Kitchen, Tutorials

How to Protect an Oiled Butcher Block Countertop During Projects

So, I have this amazing walnut butcher block countertop.

It cost me well more than the Ikea butcher block alternative I was considering (about a $400 difference in total cost).  But after that first coat of oil and beeswax soaked into the wood (read about why I chose this mixture here), bringing out all of its gorgeous color variation, I was forever smitten.  I had made the right choice.  However, when it comes to finishing off various other projects in the kitchen, such as the tiled backsplash, there are certain steps that proved to be a little more difficult thanks to this oiled coating.

(Before we go into all of those items, there is one question I wanted to answer first:  why didn’t I just wait to oil them until after?  The answer is pretty simple:  in order to protect those raw wood counters against everything else that would come into contact with them, they needed to be treated asap.  For moisture reasons, for stain reasons, for water protection reasons (and I wasn’t about to go months of not having a usable sink!)… the counter needed to be oiled before getting to any of the other finishing projects.  Especially since things have been progressing so slowly.  If I had waited, and they were somehow damaged in the process, I would be kicking my own ass for being so stupid.  For more info on the countertop treatment itself, click back to this post)

For one, painter’s tape won’t stick.  Which meant that installing the tile (with its various steps of sticky substances like thinset, grout, and caulk) wasn’t always going to work out the way most of the tutorials I’d researched told me.  I wasn’t going to be able to protect my counters with paper and tape the way others had.  I also wasn’t going to be able to use tape to provide a nice, clean line of caulk between the tile and counter.  So, what to do?

For one thing, I relied pretty heavily on plastic wrap.  It was clingy enough to form to the surface (and fit within the 1/8″ gap under the tile when grouting), but didn’t require any kind of adhesives to stick.  I used plastic wrap for both the installation of the tile with thinset, and again for grouting the tile after the thinset had cured.

I used tape sometimes to attach the plastic wrap to the first line of tape (since that surface had zero sticking issues) as I worked my way up the rest of the wall.  The plastic wrap did a great job of catching all of the wet drips and clumps from both the thinset and grout.  And when I left the room to allow the tile to cure, I just collected the plastic wrap in sections, folding the piece closest to the tile inward (to prevent anything from slipping off the wrap and onto the counter), and folded the rest of the corners in too.  This caught any clumps (dried or otherwise) into the center of the wrap, which I could then toss into the trash.  I used new pieces of plastic wrap between the thinset step and grout step to keep things clean.

The other workaround I found was the counter itself.  I’d been debating whether to try to dry the counter out a little to see if the tape would stick (it didn’t) or just to keep it nicely oiled as a means of creating a slick, non-stick surface.  I eventually realized option #2 was my only logical choice.  Because the surface was already oily, it sort of kept a nice protective barrier to anything that dripped on it (which is sort of the reason for applying the oil in the first place as a regular countertop treatment against food and other everyday things).  All I had to do if I spotted a wet clump of grout sitting on the surface was wipe it down with a wet towel.  Even if I’d missed it before it dried, just a little bit of scraping with my fingernail or my putty knife did the trick.

Finally, when it came time to apply a line of caulk, I used the putty knife once more.  It was as simple as applying the bead of caulk as I always did, and smoothing it out with a gloved finger (the caulk is a latex/silicone mix).

Then, I ran the putty knife along the tile to keep it perfectly straight as it collected any excess caulk.  (Tip:  put a little pressure on the end that’s up against the caulk line to get everything in one scrape).  Again, because of the oiled surface, the caulk came up clean.

And boom, straight line!

Easy, right?  What did you work on this weekend?

P.S.  I’m still working on the solution of how the caulk managed to yellow overnight (lots of you guys suggested that it was the oil in the countertop or the walnut itself that had caused the yellowing, which I thought too at first, but the caulk yellowed in other areas that weren’t touching the counter at all, so it seems to have more to do with the thickness of application; only the thicker areas yellowed while the rest has stayed white… plus my contact at DAP also seems to think it’s another issue).  I’ll keep  you guys updated on that when I finally figure out what caused it.

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  1. says

    Thats so weird it yellowed like that! Do you have to rip it all out or just cover it with another coat? You make caulking look so easy. I have good days and bad days with it. My fine motor skills arent the best lol

  2. Ashley says

    Great blog. I like the variations of colors in the butcher block. It has a bit of a rustic look especially with the white tiles. Such a benefit that the oil allowed for the caulk to come out easily. You used a lot of precision and were definitely meticulous which shows with the clean lines. Nice work!

  3. Sarah In Illinois says

    I have a terrible time making caulk look nice. I am sure I need more practice.

    Your lines are perfect! The countertop was a wonderful choice!

  4. Alexander says

    Really important tips for protecting the oiled butcher block countertop . Using that plastic wrap is really a very good idea. Keep posting such stuff. Thank you.

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