary sander.

So here’s a quick before and after of one specific area. This is after the initial sanding with the 50-grit sandpaper on the belt sander, but before the wood filling…

And here is that same area after the wood filling and sanding…

After the initial sanding of the wood filler with the belt sander, I followed up with my rotary sander and sanded the entire surface with 100-grit, and finally with 150-grit sanding discs.

Now that I had a smooth countertop, I moved on to the next stage of this project — bleaching the wood. My hope was that I could get rid of that pink/orange/salmon undertone that’s so characteristic of red oak.

After doing lots of research on the different ways to bleach wood, I decided that a two-part product was what I needed. There’s a one-step wood bleach product called oxalic acid, but that seems to be more for removing stains and rust from wood, but it doesn’t seem to remove the actual inherent coloring from wood. If you remove carpet and find hardwood floors with pet stains that need to be removed, oxalic acid is what you need.

But for actually lightening the entire natural color of wood, you need a two-part bleaching product. So after comparing reviews and prices on different products, I finally settled on this one, which I found on Amazon. (You can click here to find it.)

So here’s one last look at the countertop before I started the bleaching process…

I couldn’t believe how simple and fast this process was. I followed the directions on the bottle — wear gloves, apply Part A with a clean sponge, saturate the wood, and leave on for ten minutes. This is how it looked with Part A on the wood…

And FYI, that’s pretty much how red oak looks with an oil-based clear coat on it, like oil-based polyurethane or Waterlox. It turns orange. I speak from experience as one who used to have red oak hardwood floors clear coated with Waterlox throughout my house. They were orange. 🙂

Anyway, after ten minutes, I used another clean sponge, and wiped down the countertop with the Part B solution. Then I let it dry (which happened much faster than the bottle said it would), and it looked like this…

Can you tell a difference? I certainly could! Here are a few scraps from the original boards sitting on the newly bleached countertop…

In fact, upon walking into the pantry and seeing the dried countertop for the first time, my very initial thought was, “Oh, great! It turned my red oak into yellow pine!” 😀 But it did, in fact, greatly reduce that pink/orange/salmon undertone in the wood.

I gave it a quick sanding with 150-grit sanding discs on my rotary sander, as the directions stated, and it lightened it up just a bit more. The wood bleaching process raises the grain of the wood, so it’s necessary to sand just to smooth the wood, but it also lightens the color just a bit more.

Then I decided to bleach it a second time. The directions say you can do it twice. I think if you do it more, you run the risk of actually damaging the wood. My understanding is that it can actually weaken the wood fibers or something like that. But it says you can do it twice, so I did it twice.

And here’s a before and after comparison after the second bleaching and sanding…

I think that’s amazing! I think the difference was definitely more noticeable in person than it is in pictures.

After letting the wood dry completely (I set up a very powerful fan to speed up the process), I gave the entire countertop one coat of Minwax Whitewash Picking stain…

…which I applied by brushing on with a regular paint brush, letting it sit for a couple of minutes, and then wiping off the excess with paper towels.

When that was dry, I sanded the surface by hand with 150-grit sandpaper, not only to smooth out the surface, but also to even out the color. And then I followed up with a coat of General Finishes High Performance Topcoat in a flat finish (which I bought here). This is my all-time favorite water-based topcoat. It’s what I used on my kitchen cabinets, and I also plan to topcoat the painted pantry cabinets with it as well. It’s amazing stuff.

So here’s the finished countertop…

I love that it’s light and bright, but there’s no question that it’s wood. It looks amazing with the dark purple that will do on the cabinets, and it doesn’t distract from the tiles that I’ll use on the backsplash.

This was quite the process, but I think it was worth it.


My pantry is finished! Want to see the entire project from start to finish? You can find every single post about the pantry build right here…

Or you can skip to the end and see how it turned out. Here’s a peek of the finished pantry…

Butler's pantry remodel with dark teal lower cabinets, floating corner shelves, and whitewashed wood countertop

You can see more pictures on the before and after post right here…



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  1. It looks fabulous – esp. with the tiles and the purple paint samples. Very well done! I had to giggle though when you wrote it was fairly simple: you enumerated 12 stages of work to go through before that comment 🙂

  2. FANTASTIC! You have inspired me to tackle my circa 1975 oak bedroom set that was included in the purchase of our home.

  3. This looks gorgeous!

    I have a question: have you written in any of your previous blog posts (maybe your early ones?) about how you learned to become so handy? If so, could you direct me to those? I’d love to read and learn about what motivated you to learn to do so much handy work yourself. I am trying to learn to do more, and it is a bit scary and overwhelming at times. Then I read your blog posts, and I feel if she learned how to do it, then I can too. Right now I am trying to get over my fear of the compound miter saw with the sliding blade. I just can’t make that leap! How did you get over these powerful tools?

