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!

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.

    1. Passionate Chump

      Hi Sara – thanks for visiting and for the great question! I seal the sides and if I’ve cut a hole in the butcherblock, eg., to install a faucet or sink, I coat the sides of the hole. But I haven’t sealed the underside of any of the butcherblocks I’ve Waterloxed. For the one butcherblock located over the dishwasher, I have used the Ikea FIXA Diffusion Barrier which looks like sticky tin foil and costs under $10. I haven’t seen any issues on that or any of our other butcherblock like warping or water damage. I really don’t think it’s necessary to seal the underside. Hope that helps!

  2. Alicia

    I’m just about to do this with a slab from Home Depot that will go on top of a medium shelf for our coffee center. Thanks for the specifics. I made my list and will refer to this! Now to see if Ace carries Waterlox. I am considering staining it first since I like either lighter wood or darker and not as crazy about the medium shade.

    1. Passionate Chump

      Hi Alicia – thanks for writing! I have only ever seen Waterlox online. I’ve bought it through Amazon and also directly from Waterlox through their site. I think Amazon was able to get it to me a little quicker and with Prime I got free shipping. I love the lighter wood but as I wrote in another Waterlox post I did (see https://www.passionatechumpdiy.com/waterlox-on-butcher-block-4-years-later/), the color of the wood did change a bit – tilted toward a more amber color over time. The color will change a little with the first coat of Waterlox, and then deepen with time. Your project sounds great and I hope my tips help to make it go smoothly. Good luck!

  3. Kirstin

    Fantastic details! Thank you for your tips on how to apply Waterlox. Getting ready to put my Satin Waterlox last coat on now. Couldn’t have done such a good job without your post. I read Waterlox’s directions, watched the tutorial videos and still found your post superior. I also appreciate the post on how the countertops have held up and cleaners to use. Thanks for taking The time to post and help the rest of us DIYers!!!

    1. Passionate Chump

      Thanks so much for the comment Kirstin. So glad this post helped you crush this DIY project! I do love the feel of that satin Waterlox when it’s brand new. So satisfying. Using the right cleaning products is truly key. Our counters continue to hold up and I’m sure it’s because we haven’t used anything abrasive on them. We don’t treat them with kid gloves; we just use the right cleaners. Enjoy your countertop!

  4. Eric

    I have had 5 coats of Waterlox on my butcher block counters for two years. I have a problem with any stickers on the counter or even magazines sitting on it for more than 1 minute. When I go to pick up the sticker or magazine, it is firmly stuck to the counter, and I have to soak and scrape it with a credit card. In some cases, the finish has peeled up all of the layers leaving a big, highly noticeable spot. Do you have this? How can you stop or fix it?

    1. Passionate Chump

      Hi Eric – I have not encountered this problem to the extent that you describe. I have experienced a very stepped back version of ink-transfer with glossy magazine covers. But a few spritzes of a natural cleaner, let it set for a minute, and then a wipe up with a paper towel has taken care of things for me. I have never had to soak a spot for more than a minute and I can see the ink lifting off in that minute. Never had to scrape, and I’ve never had layers peel up. That makes me wonder if the surface wasn’t prepped thoroughly before the Waterlox was applied? Like – it didn’t adhere to your butcherblock? I would absolutely reach out to Waterlox and tell them about this. I’ve contacted them once or twice over the years and they’ve been timely, friendly and thorough. Sorry I don’t have any answers for you. That sounds frustrating and I’d be freaking out if that was happening to my countertops!

  5. Matt Wagner

    Thank You!
    Being a contractor, I appreciate the level of detailed advice you give on this project. Really well done PC.
    I have one tip to give regarding storage of Waterlox after each coat.
    I pour it in a saved and dishwasher cleaned pasta sauce jar. Then place a piece of saran wrap with a small (dime sized) hole cut in the center, on the top of jar.
    And I have a vacuum sealer universal lid that I put on top of that and suck out all the air in the jar. Works like a champ as far as preserving the Waterlox, without having to squeeze/crush the can. Thanks again,

    1. Passionate Chump

      Thanks Matt – that’s a great tip! Crushing the can is effective but then the can wants to fall over. Annoying. Your method sounds more stable for sure. I actually have wondered about preserving the satin finish product which comes in a wide-mouth can. If you have tips to share on that I’m sure more than just me would appreciate your expertise!

