Today's post is a bit of a followup to a post we did a while ago regarding the best methods (in our opinion) for treating our new butcher block counter tops. Now that we're several months into the rather proud ownership of beautiful wood kitchen counters, I think it's time we take a quick look back and fill you in on a few developments and revelations we've had since our install. We've adjusted our approach slightly and it's working really well.

From our initial research and investigations most die hard butcher block people suggest you only need to use a mineral oil or chestnut oil to treat the wood. Based on this advice we went ahead and applied mineral oil to the counters in a daily, then weekly, then monthly fashion. We made sure to check on the counters often and reapply when it seemed to be getting a little dry, and we made sure to wipe up any standing water so it wouldn't be allowed to sit, soak in, and stain or otherwise affect the counters. In all, we felt our counter treatment was going well, until we visited my parents' house over Thanksgiving.

My parents installed butcher block on their kitchen island a few years ago and they've really liked it. Over Thanksgiving we had the opportunity to check out what they've been using to treat their counters. The first thing I noticed was just how smooth their counters felt compared to our counters. That's my mom at the sink in the photo above, mid Thanksgiving meal prep, so please excuse any disorganization or mess, she had no idea I was taking the photo. 

I asked my parents what they use to treat their wood and they broke out their butcher block supply arsenal. We're talking multiple bottles here folks. I get my overkill honestly. Of the items they used one struck me over the rest, the Howard's mineral oil plus natural (bees') waxes.

While we've been using the mineral oil to treat our counters, I've noticed how it works. It goes on the surface, soaks into the wood, and then we wipe away any excess. This seems to work well for the short term treatment, but the oil doesn't fill any voids or build up the surface of the counter, leaving any rough surface texture feeling in place. In the case of my parents' counters, though it's a different and smoother species of wood (cherry I believe?), their surface is almost a little shiny, like it had been polished. They've never treated it with more than the products they showed me, so I assumed it had to be the added waxes they've been using.

When we were making our cheese boards from remnant butcher block scraps I used this new oil and wax combo to give it a try, and I was extremely happy with how it turned out. So happy, in fact, that we started using it on our counters. The important thing is that it is still 100% food safe and all natural.

To use this wax we employ the following simple methods.

After removing all items from the counter to oil (which is actually the biggest pain when it comes to butcher block counters), I hit the whole counter top with a 220 grit sandpaper. It wasn't too major of a sanding job, just enough to smooth out any rough areas that had developed and to remove any surface blemishes from water stains. This is one of those things I really like about butcher block. I only sanded before the first application of the oil and wax, it's not an every time thing.

Once I was happy with the sanded look and feeling, I got ready to apply the oil/wax. The most important thing I've learned while using this is to SHAKE VIGOROUSLY. I'm talking whole-body-arm-hurting shake. This will mix the wax and oil in the container, making sure you have a more even overall application. Think about how much better oil and vinegar dressing tastes when shaken, or peanut butter when stirred, same philosophy here, but we're not eating this, but you get the idea.

When I apply the oil to the surface I like to spread it all over the area and then begin wiping with the rag to spread it around. I've seen some people say to apply in one small area and spread, but that doesn't work quite as well for me. 

Once this waxy oil has been spread all over the counters it should sit for a while. The bottle says to allow it to sit for 20 minutes, but I prefer to let it be a while longer. Perhaps a few hours or even overnight if possible. This allows the oil to really soak into the surface and replenish any shriveled and thirsty wood fibers.

You can see how much richer the surface color is once it's all been applied. When I feel the surface has drunk in enough of the nutrients, I wipe off any excess with my rag (or paper towels when in a pinch) and begin buffing the surface. This is where the difference in using the wax comes out. While the oil wipes away, the wax stays on the surface and is worked into all of the various voids of the porous wood. 

As I've repeated the process and the wax has slowly built up, I noticed a significant change in the texture of the previously rough oak counters. The texture remains to some extent, but it's been smoothed considerably, and it much easier to work on. 

I'm quite glad that we've reassessed our approach over time, and I'm sure we'll continue to do so. There's obviously no "end all and be all" for how to treat butcher block, but now that we've been using this mineral oil and wax combo on our counters for about a month, we've noticed a much smoother feeling starting to emerge. We also notice that the water has started to bead a bit more on the surface, and can be wiped off more easily after being allowed to sit a while longer. 

What do you think? Is this a good direction to head? My parents also use the "Mystery Oil" on their counter, but putting anything "mystery" on our counters makes me feel a bit apprehensive. Do you have wood counters? If so, what do you use?

