how to finish butcher block countertops

"How to finish butcher block countertops?" is a question many people are interested in when using butcher block countertops for the kitchen. Finishing them gives a more beautiful appearance and enhances durability. This guide takes you through the process of transforming your raw butcher block countertops into a beautiful surface, from sanding to the final finish.

What are Butcher Block Countertops?

Butcher block countertops are usually used in kitchens

Butcher block countertops are typically made from hardwood and are used in kitchens
Credit: ©Bogdan Sonjachnyj on Canva

Butcher block countertops are constructed from hardwood like maple, cherry, oak, or walnut, laminated, and glued together in a specific pattern (end-grain, edge-grain, or face-grain) to suit many different styles. It is commonly used for food preparation in kitchens, restaurant kitchens, butcher shops, or bakeries.

Read more: 16 Stunning Kitchens with Butcher Block Countertops

The Importance of Finishing Butcher Block Countertops

Before searching how to finish butcher block countertops for kitchen, you should know a little about why we should finish butcher block countertops and what benefits it brings. Here are some main benefits:

  • Enhance appearance: A finish can highlight the natural beauty of the wood grain. Depending on the chosen finish, you can even achieve a slight sheen or a more matte look, making it completely different and more beautiful than the original version.
  • Ensuring sanitation: Unfinished wood can harbor bacteria in cracks. A proper finish helps create a smoother surface, looks more beautiful, and is easier to clean and sanitize.
  • Enhanced longevity: Unfinished wood is susceptible to water damage, staining, and warping. A good finish creates a barrier, repelling liquids and preventing them from seeping into the wood, helping to protect the wood layer better.

How to Finish Butcher Block Countertops

Before finishing butcher countertops, you need to prepare some necessary tools and supplies as follows:

  • Safety glasses and a dust mask to protect yourself from dust particles
  • Sandpaper in various grits (80-120 grit for coarse sanding, 220 grit for fine sanding)
  • Mineral spirits (for cleaning up oil-based stains/finishes, if applicable)
  • For staining (Optional), you need to prepare food safe oil-based stain specifically formulated for butcher block.
  • For sealing (Optional), tung oil, water-based polyurethane, or commercial butcher block sealant is ideal.
  • For finishing, choose from the same options mentioned in sealing.

Let's start wiping the tabletop, place it in a well-ventilated place, and clean the rag and towel to prepare for the finishing journey!

Step 1: Sanding

Sanding to achieve a smooth surface

Sanding to achieve a smooth wood surface
Credit: ©SERSON on Canva

Sanding is flattening to achieve a smooth and even wood surface, ready for a smoother staining step and to help create a more finished appearance. You need to prepare a few things such as sandpaper (80-120 grit, 220-300 grit) or a sanding disc, and clean rags.

Instructions for sanding butcher block countertops:

  • Scrape food deposits with a plastic or metal scraper, and be careful to avoid digging into the surface
  • Use coarse-grit sandpaper or coarse sanding discs (80-120 grit) to remove any imperfections or unevenness by sanding with the grain of the wood
  • Gradually progress to finer sandpaper (220-300 grit) for a smoother surface
  • Don't forget the hemmed edges
  • Wipe away dust with a clean, damp rag

Step 2: Staining

Staining increases the look of natural wood grain

Staining increases the look of natural wood grain or adds color to butcher block
Credit: ©Valery Voennyy on Canva

This is an optional step, you can skip it if you find it unnecessary. The purpose of staining is to enhance the beauty of natural wood grain or add color to butcher block. First, you need to choose a stain. There are usually two types of stains:

  • Oil-based stain: This type is extremely durable and can create a strong protective barrier against bacteria and is highly resistant to moisture and scratches. However, some oil-based stains are not safe for food.
  • Water-based stain: This is the ideal choice if you want to preserve the natural color of the wood grain, because it does not create a yellowish layer like oil-based stains. It also dries faster, has less odor, and is more environmentally friendly. But, it is not as durable and protective as oil-based.

Second, ensure the sanded surface is completely dry and free of dust, and begin the following steps (which apply to the popular choice of oil-based stain):

  • Apply a thin, even coat of stain with a clean rag, following the grain of the wood
  • Allow the stain to dry completely according to the manufacturer's instructions (typically several hours).
  • For deeper color intensity, apply additional coats of stain, sanding lightly with fine-grit sandpaper between each coat
  • Wipe away excess stains with a clean rag dampened with mineral spirits

Step 3: Sealing and Finishing

The finish layer locks previously applied layers

The finish layer helps lock previously applied layers
Credit: @monkeybusinessimages on Canva

This is the final step to create a barrier against water, stains, and everyday wear. As in the previous step, you need to make sure that the stained surface (if applicable) is completely dry and dust-free.

Choose a food-safe finish like tung oil, water-based polyurethane, or a commercial butcher block sealant and discover how to finish and seal butcher block countertops:

  • Apply a thin, even coat of the chosen sealer with a clean rag, following the grain of the wood
  • Allow the first coat to dry completely according to the manufacturer's instructions (typically several hours)
  • For tung oil, apply multiple coats (3-5 coats) for optimal protection, sanding lightly between coats with fine-grit sandpaper
  • For water-based polyurethane usually requires fewer coats (2-3 coats) for good water resistance

Finally, to maintain the beauty of wood in the long term, you should note the following steps:

  • Regularly clean your butcher block countertops with mild soap and water
  • Avoid harsh chemicals
  • Reapply the finish periodically (the frequency depends on the chosen finish and usage) to maintain protection
  • Use cutting boards to protect the countertop surface from knife marks
  • Clean up spills and stains immediately with a damp cloth to prevent them from setting in

Now you have the answer to the question, "How to finish butcher block countertops?" By following these steps and performing proper maintenance according to the manufacturer's instructions, your butcher block countertops will stay beautiful, functional, and a beloved piece of your kitchen.

How- to

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