  6. Brooke Abruscato

    This has been so helpful!! Thank you so much. I have applied 4 coats of the original waterlox over the last week onto my butcherblock, and am preparing to put the final coat of satin finish on today. Do you recommend a foam brush for that?

    1. Passionate Chump

      Hi Brooke – I do recommend a foam brush be used for your last coat. And I wouldn’t be stingy with the product either. Put enough down so that it glides over the top. The last coat is a bit nerve wracking – I know. But you got this Brooke! Thanks for your question!

  7. David B

    Hi, thanks for the tips! I’m about to start my first waterlox butcher block project! I got a poplar piece that has some shades of green, does the green color soften with the waterlox application?
    Thanks!

    1. Passionate Chump

      Hi David – Thanks for commenting! I have only ever put Waterlox on birch butcherblock. Funny though – I’ve wondered about poplar which I am using more and more since learning there are no knots in it. I did do a rehab project on a really old dining room table a couple of years ago. I removed a peeling veneer and underneath that was poplar boards. They were very green which I liked, but then I coated with a water-based polyurethane and the color changed a bit. Over time, the green has all but disappeared and the top got much more tan in appearance. Still nice, but I did love the green. You might shoot Waterlox a note and ask about this. Sorry I have no more intel to share with you. Good luck!

      1. Angy

        hello I am putting waterlox on my worktop I am going in the third layer and you can see some rough parts I started to sand to smooth but it seems to be peeling, what should I do to make you look smooth?

        1. Passionate Chump

          Hi Angy – I’m sorry I am only now responding to your question. Peeling Waterlox is not something I have any experience with. I wonder if there was something on your worktop, something oily maybe?, that isn’t allowing the Waterlox to penetrate the wood. I don’t know enough about your issue to suggest a fix. If it were me, I might start over by sanding the worktop down to bare wood – and then sanding some more to make sure I’m down to wood and only wood in case there’s some old, stubborn, oily substance on there that I can’t see. I’d run my bare hand over the top once I think I’m done to check that I don’t feel anything on the countertop. Then I’d start in on my Waterlox coats and I wouldn’t rush the process. I’d let each coat dry for 24 hours even if I’m working in more than ideal conditions and the countertop feels dry and ready for the next coat later the same day. But like I said, I’ve never had this happen and I’m not an expert – I’m just one more Passionate Chump out here DIYing. 🙂 Waterlox has a page devoted to answering questions like this. Maybe check out their “Project Help” page. Also I’ve contacted Waterlox customer support in the past via email and they are super helpful. Hope this is useful. Thanks for commenting!

  8. Lauren

    Thanks for all the pointers! We just finished coat #3 of the waterlox original. We are thinking of not doing the satin finish as we love the feel and look with just the original. After we finish up with coat # 4 should we sand again? And also what cleaners would you recommend to extend the life of our butcher block island top.

    1. Passionate Chump

      Hi Lauren – Your Waterlox project is probably done and you’ve been living with your countertops for weeks now. I’m apologize for my delayed response. In case it’s useful to other visitors I’ll give an answer. I think you are asking if your final step will be to sand the final coat of Waterlox you lay down. The answer from my experience is no. You should sand before your final coat with a fine grit paper. As I shared in Tip #9, I use 400 grit. After that you can lay down your final coat – either the Original Waterlox or the satin finish. I’ve always used a foam brush for sure to put down the final coat. Waterlox maintains a page, “Tips for a Smoother Final Finish“, that might be useful. As for cleaners, I talk about this in the “Waterlox on Butcher Block: 4 Years Later” post. Check out the section labeled “Our secret to Waterlox longevity” which includes a link Waterlox’s care suggestions. I hope your final coat came out great!

  9. Erika

    We are getting ready to start our project. We are going to stain it a deep walnut color first and then apply the Waterlox. Is this Product an oil that penetrates the wood or is it a poly that leaves a clear hard layer between the wood and whatever is on the counter?

    1. Passionate Chump

      Erika – thanks for getting in touch and apologies that I am just now posting a reply. According to the folks at Waterlox, this stuff is “a unique blend of Tung oil and resin” (more info). It does penetrate the wood which is why I write about “the disappearing first coat” in Tip #6. This doesn’t mean that you can’t sand back down to the bare wood if you ever need to. I recently had to do that to repair a bad burn — hot pan lid on butcherblock — that went deep into the countertop. I’ve never stained wood and then used Waterlox so I can’t speak to how the Original or Satin finish sealer will behave in this instance.

