Highland Woodworking Wood News Online, No. 159, November 2018Welcome to Highland Woodworking - Fine Tools & Education Learn more about Highland Woodworking View our current woodworking classes and seminars Woodworking articles and solutions Subscribe to Wood News
The Down to Earth Woodworker
By Steven D. Johnson
Racine, Wisconsin

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Down The Rabbit Hole – Building Wood Countertops

Seems I've been hearing the phrase, "down the rabbit hole" a lot lately. The other day it was a fellow woodworker when I asked him what was his first Festool purchase. He said it was the TS 55 Track Saw and Guide Rail, and then he, in his words, disappeared "down the rabbit hole." He now also owns a Festool router, two drills, the Domino machine, various sanders, and two dust extractors to keep everything neat and clean.

Been there… done that. In fact, I'm still in that rabbit hole, still adding to my Festool collection. Most recently a couple of Systainer Sysport units… wow are they pricey, and wow, are they made well. The Sysports have considerably "neatened" up my shop and sliding out a drawer and accessing what is in a Systainer is a whole lot easier than trying to get what you need from a locked-together stack of Systainers. But, I digress…

Coffee roasting became another rabbit hole experience. At first, the decision to roast my own coffee was a simple payback calculus. Roast coffee from green beans, save money, and drink fresher, better coffee. The lower-end-of-the-price-scale roaster I got would pay for itself after approximately 100 roasting sessions. I eventually roasted coffee well north of 300 times on that roaster, so I definitely got my money's worth. But then the rabbit hole effect set in and I sought more control over my roasting, more technology, more capacity, more flexibility, etc. It was no longer a financial calculation; it was me going deeper and deeper into the "rabbit hole." More equipment, more accessories, more "stuff." All in the chase for that elusive "best" cup of coffee ever made. I'm getting close, but also am quite confident I will never actually quite get there. This is a rabbit hole from which I will never find my way out.

Now I fear I am falling down yet another rabbit hole, albeit a hopefully short-lived one. I need to find the right built-in wine storage unit and get it delivered so that the cabinet I build to house it will fit perfectly… and I have to build that cabinet before I can make a template and start to work on the wood countertops I want to build for our kitchen.

I am getting increasingly confused. Darned internet! More years ago than I care to remember I built a home in Ohio, and in the basement there was a full bar with four built-in wine storage units. Choosing those was easy. Pre-internet, the only place that could help was a local wine store; they suggested a brand, I called the company and ordered the units. Now I look on the internet for advice and find dozens of brands with prices ranging from a few hundred dollars to a couple of thousand, for units that are essentially the same size and appear to have the same specifications. The challenge, of course… when you are building something in, you sure don't want it to break down a few months later.

Brand names don't seem to mean much. Some deep, really deep, research indicates that even brand name wine storage units are often made by someone else, usually a name I don't recognize. In other words, whether you have Kenmore, Bosch, GE, Maytag, Whirlpool, LG, Jenn-Air, or any one of a hundred other brand names installed in your kitchen now, chances are those manufacturers list a wine storage unit among their offerings, but chances are equally as good that they don't actually make the unit… they just put their name on a unit made by another company.

So, caution to the wind, I have opted to look for a wine storage unit that matches the "look" of the other appliances in the kitchen, without regard to brand, price, warranty, or reviews. That has become a rabbit hole, too. Black frame parts? Check. Stainless doors? Check. Shape of the handles? Uh, oh… I cannot find a single unit to match the curvy handles on my refrigerator, dishwasher, and stove. I'm deep into and utterly lost in this rabbit hole, trying to find a way out.

Figure 2 - Kevin Belton, picture from his website...cooking a Cajun-inspired
cuisine with a heavy dash of good humor and kindness
Despite not being able to decide on a wine storage unit, the good news is I am being proven correct with every passing day… wood countertops are the hot fashion trend in kitchen design. One of my new favorite celebrity chefs is Kevin Belton. He is incredibly talented, both as a chef and as an on-air personality. He is fun, entertaining, and a genuinely happy guy. So, take a look at the picture from his web site… enlarge it and look closely… wooden countertops! I figure if sponsoring companies want to show off their kitchen equipment surrounded by wooden countertops, I must be on to something.

A large number of readers have written, and I appreciate all your correspondence. I try to answer emails individually, but I often get behind, so please be aware that I do read all emails and appreciate everyone one of them. Most readers agree that wooden countertops are awesome, and most agree that this is a trend about to explode on the kitchen "fashion" scene. I have also gotten some very good hints on how to go about making the templates, fabricating the tops, and even the best finishes to use. I have gotten tips about what kind of sink to install, what kind of backsplash to use, and more. A few people have encouraged me to document the entire project in video, and I may just do that. Thanks again for all your kind comments and your encouragement. Feel free to email me anytime at sjohnson@downtoearthwoodworking.com.

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Steven Johnson is retired from an almost 30-year career selling medical equipment and supplies, and now enjoys improving his shop, his skills, and his designs on a full time basis (although he says home improvement projects and furniture building have been hobbies for most of his adult life). Steven can be reached directly via email at sjohnson@downtoearthwoodworking.com

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