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Butcher block countertop - should I seal it?

1084 Views 29 Replies 19 Participants Last post by  Sharon MH
We have this butcher block countertop and it is currently not sealed or varnished. I try to keep up with applying Howard brand oil and wax, but it seems to not last very long. Should I seal it, and if so, with what? Danish oil, or some type of polyurethane/varnish, or ? We do food prep on it (not directly on it of course) so that might be a consideration.

We live in the PNW so it is frequently humid during winters and then quite dry during summer, and I worry that this cycling will make the blocks separate or I will otherwise somehow inadvertently ruin this very nice counter. I did not install it, so I do not know what type of wood it is, where it came from etc.

TIA!


Brown Table Countertop Wood Rectangle
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I built these cabinets and tops for my home, sealed with danish oil but I've moved onto using only mineral oil to rejuvenate. I've used Howards before and also plain mineral oil on butcher blocks plenty, Howards gives things a bit of a orange warm glow, plain mineral oil just moisturizes and is a bit of a secret in the countertop biz. You'll have to keep re applying somewhat frequently with both those products. Danish oil DOES have polyurethane in it which is good to create a lasting seal, but its not quite durable enough for a countertop IMO for daily, hard use. You can apply a polyurethane over the danish oil also, read the instructions on the danish oil. A couple coats of polyurethane will be the most durable finish. I prefer to avoid any finish that is too glossy, consider satin/semi gloss etc..

Wood Automotive exterior Rectangle Floor Drawer
 

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We went with a clear acrylic urethane, no stain.
We didn't want to change the cover so we stayed away from oil based.
Cabinetry Property Tap Countertop Sink

Just FYI, I believe the slab we picked up from HomeDepot stated that it needed to be sealed within 24 hours of unwrapping.
 

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I have always found an oil treatment lets the wood gain a patina that is pleasant. I use food grade mineral oil which is non-toxic obviously and does not get rancid like plant based oils. Our first house build in the 1970’s had a lot of butcher block and we found maintaining the origional (lacquer?) finish became a nightmare. We finally had to strip it and went to oil.
 

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I too live in the PNW, but spend significant time in the southwest when camping. I have a soft maple butcher block top. I just rub on a food grade wax/mineral oil periodically. I do food prep on the surface. It looks used and, after two years there is a minor crack in one of the glue lines. Since my interior is not nearly as posh as the ones, above, the countertop looks just fine. If I wanted posh, I would have used hard maple and urethane and cutting boards.
 

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I had a 1.5 inch acacia slab with no finish. It warped like a potato chip and developed splits up to 1/4 inch in several areas. I had to replace it. I don't think a butcher block would perform as poorly, but I highly recommend sealing all sides.
 

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Discussion Starter · #10 ·
Thanks to everyone for their input! And agree that @wallsonwheels has a very posh van kitchen, super sharp interior!

It sounds like sealing is the way to go, given the temperature and humidity cycling in the van. I appreciate a good patina as much as anyone, but I would prefer not to have to replace this countertop if it starts to split, etc.

@wallsonwheels was there a particular finish (semi-gloss etc) for the acrylic urethane you used, or do you remember the specific product? I would prefer a less shiny countertop (yours looks great in the picture). @Swamplizard a two part epoxy is very nice, but probably too much hassle (for me) to put on. Hardness is less important to me, I just don't want it to split and warp.

Thanks all!
 

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The butcher block in our van has been doing well for over two years, including trips to both coasts, but spends most of its time in the dry Colorado air. We have only used Howard's conditioner & oil. Initially we applied the conditioner to both sides, but haven't reapplied it to the bottom since installing it. No cracks or issues.
 

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Thanks to everyone for their input! And agree that @wallsonwheels has a very posh van kitchen, super sharp interior!

It sounds like sealing is the way to go, given the temperature and humidity cycling in the van. I appreciate a good patina as much as anyone, but I would prefer not to have to replace this countertop if it starts to split, etc.

@wallsonwheels was there a particular finish (semi-gloss etc) for the acrylic urethane you used, or do you remember the specific product? I would prefer a less shiny countertop (yours looks great in the picture). @Swamplizard a two part epoxy is very nice, but probably too much hassle (for me) to put on. Hardness is less important to me, I just don't want it to split and warp.

Thanks all!
Thanks, this is what we used:
Ingredient Food Animal product Tin Rectangle

This is only our first season out, but so far so good, it has held up very well for us.
Spar urethane was the other way I was thinking of going (bulletproof) but that would have changed the color a bit.
The wood is clear birch from HD or Lowes.
 

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We used this home depot two part epoxy - it was tricky to do but looks like 50 coats of poly and is super hard. Do both sides so no warping occurs
+1. I did the same for my countertop love the finish. It did give the wood a warm glow which I would have preferred not to have. Next time I will put a coat of urethane and then epoxy to keep the natural wood color. We dont prep on the countertop so was not worried about the chemicals. (Will post a picture when I get to the van).
 

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I've always used oil on Butcherblock -- mineral oil, even olive oil, since i'm cooking/prepping food on it. The raw finish is why most people go with butcher block. Cover it with a thick coat of oil, let it soak in then wipe off. But If depends on what kind of wood your butcher block is made of. I have acacia from home depot and it's not like regular butcher block. I treated it with the this oil wax. It's a beautiful finish without hiding the wood behind polyurethane,
Interbuild 8.5 fl. oz. Espresso Hardwax Wood Oil Stain 471-3651D-025V - The Home Depot
 

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An oil finish renewed regularly will last forever. A hard finish is going to be vulnerable to abrasion, standing water, etc., even if you baby it. When moisture creeps underneath, the finish will fail.

Mineral oil with wax. Wipe it on warm, wipe off. Schedule:

Once a day for a week
Once a week for a month
Once a month for a year
As needed thereafter
 

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Discussion Starter · #17 ·
An oil finish renewed regularly will last forever. A hard finish is going to be vulnerable to abrasion, standing water, etc., even if you baby it. When moisture creeps underneath, the finish will fail.

Mineral oil with wax. Wipe it on warm, wipe off. Schedule:

Once a day for a week
Once a week for a month
Once a month for a year
As needed thereafter
I was hoping you would chime in @MsNomer due to your woodworking expertise. This schedule is great to know, I was not oiling it this often.

Question: do you think this regimen will prevent the butcher block from separating, even with significant seasonal humidity and temp swings (40’ and 80% in the winter, 90s and 20% in the summer)?
 

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I was hoping you would chime in @MsNomer due to your woodworking expertise. This schedule is great to know, I was not oiling it this often.

Question: do you think this regimen will prevent the butcher block from separating, even with significant seasonal humidity and temp swings (40’ and 80% in the winter, 90s and 20% in the summer)?
Like you said, you have uncontrolled humidity and temperature fluctuations in a van, we all do. MsNomer, gave good advice, oil it up plenty and often, especially if you clean your tops often, like I do at home. Advice is a rule of thumb kind of thing. I use a spray bottle of vinegar/water and it does strip some of the oil away and buffing with paper towel does too obviously. We are non meat eaters 99% of the time, so no need to chemically sanitize in my situation, plus we use cutting boards.

You'll be fine, I can't imagine a situation where someone could over-oil there tops. Sounds like a #springbreakscenario
 

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Discussion Starter · #20 ·
You'll be fine, I can't imagine a situation where someone could over-oil there tops. Sounds like a #springbreakscenario
LOL yeah I was having the opposite problem with the countertop (under-oiling). I will get after it with the oil following the suggested schedule, definitely didn't oil it that much.
 
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