  10. Spencer

    Great information, thanks for the help! One question though. In tip #8, you say potentially up to 5 coats of Waterlox. Is that including the Satin finish? Or are you thinking 5 coats of the sealer/finisher alone?

    1. Passionate Chump

      Hi Spencer – I apologize if I’m too late in getting you this information. For those who visit in the future looking for an answer to this question, a couple of times I have had to apply five coats of Waterlox – that’s four coats of the Original sealer and then one final coat of Satin finish (I’ve only ever topped my butcherblock with Satin finish). If I remember correctly this extra coat was due to an odd piece of butcherblock which just seemed super dried out from the git-go and sucked down Waterlox fast. I also think the conditions that you apply Waterlox in makes a difference in the absorption rate. I applied it one hot hot HOT Chicago summer day and it dried surprisingly quickly. It was hard but I resisted the temptation to turn around and put down another coat in an effort to get my project completed fast. Having done a few of these countertops I now know what the final coat should look and feel like. If you are unsure, and you have it to spare, do one more round. Sort of like the first coat that just feels all wrong when it disappears on you (Tip #6), your final coat will feel all RIGHT. You’ll know it when you see it! And feel it! Hope that answers your question – thanks for your comment!

  11. Priscilla

    How many of the quarter cans did you use for say a small kitchen, about 19 linear feet of butcher block? I got one can but now worried I won’t have enough. Other sites say seal with waterlox on all sides. Any thoughts on this? Also is it okay to do this in the garage or is that going to mess up acclimatizing. It’s hotter in the garage. But we don’t have much humidity here.

    1. Passionate Chump

      Hi Priscilla – thanks for reaching out. I couldn’t tell you how much Waterlox you need for your project but you might find Waterlox’s application guide useful for this purpose. I do seal the counter top and all of the sides. Doing this makes cleaning the countertop easy and you don’t have to worry about washing down bare wood on the sides, plus you get spill protection. I have not sealed the bottom. I worried about this when I installed a butcherblock countertop over my dishwasher which is next to my sink. I thought the steam expelled from the dishwasher when I open the door might warp the countertop. It’s been years and nothing like this has happened – all good. I do have an diffusion barrier from Ikea – ours is called “Fixa”. It cost around $5 and looks like tinfoil that you stick to the underside of the counter to deal with steam which may or may not have helped with this issue (if it’s an issue – not sure). I do all of my Waterloxing in my garage and I’ve not had any problems with the wood heating up too much or humidity messing up the finish. As I wrote in Tip #1, this stuff smells! Better to apply it outside of your living space. Hope this helps!

  12. Priscilla

    I am asking bc i just got in new butcher block and they say acclimatize it for 72 hours but then If I’m waterloxing in the garage it will be so hot isn’t that a recipe for warping?

    1. Passionate Chump

      Hi again Priscilla – I get your concern. Maybe, if you put your butherblock in the garage at night or in the early morning before the sun is cooking your garage, there’s a good chance that things will be okay. The countertop will heat up with the garage rather than heat up in a hurry if you bring it into the garage when it’s already 130 degrees. I don’t know this for certain and I can’t guarantee anything! As I wrote earlier, I do my Waterlox projects in the garage and summers in Chicago get hot and they get humid! And sometimes they are hot and humid at the same time! I’ve not experienced any warping but maybe I’m just lucky as well as passionate and a chump? I hope you do not experience any warping and that your project was/will be a success!

  13. sheila

    I recently purchased my butcher block home depot. I first applied 3 separate coats of mineral oil thinking that was the way I wanted to go. However, after reading about waterlox, I have decided to go with waterlox. I have let the countertop sit for 30 days now. Am I safe to now apply waterlox?

    1. Passionate Chump

      Hi Sheila – I used mineral oil on one butcherblock countertop years ago before I knew about Waterlox. Moving over to Waterlox, what worked for me was to completely sand that butcherblock down until I felt like I had a good clean dry base to apply the Waterlox to. I then went through the steps of applying Waterlox and all was well. I think this might be because Waterlox is oil-based. If you were doing something like a water-based polyurethane on a countertop that was previously covered in mineral oil you might run into issues. All to say, if your conditions are like mine were, you should be fine. But you might check with Waterlox customer support about this as I did my particular countertop years ago and their formulas have changed since then. I hope this helps!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.