My butcher block countertop bona fides
As I mention in other posts, I have installed a lot of butcher block countertops. I own a small apartment building and each unit, including mine, has several butcher block countertops in the kitchens.
When I bought the building it was empty. It needed….a lot. Money….was tight. I needed to get the apartments ready to rent in a hurry and so I had to strategize ways to get things done fast and stretch dollars far. A lot of DIYing was going on, and DIY countertops were definitely part of my strategy.
I chose butcher block because I could pick it up in a number of places same-day. And the cost to outfit one of my kitchens with butcher block countertops was in the range of hundreds – not thousands – of dollars.
What has made butcher block countertops a great long-term choice for my situation is the product I stumbled upon while researching how to seal butcher block. This sealer was and remains a game changer. With it, the countertops are pretty much maintenance free. And when maintenance is needed, it’s easy to do and the results are phenomenal.
I did a lot of research into sealing butcher block countertops before I stumbled upon the good stuff. If you are still on a quest for answers, here’s some info about why I didn’t choose some other popular sealer options.
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Why I didn’t choose these popular sealer options
My research first led me to mineral oil which a lot of folks use, like, and recommend. I learned the hard way that mineral oil is not the right way to go in a tenant unit. It requires a level of regular upkeep that is too much to ask tenants to take on.
The level of upkeep was no good for my household either. I needed a set-it-and-forget-it, not a set-a-monthly-reminder, solution.
Tung oil (though that’s in the mix)
I first learned about tung oil when I was researching how to maintain a wooden salad bowl. People also use tung oil on butcher block countertops. I really like the matte finish that you can get with tung oil and would love that finish on my countertops.
But, like mineral oil, you’ll have to re-coat tung oil periodically. And, like mineral oil, you won’t have a high level of protection against water damage on the surface of your countertops (that’s what I learned the hard way…).
I use polyurethane a lot in DIY furniture projects and considered it for my butcher block counters.
The thing about polyurethane is that it sits on top of wood rather than being absorbed into wood. This means a scratch, gouge, or chip can expose the wood to all the stuff you were hoping to protect it from like water, oil, grease. Once that stuff gets into a scratch or chip it starts to work its way under the polyurethane and into the wood. Ultimately, and in due time, the polyurethane can’t help but fail.
Even though I was adept with polyurethane, I ruled it out as a sealer for my butcher block. I needed a durable, long term solution.
We’ll get to the big reveal I swear! But while on the topic of scratches and gouges, here’s a photo that captures major scratches and gouges in a butcher block countertop in one of my tenant units. This shows four years of clearly hard living on these countertops. Anyway, my point: notice that the finish is still intact – no peeling or missing sealer. If this were polyurethane? This countertop would have been toast! Look closely and you’ll see that the sealer is still present and offering protection in the scratches and gouges. Bonus – a quick sanding and a couple of coats of my go-to sealer and this countertop was brand new and ready for service.
And some other options
I researched other finishes such as resin (eg., a glossy bar top finish), beeswax, and other oils like linseed, walnut and coconut. I also considered just leaving the butcher block bare and sanding it clean between tenants. None of these options worked for me aesthetically or functionally.
Introducing The Good Stuff
Finally, my sealer search ended when I stumbled upon Waterlox.
I use Waterlox Original Formula Sealer on all of my butcher block countertops. According to the folks at Waterlox,
“our resin-modified Tung Oil products penetrate deep into wood to literally lock out water and provide a rich, distinctive finish that is easy to maintain.”Waterlox ORIGINAL Formula, https://waterlox.com/original
They ain’t lyin’!
I love the look and feel of countertops that sport the Original Formula Satin finish. That’s been my go to for years. Here’s why:
1. Once it’s cured it’s food safe.
And the cure time is just seven days.
2. It’s durable and holds up to daily use. And I mean for years.
Waterlox absorbs into the wood so it won’t chip or crack. (This is important. See info about polyurethane above.)
We’ve now had countertops in our apartment for eight years and I’m only now getting a hankering to re-coat them (driven by the re-coating I recently did in a tenant unit which was transformational.)
3. Re-coating is a straightforward process.
There is a learning curve to using Waterlox, especially when you are applying it to new or newly sanded butcher block. It’s a different beast than polyurethane. (Check out the comments on our “10 tips for perfect Waterlox” post to get a sense of what I mean.)
But re-coating is an easy DIY project that can be managed quickly. And the results of a re-coating are so satisfying. Your countertop will be brand new again!
4. It’s easy to keep clean.
No – you can’t hit your Waterloxed countertops hard with the scrubby side of your sponge, or use cleaners like Formula 409 or Fantasic. But there’s a ton of cleaner options you can grab off the shelf at your regular grocery store or places like Target, or you can order stuff easily online. More about cleaners is available in this post.
5. It looks and feels great.
When I show my apartments to potential tenants they tend to swoon over the butcher block countertops. These counters are just so many steps above the typical laminated countertop you find in a rental. We love them in our place, too, and our visitors go ga-ga for them as well.
Just one caveat…
I love light colored wood and the birch countertops I typically buy are a super light color. When I first complete a sealing project with Waterlox, the stuff really brings out the detail in the wood, knots, and grain.
But, because it’s a penetrating finish, Waterlox gets down into the wood and it will change the color of it. The folks makes it clear on their website that their original sealer will have an ambering effect on wood.
Ambering means your countertop will gradually develop an orange tone to it over time. I’m not nuts about this one aspect of using Waterlox.
While the amber tones aren’t my first choice, the benefits that Waterlox provides keeps me coming back for more – from protection against water damage to easy countertop rejuvenation time and time again.
Ready to seal your butcher block with a food safe, low maintenance sealer?
Hooray for you!
If you want to try Waterlox, here are the two products I use for great results:
- Waterlox Original Sealer (if you want a glossy finish, you can use only this product. If you want a satin finish, use this product for your first several coats and then make your last coat the Satin finish)
- Waterlox Original Satin Finish (if you want a satin finish, use this for your final coat)
I’ve got a bunch of tips to help you achieve success sealing your butcher block countertop.
If you’re curious about how Waterlox holds up over time, here’s a post I did at the four year mark.