Note: I'd also like to point out, as with our Toolbox Tuesday posts, we weren't compensated for this review. We simply want to share good products when we see them, and hope that learning from our mistakes can help save you time, money and frustration.

Comments 41

Comments

1/11/2013 at 11:33 AM
It looks great guys! Beautiful countertops. And mom's kitchen too...wow!
Wendy
1/11/2013
Thanks, Antonella! We've been really happy with the butcher block. I wish we had done it sooner!
Karin K
1/11/2013 at 12:55 PM
If you snapped a picture of my kitchen during mid-preparation for ANY meal, you'd have something to apologize for. Your Mom is an amazingly organized cook, and her kitchen is gorgeous! Thanks for the update!
1/13/2013 at 9:45 AM
I agree.. i dont find any mess or disorganization in this picture :D
Dave
1/14/2013 at 7:56 PM
Thanks for the kind comment Karin! My wife, Alex's mom, is indeed organized as she prepares a meal! Thanks for the compliment on our kitchen as well!

Dave
Tiffany Miller
1/11/2013 at 2:25 PM
I use the same mineral oil on our butcher block counter tops. Instead of shaking the bottle, I squeeze a generous amount into a glass bowl and heat it up on low on the stove to liquify it. I give it a good stir before applying it. What kind of bees wax do you use and where do you buy that? I would love to try this out also :) Thanks for the inspiration, I need to reapply tonight, I'm overdue!
Alex
1/13/2013
That's a great tip, thanks! The beeswax I'm referring to is actually in the bottle, it's a part of the "natural waxes" it refers to. I know there's other wax only products that you can apply as well. We may give that a try before too long and will update with our results.
Jan
1/12/2013 at 2:46 AM
This post got me thinking about a beautiful end-grain cutting board I own. Do you think this same wax-and-oil treatment would work for it?
Alex
1/13/2013
I think it would probably work quite well for the end grain. The only thing I've noticed is a slightly white residue left in any significant voids. If any of the end grain has split that wax may be visible in the voids. That's the only real consideration I can think of.
Wayne
6/13/2013 at 6:25 PM
I also used mineral oil on our butcher block counter, and didn't like the results: the rough surface as you mentioned, and the continual oily look, which also bonded a huge amount of dust and grime to the counter, turning it from blonde to grey.

I looked around for other options, and found suggestions to use pure tung oil, which is supposed to build up a harder, more waterproof finish. Tung oil isn't exactly cheap, so I kept looking and found the 'Behandla' butcher block finish from Ikea that contains tung oil. I took a chance, completely sanded down the counter and applied several coats (5?) of the Behandla. Several months later it still looks great and hasn't needed nearly as much care as a mineral oil finish. It is much more waterproof, but not completely, has a very natural look, and is a bit more durable.
Steve
8/3/2013 at 10:05 AM
I'm getting ready to install new unfinished butcher block on some small kitchen counters. Based on information here, at other websites, and common sense, my plan and advice is to do off the bat what you wound up doing: begin finishing the wood with mineral oil, which is the "wettest" approach and should provide the best penetration, then switch to the waxy mix for its smoothing and filling qualities. As an aside, although I am an oak lover, I wouldn't advise it for those looking for the smoothest finish given its relatively large grain.
9/6/2013 at 10:09 AM
When we had our floors redone, I had our butcher block counters sanded and refinished as well. Our expert who has worked on many wood projects in The Sea Ranch, CA area insisted that mineral oil is truly the best way to go as the wax will build up over time and makes it more difficult to keep the food working space of a butcher block counter clean/healthy. And it is less problematic for when you re-sand the counter- given that added build up of wax to get through.

Wondering what the consensus is for cleanliness/healthy food prep and later refinishing.
Alex
9/10/2013
We started with just the oil and did that for a while. But our counters are the Ikea oak, and the grain seemed somewhat pronounced with a fair amount of surface pitting. Since moving to the wax/oil combo, the counter seems more smooth and consistent. Obviously the wax has some part in this. I'm also lightly sanding rough spots before an oil/wax application. I do notice some buildup of the wax on the sandpaper, but it's not too severe. The main reason we moved away from mineral oil alone is because of the way it would stay wet for so long and ultimately allow the counters to dry out too quickly.

I've known several floor guys over the years. The hard and fast rule is that almost all wood refinishers hate the idea of wax for this very reason.

