Monday, April 18, 2011

Finishing off the butcher (block)

I loooove my butcher block countertops! They are chunky, smooth and I love how their warm color adds to the coziness of our kitchen. Of course, I also love that they came at a steal as part of our IKEA kitchen order. The only drawback? Finding the answer to that old question of "How to finish them". After all, you don't want to ruin them the first time you start cooking up a storm in your brand new kitchen. The first and most important question you will have to find an answer for is
"Do you want to cut on your counter tops or not?"
If your answer is "Yes!", all you really need to do is get yourself a bottle of mineral oil or tung oil , oil your counter tops and start cooking. You'll end up using lemon juice and salt to remove stains and sand and re-apply more oil on a regular basis. Sounds awful but it's really not that bad. A friend of mine showed me the butcher block next to her stove that she uses to cut and prep food on and she even uses bleach to wipe it down and it still looked lovely.
[Before: Part of our butcher block counter tops - pretty but matte]
Anyways, husband and I just couldn't shake off that "No cutting on counter tops!" upbringing we both had experienced and since our contractor team had created cutting boards from left over pieces there's also no need to do so. We decided we would like to beef up the protection of our beautiful butcher block counter tops instead, especially around the sink. After much research online and after a lengthy conversation with the staff at our local WoodCraft store, we bought a quart of "Waterlox". Waterlox is your basic tung oil with some resin added for extra "oomph" when it comes to locking out water and stains.
[The cast: foam brushes, waterlox and fine steel wool for a last sanding]
You can download the instructions on how to apply Waterlox from their web site but it's really fairly straightforward and simply. Nevermind, I was a bit anxious. I mean, what if I ruined them? That'd be awful! After husband left for work, I decided it was time for the big girl pants again. I taped off the edges of our farmhouse sink and then popped the lid of the container of Waterlox.
[Close-up: Waterlox]
After giving the counter tops a last fine sanding with steel wool, I poured some Waterlox into a dish. Waterlox cures by oxidization so you're not supposed to leave the can open or pour any unused remains back into the original container. I think I expected Waterlox to be more like polyurethane, thick and oily, but it is surprisingly soupy and more like a very strong tea.
[In-Progress: First coat]
One deep breath - and since I went with the VOC compliant version, the smell wasn't too bad - and down went the first coat. Oh boy! It's NICE! Applying Waterlox is really simple. I used a foam brush because they are cheap and rather than dealing with cleaning paint brushes using the method described in the instructions I could just chuck them. Yes, I know, that's not very green of me, but it's probably as green as washing a paint brush in copious amounts of paint thinner having to wear and toss protective gloves.

[In-progress: Here you can see how the Waterlox brings out the woodtones - left/unfinished vs right/finished]

[After: First coat applied]
Applying the first coat went quick. The wood greedily soaked up the finish/sealer and we're well on our way to glossy rich butcher block counter tops. Each successive coat will help fill up all of those pores and create a satin gloss finish on the top that will keep the beauty of the rich golden oak counter tops preserved. I hope I'll be able to add the next coat tomorrow afternoon. I want to give the finish as much time to cure as possible before having to actually use the kitchen.


  1. Hey there! I just wanted to say THANK YOU! for blogging this... I am right smack in a house renovation and we just got our butcher block counters installed.. and I've been going back and forth regarding how I want to seal them. These counters are beautiful, and now I'm on a quest to locate waterlox. :)

    Thanks again!

  2. Good morning! Glad I could help! It's been 3 months of daily abuse and boy, it has lived up to our expectation! They look as beautiful as the first day :o)