    1. My problem with power tools is the noise. The noise scares me. I would suggest you start with a battery operated power drill and use it to screw nails. I went to my backyard’s wood fence and screw up decorations and hooks for the lawn tools. Once, I realized how much easier it was to put in a screw with a power tool, a lot of the fear vanished. I can’t think my way into doing something. I need to take action to get positive thinking.

      1. The noise doesn’t bother me, and I have no problem using power drills, reciprocating saws, and jigsaws. The sliding compound miter saw is a different story, however. And don’t get me started on the circular saw! I find that one truly frightening. I’m so impressed with how much Kristi does with all of these tools. She is amazing!

        1. The compound miter saw, for me, was easier than the circular saw. On the compound saw, it can’t really get away from you. It’s attached to the base, and the only ways it goes are down and back/forth. Does that make sense? Circular saws can buck if you hit a knothole, and are totally controlled by your hand. I think the scary part of a compound saw is the size of the blade. I actually got used to a circular saw by first using a smaller one ( I think it was 5 inches) and cutting nothing bigger than a 2×4, but mostly plywood. Then I moved on to the bigger stuff. Had my husband there to teach me and encourage me too, which helped. I’d rather use the compound saw any day over circular saw! ( I’m 64 years old too! )

  4. It may be just as well that you didn’t use a mallet and stapler/nailer. I recently had an oak plank floor installed over a damaged wooden floor. Granted, the planks were not as thick as yours, but numerous planks were damaged by the staple gun. It caused tiny nicks that are starting to splinter out. Other people have had this problem, too. Your countertop looks very nice.

  5. I would never had thought to bleach red oak, but now that I’ve seen what you’ve done, I really like it. As you said, it’s light and bright, but still very much wood grain. I think it’s going to make a wonderful foil for your painted cabinets and the gorgeous resin tiles. I’m looking forward to seeing the rest of the room completed. Great work, Kristi!

  6. Your counter top is AMAZING!! That pantry is going to be totally dreamy! ANd thanks for the very specific tutorial. I have some red oak I’d like to tame and your tutorial is just what I needed. ~~ Susie from The Chelsea Project

  7. Those look amazing!

    I see that you’re also well on your way to painting your cabinets in what looks to be a rich purple.

    And… that your floors are still unprotected. 🙂

    I know you’ve said multiple times now, to many people, that you’re not too bothered about your floors because they clean up well, but I DIY and when I have accidents mine don’t seem to clean up well at all. Apparently, I’m not the only one either, considering how many people worry about your floors.

    So my only conclusion can be that you know something we don’t Kristi. So please, please, please can you do a tutorial or a video, or an IG story or something when you clean your floors, and show us how you get them back to looking great?

    If you show us how they clean up, maybe people will shut up about it.

    I’d love to be as fearless as you are with your floors, but as hard as I’ve worked on them, I’m totally chicken about not protecting them. Seeing you clean yours up, and how you get paint drips off in particular, would help a ton.

  8. It looks fantastic. I love how the tiles look next to it. Can hardly wait to see the finished product with those dark purple cupboards.

  9. Yay!!!! The counters are gorgeous! They are going to be perfect with the tiles and cabinet colors. Purple is a thing in the small Ohio town where I live. We have signs up for our HS football team “We bleed purple!” So I love what your doing! 💜💜💜💜💜💜😎

  10. Wow, the countertop is just GORGEOUS!!!!!!!! Your pantry is going to look incredible. I never knew you could bleach wood. I think bleaching wood could become my new favorite thing.

  11. Brilliant!! What an eye you have! And combined with the brain that figures things out, it looks like there’s nothing you can’t make happen.

  12. Wow! The first thing I noticed was that you had started painting the cabinets purple and then my thought was how beautiful it is all going to look! Your vision is amazing! Absolutely LOVE the countertops! It’s so fun going though all the steps with you. Thank you so much for sharing the process–and in such detail. I’m so glad I discovered your blog when I started planning to build my new home. Many of the decisions I had to make were so much more simple because I had read something about it on your blog. I knew I could do some things to save some money and left some of the other jobs to the professionals. Thanks for the empowerment you encourage!!!

  13. Love it. I really like how the softer wood tone now picks up the lighter tan/golds in the tiles. Perfect. Are you using the same purple color you used on the console in the breakfast room?

  14. Beautiful and masterful on your part!!! I love that finish because I love light color wood. I’m so glad you did that. It’s amazing the difference in the color with that process. AND thank you so much for sharing the process so we can learn. As an educator I must say YOU ARE A GREAT TEACHER/EDUCATOR!!!

  15. I love it too! I never would have known that wood bleach exists I’m glad to know. I’m glad that you do not treat your surfaces as “preciously” as my husband does. If he’d created that counter, it would be under bubble wrap for at least 5 years. He never would have placed that belt sander on his fresh surface (not without felt under it) and he would have definitely taped something over the floors. The classic plastic wrapped sofa personality. We have a 2002 SUV with pristine leather seats because he covered them and they never got uncovered.

