The beauty and warmth of wood will enrich any kitchen. However, over time, a wooden work surface, such as a butcher’s cutting block, can wear out and deteriorate. Pen marks, knife marks, and wine stains take their toll on the appearance of a once-beautiful surface. If you are remodeling and thinking of replacing a butcher block countertop, or butcher block island, consider giving it a new finish. It’s easy, inexpensive, and a great “green” option. Your block or countertop can be refinished in just a few hours and look brand new. Restore your butcher board with the simple steps listed below.
Some butcher board surfaces have been treated with oil and wax only. Others, most often the countertops, have been treated with an oil that has a little varnish mixed in (commonly called a salad bowl finish). Either finish is easily sanded with an orbital sander, which will get the job done quickly without leaving swirl marks. Use your sander to remove a thin layer from your butcher board and expose the untouched wood underneath.
Step one: The general rule of thumb is to start with a coarse grit sandpaper and work in stages to a finer grit as you go. Starting with an 80-100 grain should be fine. The goal is to remove the blemishes that years of use have created. Using long, even strokes, sand with the grain of your butcher board. If you press hard or unevenly, the sander will dig into the wood and create an uneven, wavy surface. Remember, you are not cleaning scratches! Just let the sander do the work for you and keep your strokes long and consistent.
Second step: When you have sanded the surface to where all visible imperfections have been removed, switch to a finer grit, say 150. The goal is to sand the small scratches left by the previous grit. Again, use long, even strokes. After going over your butcher board with this finer grain twice, increase your grain to about 240 and repeat the process. Continuing with finer grains will give you a smoother, smoother surface, but it is not necessary.
Once you’re done sanding, vacuum the sawdust off thoroughly and then wipe with an antistatic cloth. When your butcher block is totally sawdust free, you can seal it.
You can seal your butcher board in two ways:
1) a “salad bowl finish” or
2) mineral oil and beeswax.
A food-safe “salad bowl” finish is a hard, glossy finish containing varnish that is not only resistant to water and stains, but is also easy to clean. Cutting directly on this finish will damage it and dull your knives more quickly. Best used on a butcher block countertop and not recommended for direct food preparation. If you decide to use this type of finish, you can find it at your hardware store and follow the manufacturer’s instructions for its application.
An oil and wax finish is generally a mixture of food grade mineral oil and beeswax. This type of finish is best used on a butcher cutting board for direct food preparation. The oil penetrates the wood, making it resistant to water and humidity changes. The wax remains on the surface creating a slightly shiny waterproof layer. This type of finish is not damaged by knife blades. There are many table oil products on the market, as well as homemade recipes that are easy to prepare. Note that the oil of choice is food grade mineral oil, as it does not go rancid.
Step three: To finish your butcher block with oil, first gently heat the oil. Warm oil penetrates better than cold. Brush or rub a thin coat of oil, moving with the grain, and allow it to penetrate before applying another coat. Excess oil that is not absorbed in about an hour should be wiped off before it becomes thick and resinous. Repeat this process of greasing, soaking, and cleaning until the oil is no longer absorbed. The amount of oil you need to apply will depend on how dry your butcher board is. Finish off your project with a sealer coat of beeswax. Buff the wax to a smooth shine with a soft cloth and walk away to admire your work.
Any wooden surface, be it a butcher block island or a large butcher chopping block, can be easily restored by sanding and regreasing. It is an economical and environmentally friendly solution when updating a kitchen and will return any wooden surface to its former beauty.