DIY Kitchen Island (on a budget!)

DIY Kitchen Island with RTA stock cabinets

Why DIY Your Kitchen Island?

For those who have read my blog post about my favorite kitchen cabinets, you’ll know that ready to assemble cabinets are my favorite option for balancing good quality at a low price point. That is, as long as you’re willing to put in a little DIY work. Now what if you want a kitchen island? You can make a DIY kitchen island too using RTA or stock cabinets!

It’s hard to believe we ever settled for kitchens without islands. They offer extra prep space, extra storage and an extra place to sit when you add bar stools. I’d be hard-pressed to find someone whose dream kitchen does not include an island. If you have an older home, or are remodeling, you may find yourself wanting to add a kitchen island, and I’m here to tell you it doesn’t have to be expensive!

I’ll walk you through how I built my own kitchen island using ready to assemble cabinets and a $300 butcher block countertop!

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In This Post

Simple DIY Kitchen Island with Butcher Block

Here is one of the easiest and most cost-effective ways to add or replace a kitchen island. The result will be stunning, with ultra high-quality cabinets and butcher block countertops.

List of Materials

Additional supplies if you need to cut down your butcher block

Step-By-Step DIY Kitchen Island

Step 1: Plan It Out

Zero-in on the size you’d like for your island. Keep in my mind, there may be codes depending on your location. Where I live, for instance, you must have at least one electrical outlet in a kitchen island. There may also be a minimum clearance between the island and the nearest cabinets or appliance, so check your local codes first!

These are the plans for my island and the spacing between. Notice you’ll want more clearance in front of your oven and fridge.

The industry standard is 36″ between countertops, and 48″ from an appliance that opens. I cheated with a couple inches less. Before deciding, I taped-off the area and practiced opening the oven, etc. to test the space.

Decide if you want seating. If so, you’ll need an overhang of a least 10″. (Mine was 11 inches, and I chose an L-shaped seating arrangement so the overhang was on two sides.) The standard is 24″ of space per bar stool. That seemed like a lot to me, and I fit three bar stools across 63″ vs the recommended 72″, but it depends on the stools you’re using and who will be sitting there.

Step 2: Choose Your Cabinets!

Once you’ve landed on the size of your island, it’s time to choose your cabinets. Feel free to read my post about RTA cabinets for guidance. I highly recommend The RTA Store for Ready To Assemble, and they also sell assembled cabinets if you’d prefer! (The most budget-friendly option would be pre-assembled cabinets off the shelf at big box stores, but be warned these are not as sturdy.)

gray shaker cabinets lined up
My Stone Shaker RTA Cabinets from the RTA Store

Be sure to choose “base” cabinets. Then choose a width based on the proposed size of your island. For example, I wanted my island width at 57″ before countertops, so I chose a 30″ wide microwave cabinet, and a 27″ cabinet to go next to it. As you can see from examples below, there are a lot of options. Do you want drawers, doors, or a combination of both? Or, like me, do you want a microwave in your island?

I opted for a 27″ double door base with top drawer, and a 30″ microwave base cabinet, to create a 57″ island before counters

Common base cabinet widths are 24″, 27″, 30″, 33″, and 36″. So if you’d like a 63″ wide island, you can combine a 33″ with a 30″ wide cabinet, or a 27″ with a 36″. You get the picture. Mix and match away!

Step 3: Secure Cabinets into Position

Once your cabinets have arrived and are assembled, it’s time to place them! There are a few ways to secure cabinets to the floor but the most common way is to use wood cleats. Basically, take some scrap wood (ideally two-2x4s at least 6″ each) and secure them into the ground. You’ll need to use pilot holes and long wood screws. Remember, your toe kick will add a fraction of an inch so keep that in mind while placing. Then lift the cabinets over the cleats into place.

Then, assuming you are using more than one cabinet to create your island, use clamps to attached the face frames of each cabinet to each other. Then use screws to attach them together. Once all the cabinets of your island are seamlessly attached, you can secure the bottoms to your wood cleats.

