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A Guide to Refinishing a Butcher Block Counter Top

This article was written as a response to the question: Can I refinish a butcher block counter top...and if so, how?

Refinishing a butcher-block counter top can be a very rewarding weekend project for the average DIYer because there are no special tools or supplies required.

Butcher blocks, traditionally, were constructed of maple or other hardwood boards bonded together to form a solid slab. Today, although the process is still the same, many other species of woods are used. The Michigan Maple Block company of Petoskey, Michigan, produced the first butcher block in 1881, prior to that butchers use to use tree stumps mounted on legs as chopping blocks to cut up their meat. Located in the heart of maple tree country the use of maple for the first manufactured butcher blocks was a natural choice and they really stood up under the constant blows of the butcher’s meat cleaver. Bally Block Company of Bally, Pennsylvania, starter producing butcher blocks in 1926. In 1929, Michigan Maple Block purchased Bally Block and goes by the name Wood Welded Company.

Butcher blocks, even today’s butcher-block counter tops manufactured with ecofriently Durakrl 102, a 100 percent VOC (Volatile Organic Compound) free finish and 100 percent formaldehyde free glues need to be refinished from time to time. Butcher-block counter tops require more periodic maintenance than any other counter tops but their beauty and functional durability makes the effort more then worthwhile. With that said, let’s begin our refinishing project.

If the butcher-block counter top hasn’t been care for properly, there are probably some deep stains that we will need to take care of first. Actually sanding is a good way to start whether there are any stains or not because sanding removes scratches as well as any varnish or polyurethane finishes that may have been applied by mistake. Varnishes and polyurethane finishes should never be used on butcher-block counter tops because these finishes set on top of the wood and when scratched or cut they expose the underlying wood to water and other fluids. A random orbital sander works best for sanding the counter top. If the counter top is really in rough shape you will want to start the sanding process with an 80-grit paper and slowly work up to a 400 grit paper for the finish sanding. Start with 80-grit paper then go to 120 grit, to 240 grit, to 400 grit. If the butcher-block counter top only requires modest sanding, you may want to start the process with the 240-grit paper and then finish up with the 400-grit paper. A word of caution, if you are sanding out deep gouges, make sure to sand the whole top evenly or else you will end up with a very unattractive, wavy surface. Now, with the freshly sanded counter top before you, you are ready to begin applying the new finish. Butcher-block counter tops should always be finished using a food grade mineral oil and beeswax. A good source for these products is WoodZone.com.

Begin by rubbing the mineral oil on in even layers using a rag or sponge. Allow the mineral oil time to be absorbed by the wood before applying the next coat. Keep applying the mineral oil in even coats until the wood absorbs no more oil. With a new butcher-block countertop or with a freshly sanded old butcher-block countertop, you may need to apply 5 to 10 coats before you arrive at this point. Once the top stops absorbing the oil, wipe off the excess oil with a clean, dry cloth.

The beeswax topcoat is an optional step but it’s a step well worth taking. The beeswax actually forms protective bridges across the gaps between the boards making up the butcher-block top. The beeswax actually sets on top of the finishes thus filling in the gaps and pores that the mineral oil is unable to protect. The beeswax makes the butcher-block top impervious to moisture, bacteria, and any other contaminants that could contaminate the counter top and the food you prepare on it. Like with the mineral oil, you apply beeswax by simply wiping it on with a clean rag. As a rule, unlike with the mineral oil, only one or two coats are needed. Once the beeswax has had sufficient time to dry, buff it to a high luster using a soft cloth.

Now that you have returned your butcher-block countertop to its original beauty you need to maintain it by applying the mineral oil and beeswax on a monthly bases.

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Comments (1)
nina flannery

Thank you very much. I like all suggestions and preferences of the author, but wish I could find a 'print' goto on the page

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