Re-Finishing a Butcher Block Top
Simple steps you can take to keep your
butcher block looking beautiful.
About Butcher Blocks
Butcher blocks have traditionally been made from pieces of maple or a
similar hardwood bonded together to form a solid
slab. Butcher blocks have been used for hundreds of years and recently
have become popular in modern kitchen designs. More recently, butcher blocks have
become available in a variety of imported hardwoods.
Historically butcher blocks were
used for cutting meats. The thick hard surfaces were ideal for the heavy
blows of a meat cleaver down to the slicing action of a carving knife.
Today most butcher blocks serve more of an aesthetic purpose in the modern
Unfinished Butcher Block
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Care and Maintenance
Butcher blocks should be finished regularly with a mineral oil and a
beeswax coating to maintain their beauty and keep the wood from warping
and cracking. Modern polyurethane and varnish finishes that are used on
most furniture today should not be used on butcher blocks. These finishes
are hard and sit on the surface. Cutting on the butcher block will
break through this barrier and allow moisture into the wood.
Butcher blocks are made from natural wood and thus suffer
from the effects of moisture. Too much moisture will cause the block to
swell. Too little moisture can cause the wood to dry out and shrink
causing cracks. These problems can be avoided by keeping standing water
and moisture (such as liquids from meats) from sitting on the surface of
the block. Simply wipe the block dry when you are done.
bring dry air and this can cause the butcher block to loose moisture and
dry out as well. Placement of the block near a washing machine or stove can also
cause the block to dry out. Regular applications of mineral oil is the
best way to ensure that your butcher block keeps from drying out. A top
coat of beeswax finish not only helps to smooth the surface, it also helps
to repel water.
Sanding if Necessary
When refinishing a butcher block, you may wish to sand the surface of the
wood to remove old stains, scratches and marks. Sanding can also be used
to remove a polyurethane or varnish finish that was applied by mistake.
A random orbital sander is ideal for the sanding process.
If the wood is in rough shape you may want to start with an 80 grit
sandpaper. As you sand the block smoother and smoother, it is important to
"work through the grits". This means that each time you sand you
use finer and finer sandpaper. Each finer grade of sandpaper will remove
the scratches left by the previous grade. An example of this is to start
will an 80grit sandpaper, next use 120grit, then 240grit, and finally 400
grit. If your butcher block needs only modest sanding, you can start with the 240
grit and finish with the 400 grit. Depending on your desired finish, you
might skip the 400 grit sanding.
When sanding out gouges and scratches, keep in mind that if
you don't sand the top evenly you will end up with "hills" and
"valleys" in the top. If you concentrate your sanding on one
scratch to "get it out," you will end up with a valley. Antique
butcher blocks probably already suffer from this and you should probably
just consider them "character marks".
There are numerous oils available for butcher blocks. Some companies
market them as special "Butcher Block Finishes" or "Mystery
Oil". You can save some money by purchasing Food
Grade Mineral Oil as this is what is really in the bottles. (not mineral spirits - this is paint thinner)
Applying Mineral Oil
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You do not want to use olive oil, vegetable oil, or other
organic or food-based oils. These finishes can become rancid and sticky
with regular application and time. It won't hurt the block but it will
cause an odor and can impart a taste to food prepared on the surface.
The mineral oil can be applied to the surface with a rag
or sponge. It's very simple to apply and difficult to make a mistake.
Simply wipe it on the surface and watch it soak in. When the wood won't
take any more oil, you can wipe off the excess with a clean dry cloth.
Don't worry about applying too much oil - more is better.
New or old butcher blocks that have become dry may need
5-10 coats. Once a block has become conditioned, regular applications of 1-2
coats on a monthly basis are recommended. A beeswax finish should then be
applied for optimal performance.
Beeswax Top Coat
The beeswax topcoat is an optional addition to the re-finishing
process but is well worth the time. The beeswax sits on the surface of the
wood in contrast to the oil that soaks into the wood. As a result the
beeswax fills in pores and gaps that thin oil can't bridge. This helps to
keep moisture, bacteria, and other contaminants from getting into the wood
Applying Beeswax Finish
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The beeswax is an excellent natural moisture barrier. You
can test this by splashing water onto the block and watching it bead up.
If water sits on the surface for a long time it can cause the wax to turn
white in color. The finish will typically go back to normal when it dries out.
You can also wipe on more finish at any time. Remember, with a butcher block
it is important to keep the oil in the wood and the water out.
To apply the finish, simply wipe it on with a clean cloth. The beeswax is
a soft paste that has a similar consistency to that of a shoe polish.
Excess finish can be easily buffed off with the cloth. Once the finish has
had some time to dry it can be buffed to a shine. The beeswax polish also
helps to add a low-luster sheen to the wood's surface. Typically, only one
or two coats are needed. The finish is safe for food contact and is
actually edible! It can also be used on cutting boards and for kids toys
Regular (monthly) applications of mineral oil followed by beeswax
finish as described above should be used. Once the wood has been properly
conditioned, the re-applications of these finishes will take far less time,
effort and materials. The mineral oil can be applied over the beeswax
Water on Wax Finish
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Grade Mineral Oil and Beeswax butcher-block finish
can be purchased online at WoodZone.com. We also offer a Butcher
Block Care Kit that includes an 8oz bottle of Mineral Oil, 2oz can of
Beeswax, a pair of Non-latex gloves, and a cotton cloth.