Personally, I like the performance of the oil/wax combo, but I'll never be a person who applies any sort of paste wax directly to the counters, as that would surely cause issues with sanding out imperfections.
Michelle
9/7/2013 at 12:30 PM
Hi Alex an Wendy, love your site! I have a question for you, if you don't mind? My husband and I have just installed butcher block counters, white oak, and am wondering if I can put mineral oil and wax on them. They will not be used for food prep so I have finished them in a stained danish oil. I have an under mount sink in them and am a little worried that the danish oil will not hold up around the sink but I really don't want to varnish the tops. Do you think I can now put the mineral oil and wax on top of that for a better water barrier? Thanks for your advise! We have actually been redoing our old house for 11 yrs and the kitchen is the last space!!!
Alex
9/10/2013
Hi Michelle, and thank you! I definitely think you can do an oil/wax combo treatment on your surface as a sort of water barrier. I definitely wouldn't varnish the top. The risk around the sink is that the water would actually get between the top layer and the wood, making it an even worse situation of trapped water and eventual mold/rot. I believe you can apply the mineral oil/wax on top of the Danish oil treatment without issue. Not 100% sure, but it seems reasonable based on my experience. Just be ready to reapply the oil/wax somewhat frequently around the sink, as it will undoubtedly dry out quicker with more water exposure. We tend to do ours every three weeks.

Also, congrats at reaching your last space to redo. Is it time to start over now? ;-)
Michelle
9/10/2013 at 10:47 AM
Hi Alex, Not trying to scare you for such a quick reply, we own a small business with a lot of computer time!

I went ahead after reading your blog and tried it. I am on my second coat and it looks great! I really think it's going to be perfect! I was wondering how often I would have to apply it. Not afraid of the time it takes to up keep it. Thank you so much for this blog I honestly had no idea what I was going to do!!!

It's funny you said that, we have been looking at the other rooms again going "we could do this better now"! It gets in your blood I guess. 29 years of marriage today and have redone 3 houses!This is our last. But like you two, many critters running around getting in paint and caulk. Thank you so much!!
maryann Jones
9/30/2013 at 2:27 PM
what is the name of the oil/wax product that you use, after the 1st time you put it on, how often did you put it on? do I need to use it daily for awhile? I have had new butcher block countertop put in a month ago, my contractor used Emmet's good stuff on them and they are already back to raw wood. It didn't work. So now we are trying to find out what to do.
Alex
9/30/2013
Hi Maryann,

You need to oil them a lot at first to ensure they soak it up, then you can do a bit less. We started with just straight mineral oil. We did that once a day for a week, then once a week for a month, then you can go to once per month. You can use any plain mineral oil (that you can even buy at the drug store). The stuff we use now is what this blog post is about, Howard's Mineral Oil + Wax combo. It works great and we typically apply it once per month now. You can tell when you need to apply it as some gray spots begin to show up.

Good luck.
ash
10/14/2013 at 6:11 PM
I am happy to find your site! We, too, have the Ikea butcher block (in beech, not oak) and have been using mineral oil for 5 weeks now, first 2x/day for a few days, then daily for several more, then weekly, then every other week. I STILL feel like it is rough and water doesn't bead up hardly at all. I was just about to give up and put a coat of polyacrylic or something on it, but I am going to follow your lead!

We also installed a sink right into the butcher block counter, against the advice of some other folks. It's good to know it's working for you!

~ash
Mishel
10/21/2013 at 2:29 PM

Your counters look great! I just renovated my kitchen and installed the beech numerar after being assured by your (and a few others) blogs regarding the ease of upkeep.

I decided to use the howard's oil + beeswax product and do like it...but my counters still feel very dry. Should I continue to use the product daily until that ceases? They look so beautiful, I'd hate to mess them up.

Alex
10/29/2013

I'd continue to use it and it should feel less dry over time. With out counters we kept oiling/waxing every 2-3 weeks for the first 6 months before they didn't feel dry. Also, when you apply the oil, don't wipe it off 20 minutes later like the instructions say. We like to leave it on at least overnight, applying in the late evening and then wiping it off in the morning before making breakfast/coffee. Good luck.

MariKay
10/28/2013 at 10:29 PM

Just purchased a 30 yr old bb table & sanded off the old wak & grime down to a gorgeous maple surface. I used it to replaced my island top. I've just put on the 1st 2 coats of BB oil when my husband found yr site. I think I will look for the oil wax combo before I am done. How many coats of oil should I do before I go there? Thanks for your help!

