There are a few options when it comes to wooden counters. Let me just say right now that I’m not sure I picked the best one (given a do-over I would make the counter with solid wood), but it was among the least expensive and not a bad choice. This was my reasoning…
Butcher block is a great choice in a kitchen, but it does say “kitchen” to me and felt like an odd choice for a laundry room. (I’m sure that is my own weird reaction.) I didn’t want the striated effect, and I don’t always care for the way it looks when stained as opposed to oiled. Of course now that I have plywood counters that I also don’t love the look of stained, this was a foolish reason to rule out butcher block, but at least I saved a lot of money in comparison?
I’m not a laminate snob — it can be a great choice and was something I had considered — but I’m not into the fake wood options.
Ideal! Lovely and with history and character! It felt beyond my woodworking abilities though, for pretty much the same reasons I avoided wooden boards.
Turning boards into counters seemed daunting. I don’t regret using plywood because I haven’t done a whole lot of woodworking projects and I learned a lot, but I wish I had the confidence I’ve now gained because this would have been prettier.
I would have needed a biscuit joiner, biscuits, and plenty of 36” long clamps. Maybe a planer, too? Lowe’s is sponsoring the laundry room reveal and they would have provided any tools and materials I needed, but I approached this project as I would have on my own, keeping in mind a budget and a level of appropriate finishes for a 125-year-old basement laundry room. It’s way nicer than before, but I can’t make the room into something it isn’t architecturally and I didn’t want to hoard a bunch of specialized tools I might never use again just because I could. Still, I have minor regrets. This would have been far nicer.
Winner, winner! I figured it would be easy to work with since it’s already a large, flat pane, and plywood is inexpensive. I don’t love the end result, but I don’t hate it either. If you’re considering this option, I hope it’s helpful to read a positive but not glowing experience with it.
Plywood comes in a variety of wood species, thicknesses, and grades. I chose pine over oak or maple because while it is softer (and susceptible to gouges and scratches), it takes a mid-tone stain nicely and doesn’t blacken with water exposure. I was planning to stain and seal my counters, but with wet laundry and a big sink both having the potential to ruin them, I’d rather see wear with age than black spots.
Two of my cabinets end against uneven stone foundation walls. I used a compass to scribe the edges onto a piece of cardboard, then cut the edge with a razor and tested the fit. Once I was happy with that step, I used the cardboard as a template, traced it onto my plywood, and then cut those edges with a jigsaw.
I used two sheets of plywood (a nice 3/4″ thick pine for the top and a lower grade 1/2″ for the bottom) to make a strong counter for the sink cabinet. After cutting the top sheet to size, I dry fit it into place before centering and tracing the sink template.
I don’t use our table saw very often (and whoops, I didn’t clear the cobwebs on the base), but the blade we had in it would have chewed up the plywood. I picked up an inexpensive new 10” blade with 60 teeth that cuts plywood cleanly. I picked up a jigsaw blade with more teeth (12) for the same reason and it left fairly smooth edges.
I used a different technique for the other two counters. I didn’t need a full second sheet of plywood for more strength, I just wanted to raise the counters up a little to make room for trim pieces while leaving clearance for drawers to open. I added 1/2″ thick pine boards around the perimeter of each counter. Each piece was glued, clamped, and then screwed into place.
Plywood edges are ugly, so I added simple 1-1/2″ pine trim around each counter. They were glued, clamped, and held in place with finish nails. I used a nail set to countersink the nails and then fill them with stainable wood filler, but here’s another lesson learned: get pine wood filler if you’re working with pine because I didn’t and the filled holes took stain differently.
I filled nail holes and any imperfections, then sanded the counters with 200-grit sandpaper. I wiped the surface clean with tack cloth and applied wood conditioner, followed by two coats of Ipswich Pine stain. I finished with three coats of polyurethane applied with a natural bristle brush, lightly roughed up with 320-grit sandpaper between coats, and buffed with 0000 steel wool after fully drying.
The photo below on the left is from when I applied the second coat of poly (still wet), and on the right is the finished counter. I chose a satin finish, which I’m happy with.
They were dry to the touch after sitting overnight, but I left them alone for three days before putting anything on top. They’re attached to the counters with simple metal L brackets and wood screws.
The pine trim took stain differently than the pine plywood. You can see the filled-in nail holes. The counters are smooth, but not a perfectly glassy finish, and the wood grain is nothing special. I don’t want to seem so down on them, but I don’t want to encourage anyone to do this and think it’s going to be the most! amazing! project! ever! They’re good, utilitarian counters for a good, utilitarian space, and they’re cheap. I give them a B+.