Sunday 4 November 2012

The New Kitchen Work Top

Ever wanted a decent looking work top in the kitchen? For no specific reason but some itching? Rest assured you are not alone.

And the itch is not something to sneeze at, no pun intended. It is part of those things in life where you just know something is not quite right, but you can't put your finger on it. There are tomes written on this in the academia, with reference to businesses and so on. I like to think that this is part of your sixth sense telling you that, aesthetically, something is wrong.

Enough of philosophy, how does one get a new work top for very little money? The answer lies in doing it yourself. And with a little planning up front it becomes a relatively easy task.
The existing work top in our kitchen is a post-formed top made of chipboard covered in melamine. An ugly speckled one to boot. Small things lose themselves immediately on contact with the top. Like your car keys, as a prime example. After a short research effort on the internet, I decided on a wooden work top. My choice was confirmed when I saw such a top at our local kitchen cupboard supplier, where they have some examples of kitchen layouts.

The choice of wood versus other materials can be quite disconcerting, with lots of pros and cons each way. I made my choice on the basis of aesthetics, cost and the ability to do it myself, thereby saving much overheads in the form of labour cost. This project is something one can do in the span of a week's worth of evenings if you are a working person.
I visited my local exotic wood supplier, which is Rare Woods in the Cape Town area. In the Gauteng area Silverton Timber Merchants will stand a visit. The internet is a wonderful place, full of handy information right under your nose.

So, I duly rocked up at the shop, where the salesperson enquired after my needs. I replied that I was looking to buy a plank. Which raised no end of giggles, but he assured me that he would do his utmost to help. I actually made contact with another human being, forsooth!

After a short discussion, I settled on a 3.6m x 38mm x 320mm mahogany plank. We selected a reasonably straight one without cracks. The wood was then nicely planed and cut to my specifications for a small additional cost. Three days later I went to fetch my plank, which was now reduced to three pieces of the proper dimensions of 1.10m x 310mm x 32mm. The thickness corresponds with the thickness of the existing top, so I don't have to worry about filling the gap between the existing wall tiles and the new top. The length also corresponds with the existing work top.

All that remained for me to do was to glue the three planks together to complete the top. I had some fun and games with a clamping system, until I remembered that one can just bind the planks together by winding thick string around the two planks. I did this in two steps because I did not have clamps. You need ten or more windings and preferably one at each end of the planks to get good clamping. For the second gluing I went and hired long clamps, which of course made the work a lot easier.

Then the sanding started, which of course takes a lot more beer than one anticipates! Jokes aside, this is also something one can do by hand as I did. You don't need electric machines, although they reduce this job to one of an afternoon. I started with coarse sandpaper, around 120 grit, then worked down in two more steps to a 400 grit. After sanding the board, wipe it with a dry cloth to get rid of the dust, then wipe it with a wet cloth to make the grain stand up. When the wood's grain stands up, you give it the once over with your used sandpaper before going to the next finer grit.

The mahogany has a nice grain, but is a bit on the grey side to my tastes. Also, I could not afford a teak plank. So I bought some high quality wood stain. I chose a cherry wood stain, which gave me a nice dark hue with a red tint. The wood goes darker too with application of boiled linseed oil, which is my choice of oil for the initial finish.

The wood sucked up two coats of the stain, giving me a very nice dark auburn finish. This was topped with another two coats of boiled linseed oil, applied copiously on all sides and allowed to dry for two days between coats. The wood also absorbed all of this.

The top was now basically ready for installation.  Installation was a cinch because of my little bit of planning in the beginning. I had to screw out five screws to remove the old top, slide the new one in, then redo the five screws. It took me longer to refit the cupboard doors than to install the work top. There is a dirty part, which is the sealing of the top around the edges, using silicone sealant. My kitchen was in dire need of this anyway.

The new top still needs a light coat of oil once a week for the next four months or so. Until the oil starts to congeal on top. The wood will then be reasonably sealed.
On the topic of the use of wood and its finishes in a food-environment, there is much ado. I had a long conversation with my local pharmacist, which was quite enlightening. The wood in itself is not toxic, unless of course you choose a toxic wood. Bacteria may enter the pores, yes. They don't like the natural oils in the wood and probably will not survive. And the oils that you use to seal the wood has an added detrimental effect to their longevity.

Enter the next factor, which is the use of mineral oil. As far as I could find out, bacteria do not like mineral oils either and will die promptly in such an environment. Good news. Then I went in search of food grade mineral oil. I found it after a lengthy search, sitting pretty on the shelf at the upmarket furniture shop, complete with an upmarket price to match.
Getafix is a proper name for the character from the Asterix stories. My local pharmacist could have a nickname like that. I went to him with my lamentations and, lo and behold, I got a fix.

Food grade mineral oil comes with many names, not the least of which is liquid paraffin. Which is obtainable from your local pharmacy without a prescription, nogal. And in decent quantities as well. It is a by-product of the oil refinery process and is readily available. So I promptly bought half a litre of the stuff. End of hygiene and maintenance problems in the kitchen. This stuff also works for your favourite cutting board and butcher's block. It blocks odours as well as tastes .

Voila! Now my kitchen is aesthetically more pleasing. And the cost of all of this was just over R1000. The plank cost me R780 which included the planing and cutting to size. The stain was R89, the boiled linseed oil R80 and the glue R60. Add a few Rand for the sandpaper to complete the budget.

Well worth the effort, don't you think?

Authored by Johan Zietsman

Last updated on 2013-06-26


  1. It is an undeniable fact that the
    kitchen worktops adds the elements of elegance and charm to the kitchen area, and one must choose the material for creating the worktop carefully. However, it must be maintained carefully to retain its beauty for a longer time.

  2. This one gets maintained by oiling with medicinal grade mineral oil. Very easy. And it does not show light scratches.

  3. very interesting article. Thanks for posting.
    Quartz Worktops