Let’s jump right into it, shall we? Last time we discussed our new custom cabinets: where they’re going, why we need them, how we put them together, and how we use them. BUT, we didn’t get to the crowning jewel: the handmade herringbone countertop. I was getting a little wordy on that last post (as I am apt to do), and I felt like it would be nice to dedicate a full post to the true DIY hero of this project.
While we wanted the new cabinetry to coordinate with the existing kitchen, we knew it wasn’t going to be a perfect match. The cabinet style is slightly more modern and simple, and the countertop was going to have to be a completely different material. So basically the cabinets would be sisters, but not twins.
We wanted the new countertop to be special, and we worked through several ideas before landing on the winner. In the end, we didn’t want to introduce a completely new material (like concrete), because we felt like it would end up feeling more cluttered than cool. So we stuck with wood to coordinate with the floors, but decided to add a fun texture. Spoiler alert: doing this made it about 1000x more work. Don’t get me wrong, I LOVE how it turned out and I absolutely wouldn’t change it, but we’ve made other wood countertops that were much simpler.
We designed the countertop to match the height of the granite counters for continuity. The future renovation includes removing that granite backsplash, the tile backslash, and repainting the old cabinets.
We decided to create a frame with an interior ledge that we would set the assembled herringbone top into. To do this, we measured for the overall countertop size (matching the overhang from the other countertops), and mitered the corners for a nice finish. Before we assembled the frame, we used the table saw to cut out a corner of each piece that would then form the inner ledge.
We then added several cross-braces for stability. These would also serve as several contact points for the herringbone insert to rest on and attach to.
Next came the real work. I drew up several configurations to help us decide the proportions we wanted in the herringbone. Since we were using scrap wood of various sizes, we had the freedom to select how big we wanted the individual herringbone “tiles” to be. The smaller option felt too busy to me, so we ended up with tiles at 2.5″ x 8″.
Once we got the proportions that felt right to us, it was time to start cutting. And cutting. And cutting.
On one hand this was an amazing “clean out the shop” project. We didn’t purchase any lumber for this project, so that’s pretty cool. On the other, it felt like a lot of work just to get started. We first ripped down all our scrap boards to our desired width, just under 3″. Then we used the chop saw to cut them down to length. We had a nice little assembly line going, and ended up cutting about 100 tiles so that we’d have plenty to work with.
Next came the really fun part- adding the tongue and groove. We could have done this a little differently if we wanted to skip this step, but we really wanted this to be one connected piece, not just tiles laid on top of a solid base. So off we went to the Decatur Makers to use the router table. We used a tongue and groove bit to cut all four sides of every. single. tile. One short + one long edge got tongues, while the opposite got grooves. It took about 5 hours, and my 34-weeks-pregnant self had to tap out after 4. Ben is such a champ, and he did an amazing job. (Note: to keep our final desired dimension in mind, we had to add the width that would be cut from the router to our original ripped width. Or else we would have ended up with smaller pieces than the look we were going for.)
We then schlepped all 100 tiles back home to start dry-fitting the top. I wanted to apply the finish to individual tiles so that I could make sure to stain every nook and cranny, so we just did a test run to see how the pieces were coming together. Also, when you apply a stain, you want to be able to rub it in the direction of the grain. Because the pieces go in different directions, I thought it would be a much bigger hassle to try and apply the stain properly across the assembled piece. We made this “mistake” with our bed (which has a wooden chevron head- and footboard), and it was frustrating. We laid the tiles out on the assembled frame to get an idea of how big our assembled top needed to be.
Next came lots and lots and lots of sanding. Then wood conditioner, then stain. We also applied several coats of poly, but I was able to do that to the whole top after it was assembled.
Then it was time for real assembly. We painted wood glue onto the tongue and groove of each tile to add even more strength. The tongue-and-groove provides a nice tight fit, but the glue is a great addition, especially since this wasn’t going to go over a solid base.
For a fun twist, Ben set up his go-pro to record us assembling the top.
Once that was done, we left it to dry for a day, and to give ourselves some time to mentally prepare for the scary part: trimming down our assembled top to fit in the frame.
Of course, we didn’t get pictures of this part because we were so focused 🙁 . But it was a mostly straightforward task: we had to measure the interior of the frame, and use the circular saw to trim off the angled pieces so that our top was the right size to drop onto the frame’s lip. This was challenging because it was hard to transfer the lines onto a piece with no straight edges. The assembled top was all angles. We were also nervous to get an angle wrong, or cut the top too small and end up with a piece that didn’t fit correctly in the frame.
However, we prevailed, and our top fits beautifully! We added glue to our cross braces, set the top in, and placed several heavy weights on it to help it cure. To hold it in place, we drilled up into the countertop through the top of our base cabinets. We wanted to make sure that if we had to ever remove the top, it would be easy to do so.
On went a few coats of poly, and this bad boy was done! We used the same color stain on every piece, but because of how they catch the light, it makes such a gorgeous, changing pattern.
I love this project SO MUCH. Not only is it incredibly useful, but it turned out exactly how we envisioned it. Now I have a lovely place to do not-lovely things like folding laundry and sorting recycling. This project also has me really excited for the day that we finally paint the kitchen cabinets, because I think it’s going to turn out so beautifully!