  16. Oooo la la! It’s so beautiful! Those tiles will be the crown jewels of the purple cabinets and with the counters it will pop like diamonds!! Can’t wait! I know it’s going to be fabulous!

  17. That is stunning. Definitely not green for the cabinets. I really like the second purple from the left side as you look at the photo. It’s more grayed out and I think will let the tiles pop.

  18. How great you narrowed down the exact products you needed and then found they worked so well!

    Sad to say, few of them would be available here in Ecuador, but my paint store friends who get to see some of your accomplishment, sure wish they could be imported. No way to bring them in luggage either.

    Aren’t you glad you tackled the pantry and that it is evolving so beautifully? I am trying to be patient for the studio plan. I expect it will be along sometime soon.

    Thank you for explaining the process. The tiles will be the star. Wonderful, creative work.

  19. Lovely! Yay for you! Wonder if you’ll have a post Monday on the finished cabinets?!!! Ha! I’m sure you are super motivated now that you have a finished counter!

  20. You are one talented woman! This is gorgeous and I love how you bleached it! Your journey is amazing on this house and I enjoy all your posts!!!

  21. Another one to file in my ‘I really want to copy this file’.

    BEAUTIFUL Amazing LOVE the Color and the tiles against it.

  22. Perfect for your tiles! You continue to amaze me, not just your ability, but your vision. Then there is your energy and dedication. It would have taken me days to do what you’ve done, you are inspiring.

  23. Now I want a belt sander. You really make me want to be brave about big scary tools, Kristi. I love the result. It’s just gorgeous.

  24. Looks amazing Kristi! Maybe this was addressed and I missed it, but why didn’t you use a white oak instead of bleaching red oak?

  25. This finish is just perfect. It totally transformed the look of the room, and I think it’s going to provide a perfect neutral backdrop for your tiles and cabinets without losing it’s own interest!!

    With a different color scheme, I could see this finish on the wood having a coastal look, which is what I’m kind of trying to achieve with my house (I don’t live anywhere near water and there will be no starfish or seashells in my house, but I love coastal color schemes and finishes 🙂 ). I have some really dark “brown oak” (is that a thing?) cabinets in my kitchen…Along with black appliances and a dark tan/blue/black granite countertop. I was just going to paint the cabinets white, but I think I like this a lot more. Do you think I could achieve similar results on cabinets, or do you think all the nooks and crannies in the doors would make it hard to achieve that look?

  26. would these countertops hold up in a kitchen with everyday use? If so, would they be high maintenance? I would love to do this in my own kitchen!

  27. I am wondering about your change of heart with the finishing of wood countertops. I am just discovering your blog and love it!!! In your condo kitchen all you used was mineral oil in the butcher block countertops and sang its praises. Saying you would never use stain or topcoats again. In your house it seem you have had a change of heart. I would like to know why, because I looking into a wooden countertop for a budget redo of a bathroom. Help please!! I can’t afford to make mistakes.

    1. It’s all about location. 🙂 If I were to ever do butcherblock countertops in a kitchen again, I’d only use mineral oil and nothing else. But that’s because kitchen countertops get the most use and abuse of any countertops in the house, and you can be guaranteed that at some point, they WILL get a stain or a scratch that you’ll want to sand out. If they’re only oiled (as opposed to stained, polyurethaned, etc.), the upkeep is so easy. But the condo was the only place I’ve ever had butcherblock in a kitchen. Here at this house, my hard wearing kitchen countertops are concrete, which I love ever since I had them refinished. But this countertop is in pantry, and once the pantry is done, I don’t ever anticipate having to redo the countertop. I won’t be cutting on these countertops, or preparing food. This room is mostly for storage and to look pretty through my French doors. 🙂 So durability and easy upkeep for a hard wearing surface wasn’t really a factor in this pantry. I also have wood in my bathroom, and I did stain and polyurethane that countertop. It has held up really well, but again, bathroom countertops don’t have to be as durable as kitchen countertops since I’m not preparing meals in there and cutting veggies on the countertop. 🙂 So in a bathroom, you could really go either way — keep them natural and just oil them, or stain and polyurethane them. But in an actual kitchen where the countertop gets several-times-daily use and abuse, I’d only ever use a natural oiled surface. I’d never use stain and/or polyurethane or any other kind of product that claims to be a permanent sealer.

  28. So nice! I am skeptical of using water based topcoats on hard working areas like counters and tables. Does your Gen finishes stuff shed off water rings and the like and do you have to baby it? I love you pantry!! I am not even a purple girl but it is lovely. good job!

  29. Red oak is poisonous and the filler and Minwax products used are also unsafe for food preparation surfaces. A better, cheaper and more time-sensitive option would be to buy a wood counter top from IKEA. Or, if you are set on DIY, just use white oak. White oak is food safe and would eliminate the need for bleaching.