Alex
10/29/2013

Your BB sounds great. Should have a wonderful patina on it! We did the oil for about 2 months before starting on the oil/wax combo, but I'd think you could start after the first month. We waited only because we didn't know about the product. Today, before oiling/waxing each time, I use a 220 grit sandpaper and just hand sand to take out any imperfections and get the surface smoother. Now, after a year of waxing/oiling about once a month, even our oak tops that used to be a bit grained and rough are getting quite silky smooth. I figure it's the wax and sanding that's really making it nice.

Rene
11/15/2013 at 2:51 PM

I just bought my first cherry butcher block top from Lumber Liquidators. Didn't realize that I had to do anything to it. It will be gently used in a home office with an occasional cup of coffee or glass of water and my kitty jumping on top. Its very Blonde in color which I would prefer a more browner appearance and need to protect it in case I spill something. I do not need to protect it from writing/pen marks as that won't happen, but wouldn't mind it being a little harder from dents anywya. Should I use the plain mineral oil for about a mth (the way you did it 1x a day for a wk, etc) and then switch to the Howards Oil/wax once a month? Do you sand every day when you first start doing the min oil 1 x a day everyday? Will this darken the blonde to a browner color? Sorry, never done anything like this before. Very excited that I saw your blog. thanks so much!

Jenna
11/21/2013 at 2:19 PM

I too just bought butcher block from lumber liquidators - maple. Getting installed today in fact, so been doing some research. I saw on one site a mention that they didn't condition the underside of their Ikea Numerar, so it warped. Are you doing anything to the underside of yours? Thanks!

Alex
12/16/2013

We didn't do anything on the underside but haven't had any warping issues, and it's even above the dishwasher.

11/23/2013 at 5:16 AM

Thank you for all your information on how you tackled your butcher block. We have the Ikea beech butcher block called 'Lagan' (from Australia)We were lucky in that the surface was pretty even and has become very smooth after applying several coats of Behandla wood treatment oil. I wanted to protect it even more and give it some more depth so I found your blog..I have since devised a recipe for a wax and oil polish which has the consistency of soft butter. It is one part natural bees wax and one part orange oil and 2 parts mineral oil (the ikea skydd). You can make it runnier by adding more mineral oil if desired. This is lovely to apply and the water beads well. I have only applied it twice in this first week, and I plan to keep this up whenever I want to top up lovely sheen. It also smells divine. I will be using your method of mineral oil until saturation then my bee and oil mix on our new ikea Stenstorp trolley we are assembling. I hope this recipe is useful for you.I would like to put our kitchen reno up on my blog when I get the chance too. cheers

Jamie
12/16/2013 at 9:54 AM

Hi there! Your countertops are beautiful! We also installed ikea oak butcher block counters in our kitchen in March this year. We treated exactly as you did to begin with, mineral oil every day for a week, once a week for a month, and approximately once a month since then. I purchased the product you recommended in this post because I wanted our counters to be a little bit smoother, shinier and more water-repellant. We applied last night and wiped off the excess this morning. We found that there was a lot of excess, much more than when we used mineral oil, which we would always apply fairly generously. So, I'm thinking we can probably apply less next time. After I wiped off the excess, the counters still felt pretty greasy, how long should we expect that to last? Would you recommend we apply this product a few times in the next couple weeks, or just maintain our once a month routine with this product instead of mineral oil?

Thanks!!

Alex
12/16/2013

Hi Jamie,

We had the same experience when we first started using it. The wax and mineral oil does seem to remain a bit greasier for a longer period and we also wipe off a fair amount, even after letting it sit for 12 hours or so. I think it's safe to both use a little less and to apply less frequently (just once per month). I've been wiping with a paper towel once all is said and done and that's getting it pretty clean. We usually try not to set papers and other items that could get ruined by grease on the counters for a few days after we apply. Now that we've been doing it for a year the counters are much smoother than they originally were, but I'm not sure when that started. I just noticed it in the last couple of months.

Marcia
1/8/2014 at 7:55 AM

Hi,
Thanks for all of the post you've made regarding installation and care of your counter tops.
We've just installed Ikea Beech counter tops this week. Your posts have been a huge helpAlt smile
I've started applying mineral oil (or paraffin oil as we call it in Australia) at this stage.
I was wondering if you've continued with the butcher block conditioner and if your happy with the results over a longer period?

