10 Tips for Perfect Waterlox Butcher Block

Waterloxed much? I sure have. I’ve applied Waterlox to eleven butcher block countertops and re-coated a couple too. No – I don’t own a mansion with three kitchens; I own a three-flat apartment building and so have three kitchens with four countertops in each to maintain.

I have my reasons for choosing Waterlox and butcher block for my own apartment and my rental units. To learn how the butcher block we live with has held up over the years, here’s a post for you.

There’s a lot out there about applying Waterlox and before getting started on mine I read and watched it all. Regardless, I worried and fretted over applying the stuff to my very first countertop. Having now Waterloxed eleven countertops – whew! – I’ve got some tried and true tips to share with my fellow Passionate Chumps. Here ya go!

Tip #1: Take this fight outside

I do all my Waterloxing out in the garage. The stuff may be all natural but it stinks and you probably don’t want to be in a closed room with it for an extended period of time. If you have any say in the matter, Waterlox your countertops in Summer or Fall. The less humid and the more warm the air, the better.

Tip #2: Go cheap (brush) or go home

I use inexpensive chip brushes (those around $1 brushes with a wooden handle and natural bristles) for the first two rounds, and then cheap foam brushes for the next two or three rounds. I only use a brush for one round of application. I don’t, for instance, wrap a brush in a plastic bag and then use it again in 24 hours. Did that once and left behind glops of dried Waterlox. I have also left behind bits of foam brush when I tried to use one twice. Why bother? Just throw out the cheap brush and move on to a fresh new one.

Tip #3: Reuse, repurpose, recycle!

I start saving up containers as I approach Waterlox go-time so that I can pour out just enough Waterlox for one go-around on a countertop, and then I toss the container along with the brush. By about the middle of the second countertop I was doing pitch perfect, no waste pours into single serving Chobani yogurt containers which are the perfect size for a 2” chip or foam brush. If you have to re-use a container wipe it out thoroughly with a dry cloth when you are done with a coat. If you allow the Waterlox to dry in the container, and then try to re-use the container, you are pretty much guaranteed to get glops of dried Waterlox in the next coat.

Tip #4: Crinkle crinkle little can

The quart-sized Waterlox Original Sealer comes in a rectangular can. Crinkle up the can as you go. This pushes air out of the can which would otherwise dry out the product.

Tip #5: (Don’t) get into the groove

In the beginning I poured out Waterlox in exactly the opposite way I’m suggesting here. It just made sense to me to pour from the “short” end of the can. Well, wrong. Pour the Waterlox out of the can in the way shown in this photo (but take the cap off, of course) to keep the stuff from pooling on the top of the can, making the screw cap harder and harder to twist off as the layers of Waterlox dry in the cap grooves.

Tip #6: The disappearing first coat. Don’t panic!

As they state on their website, Waterlox penetrates deep into the wood. I always use the Original Sealer/Finish for all but the final coat where I use the Satin Finish. The Original Sealer/Finish is very loose. It has a consistency closer to water than to, say, polyurethane. I suppose this depends on the wood you are Waterloxing but for both the Ikea and Menards butcher block I worked with the stuff really soaked in. Don’t panic when your first coat pretty much disappears on you! I lay down a thick first coat and by the time I make it to the end of the counter I’m working on I can see that the first half has pretty much left the building. Just let the stuff dry for 24 hours (if it’s hot and dry outside I will recoat in 12 hours), and then move on to the next coat. I don’t bother sanding the first coat, I just move on to the next.

Tip #7: Like grains of sand stuck to a piece of paper

I lay my second coat on thick too. When that one dries you’ll start to see some shine. Exciting! After this coat dries you will need to sand. Sanding between coats from here on out is absolutely the key to getting a super smooth finish. I sand with 220 grit paper, then wipe the entire surface down with a clean damp rag and then I wipe everything down again with a clean dry rag. Now it’s ready to re-coat.

Tip #8: Do not touch (up)

For coats three, four, and sometimes five, of Waterlox I use a foam brush and it’s all about building on the last coat. I look for dull areas going into a new coat. You don’t want to try to touch up as you go. Waterlox will self-level if you put enough on. If you steadily work your way to the other side of your countertop and then notice a low spot somewhere it’s better to just let the entire coat dry, then sand, then over saturate the low spot on your next go around.

Tip #9: Go gently into that final coat

I do the same sand/damp-cloth-wipe/dry-cloth-wipe process for the final coat but I use 400 grit sand paper before applying the Waterlox Satin Finish coat. FYI, the Satin Finish is a little thicker than the Original Sealer/Finish. I find that you have to work a little quicker with the Satin Finish. It just seems to set a little quicker. Definitely do not touch up as you go (see Tip # 8).  That final coat is so satisfying to put down and when it dries it has a gorgeous feel to it. Your butcher block will look amazing. Really!

Tip #10: Wherefore art thou, 1.5″ butcher block?

Okay so this tip is about purchasing butcher block, not applying Waterlox. I’ve been asked about this tip several times so thought I’d just add it here. Ikea stopped offering 1.5” thick countertops several years ago. If you prefer the thicker profile I’ve found quality butcher block at comparable prices at Menards and Floor and Decor. I believe you can order the thicker tops online at Home Depot and Lowes as well but you’ll have to wait for shipping. Also, did you know that you can get butcher block through Amazon? Now you do!

Have you used Waterlox on butcher block? Love it? Hate it? Please share your experience in the comments!


  1. Charolette LeMier

    Thank you so much for the details and it’s obvious you are very knowledgeable in this area. My husband and I have researched how to refinish our maple island top and you wrapped it up for us in detail. Thanks again!

    1. Passionate Chump

      Thanks for your comment Charolette! I hope your maple island top turned out great! I’m about to embark on yet another Waterlox project and I had to refer back to my own post to refresh my memory on the best way to go about it. 🙂 Glad the post was useful to you.

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