Step 4: Cut Your Butcher Block to Size

If you’re lucky, the butcher clock countertop is already the right size for your island. But if not, you’ll need to cut it using a circular saw. Don’t forget to account for a 1.5″ countertop overhang on each side! (I wanted L-shaped seating so I had an 11″ overhang on two sides.)

Lay the butcher block on your work bench or saw horses. Clamp a straight edge to the butcher block as a guide. Or use a circular saw guide if you have one. To be extra safe, you can set your circular saw to half the depth of the butcher block and make one pass, then set it to the full depth to make another pass. This makes it easier for the saw to run through for a smoother edge. Be sure to use a fine or ultra-fine finish blade.

Then sand the edges to smooth them out. As you can see from the image below, prefabricated butcher block usually has slightly rounded edges, so you’ll want your cut end to match.

Step 5: Attach the Butcher Block

To attach your butcher block, you can add a brace or brackets within your cabinets to support the countertop from beneath. We used brackets to attached some extra 2x4s (see below), as well as metal brackets. Use short screws to attach the brackets to ensure you don’t drill all the way through to the cabinet’s exterior.

Lift the butcher block slab into place. Use a square and measuring tape to make extra sure it’s in the right place. Remember the 1.5″ overhang! You’ll probably want an extra person to hold down the counter while the other person screws into the butcher block through the brackets from underneath.

Step 6: Add Moulding!

Now the new countertop was installed! But the island needed some trim work to make it look complete, and not like two cabinets slapped together. Time to trim it out! There are infinite ways you can trim out your kitchen island. Shiplap, board and batten, wood slats, you name it.

Board and batten island trim via Come Stay Awhile

I went with a shortcut and got a wainscoting panel from Home Depot to finish the back of my island, and left the sides alone. I started before the countertop was installed, but it doesn’t really matter what order. This first image looks hideous, but you’ve got to trust the process! Piece-by-piece I added trim bordering this panel, and it ended up awesome.

You just need caulk and paint to match your cabinets, and it all comes together!

Getting started…
All trimmed out!

Step 7: Finishing Touches

Alright, here’s the deal. Search the entirety of the internet about how to refinish a butcher block countertop and the vast majority will recommend butcher block oil, beeswax, tung oil, etc. Basically, a traditional butcher block is meant to prep food, specifically meat. Oils and fats from meat would soak into the wood and eventually it becomes non-absorbant. Oil finishes are also normally food-safe.

Oil vs Poly for Butcher Block

If you are planning on prepping food directly on your butcher block, then yes you will need a specialty finishing oil. I used this one.

In fact, I kept mine finished with only oil for months. I thought it was the only proper way. But it just never looked or felt finished. It would stain easily. Crumbs would get stuck in tiny crevices. Food wouldn’t wipe-off smoothly. It never looked clean!

I knew I’d never prep food directly on it, so one day, I just went for it. I sanded the stains out, and then applied oil-based semi-gloss polyeurethane. After 12-24 hours, I’d lightly sand with a 320-grit sanding sponge to smooth out imperfections. Then repeat. I applied 3 coats total. The fine sandpaper really gives it the extra shine at the end, as poly tends to form tiny bubbles on top of the wood.

Shop My Kitchen!

Final Result

I’m very pleased with the finished product. I truly believe using butcher block is a low cost way to make your kitchen look upscale, especially when it contrasts with your other countertops. Contrasting materials gives kitchens a designer edge. Remember there are so many ways to DIY a kitchen island. Feel free to use variations of this tutorial, using different base cabinets, or even a vintage piece!

You can read more here about why butcher block is one of my favorite kitchen upgrades, and part of my 5 Kitchen Renovation Secrets. I hope this tutorial is helpful. Please reach out and let me know if you try it!

Finished-result photography by the uber-talented Briana Calderon