Clara
1/12/2014 at 1:55 PM

I'm just getting to work on my Ikea oak butcher block top on my new island and I'm a newbie at this! I'm ready with a bottle of Howard's Mineral Oil & a bottle of Howard's Butcher Block Conditioner (beeswax with mineral oil). I'm questioning whether you still think oiling for a month before using the wax combo is important? I will use this for for prep, and want a good, non-staining, smooth surface as this island is sort of seem from every room except bedrooms! Any updated advice, now that you have more experience?

Love your sight, and your writing is so clear and to the point! I forward you to several wood-crafty decorating people!

Clara
1/13/2014 at 7:41 AM

Oops... I meant I will use it for FOOD prep! However, I will probably not chop directly on it.

Carole O.
3/5/2014 at 11:51 AM

Alex....We have a maple Boos butcher block approximately 20 years old. We were told when we purchased the block that a parafin and mineral oil mix was the best product to use. (one part parafin to 2 parts mineral oil) I first SCRUB the block and allow to airdry. I used the combination AFTER heating on top of the cooktop, then pouring the mixture directly on the block, allowing to absorb overnight. Removing the excess and returning it to the container it was stored in. I then repeat the process every couple of months with this same mixture. I have never sanded this block and it is still in excellent condition. My question is should I continue this treatment or try your recomendation?

3/5/2014 at 12:03 PM

Alex...We have a Maple Boos block and we love it!! At 20 years plus years, we were told when we purchsed it that the best treatment was 1 pt parafin to 2 pts mineral oil. I heat this mixture, on the cooktop,spread on the block and allow to absorb overnight. (Reusing it every time I treat the wood, every couple of months)
The question is should I stop this procedure and commence to using your recomendation?

Kate
3/19/2014 at 5:43 PM

Hello~
Thanks so much for sharing the butcher block finishing process. We plan on following your recommendation. I was wondering what process you used to attach the counter tops to the cabinets?
Thanks,

Kate

Meghan
3/20/2014 at 7:02 AM

Hi,
We just moved into a victorian rental with old, sad butcher block that is prone to mold. We have very little counter space...do you have any thoughts on how to treat old counters? Would the oil or oil+wax help prevent the mold growth? What about on a non-butcher block victorian bar?(the other counter space...it's a strange kitchen)

I know I need to figure out what kind of finish is on all the other wood work in the house. It's all so very dry and thirsty looking.

Thanks,
Meghan

Meghan
3/20/2014 at 7:02 AM

Hi,
We just moved into a victorian rental with old, sad butcher block that is prone to mold. We have very little counter space...do you have any thoughts on how to treat old counters? Would the oil or oil+wax help prevent the mold growth? What about on a non-butcher block victorian bar?(the other counter space...it's a strange kitchen)

I know I need to figure out what kind of finish is on all the other wood work in the house. It's all so very dry and thirsty looking.

Thanks,
Meghan

Katie
7/8/2014 at 1:36 PM

I love your blog! I'm a friend of Alex's coworker Beth and she pointed me here in her security system research - but then I got lost for hours reading about your projects! I found this update on your countertops and love it. I moved into a house with butcher block countertops and have been using mineral oil but was wondering if the Howard's was worth it and glad to see it is! We do have a couple of stains - and places the counter is more worn, do you have any tips on sanding? I'm a bit afraid to do itAlt smile Your house is beautiful! All of your hard hard work has produced a lot to admire!

Alex
7/16/2014

Hi Katie! Welcome to our blog. Very glad you found us through Beth. Thank you very much for the kind words. We really appreciate them.

As for the butcher block, just start sanding! We sand almost every time we oil to take care of any stains or issues. Use 400 grit paper and just hand sand in a small spot and feel the difference with your fingers. It's so soft and smooth when you're done. Then oil and you've got yourself some new counters. Start small and then you'll see, you won't be shy about sanding more and more.

Erica
7/14/2014 at 7:03 PM

Absolutely LOVE your blog and would like some advice. We are picking up our Ikea countertops in about a week and want to make sure we treat them right. What frequency of the wax/oil blend application do you recommend for brand spanking bare countertops- and would you apply to the underside of the counters a few times before installation? Thanks so much for all the advice and tutorials! Keep up the beautiful work!

Alex
7/16/2014

We've done nothing to prepare our underside of the counters and have had no warping or issues, but that's not to say it's the way it should be done. I've heard of people sealing them with something that hardens, like poly, but I feel like that might cause issues. Essentially, if the top is going to breathe some, the bottom should too. So I might try to use something like walnut oil for a few days on the bottom. Best of luck!

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