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.