Kitchen, Tutorials

Wax On: Butcher Block Countertop Treatment

As I mentioned on Facebook and in a previous post (inquisitive readers keep me on my busy toes), I’m using a slightly different method for treating my new walnut countertops.  So, after a second coat of the stuff and answering a few more questions, I thought a post dedicated exclusively to the the product would be helpful in case you’re considering butcher block countertops of your own.

Originally, I was planning on going with Ikea for my counters and staining them to a darker color to fit my design plan (Ikea counters came in beech and birch, which if I left them in their natural color, would be too light for my liking).  Regular wood stain by itself is not food safe, so after researching my options, it appeared that the only way to both fit my design concept and protect my food from possible contamination would be to use a product over the stain color called Waterlox.  As a second precaution, I wouldn’t want to actually prepare food on the surface itself, but would use a cutting board or something similar.  This second step wasn’t really an inconvenience; I have always used cutting boards and hadn’t really considered using the counter surface itself for cutting (I like character in wood as much as the next gal, but I can imagine this looking terrible if doing this all the time).  I’d read tons of reviews on Waterlox, and was fairly confident that things would work out as long as I kept re-treating the counter every year (I’d also heard that this product lightens the stain color by about a shade, just in case you were thinking of trying this yourself).

That whole plan changed when I had to find a last-minute alternative to the Ikea butcher block.  But in my panicked sourcing challenge, I wound up with a blessing in disguise:  instead of beech or birch, my new countertops would be made of walnut.  In its natural state, this particular species of wood was already a friend of Darth Vader (on the dark side).  I wouldn’t have to stain it to make it darker – I could keep it au naturele and get the color I wanted.  So instead of having a limited list of products to then make the counter food-safe, I could use a product as simple as mineral oil – which would protect my counters from water & normal use, but still keep the counters safe around food prep.  Again, I wouldn’t be actually cutting things directly onto the counter (I would still use a cutting board), but I wouldn’t have to concern myself with the possible contamination issue either.  Right on.

There are a number of “butcher block” oil products out there (with varying price tags), so I did a little bit of online research again to see if I really needed these versus a regular bottle of mineral oil from the grocery store.  What I found was this:  if all the bottle has in it is mineral oil, it’s a complete waste of money to buy the stuff exclusively made for butcher block.  Both are perfectly acceptable, but one is both more convenient to find and cheaper.  Winner, winner.

However, there is another product that combines both oil and beeswax made for butcher block.  This product not only conditions the wood & protects it from water (the oil), but also fills in any gaps and dings in the surface of the wood to gradually build up and protect it even more (the wax).  Even though the costs are considerably different for these two products ($9 bucks versus $2 for just mineral oil alone), I decided to give it a try.  A $7 experiment wouldn’t be too bad, don’t you think?

After sanding the wood down with higher and higher grits (the wood was pretty smooth to begin with, so I started with 180 and then moved up to 220 and 320) and wiping down with a tack cloth, I was ready for the first glimpse at (part of) my new kitchen.  Two coats of the beeswax/mineral oil mixture later, here are the results:

You know I’m a fan of re-using old t-shirts in various applications, and my countertops were no different.

Butcher Block Countertop Treatment

A simple application of wipe on, let soak (overnight), wipe off with another (dry) cloth.  And repeat.  Before:

And after!

Butcher Block Countertop Treatment

I absolutely love the variation in the  wood.

Butcher Block Countertop Treatment

Just a few more treatments before I’ll feel comfortable with normal use (and then of course, regular treatments every month or so).  The walnut feels rich and not at all thirsty (which is a tremendous relief).  I’ll test it out after one more treatment to see how water is beading up around the sink, and I’ll be good to go.  I know it’s going to require a little more care than, say, a laminate countertop, but for this kitchen, I think it’s a perfect fit.

Butcher Block Countertop Treatment

And oh, yeah – ignore the nasty walls.  I’ll get to the details on that disgusting mess later (surprise, surprise – it has to do with living in a house that had these kinds of builders and this kind of a previous homeowner).  We’re just talking about good wood here.

And of course, my inability not to giggle at that comment.

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  1. Brian says

    Watch the sink cut-out, that’s end grain and is “designed” to wick water. Remember that every time you wipe up water with your dish towel you remove a tiny amount of finish so that area may need to have more frequent applications.

    When I was planning my counter top the sales lady told me they will factory install an under mount sink on a laminate but it voids any warranty. Hmmm. I love the look of UM sinks but I’d only do it with stone.

    Yours looks great though.

    • says

      Thanks! There’s no finish/stain on the sink, so I just wipe it down with the same cloth I’m using to wipe on the oil/beeswax. So far, it’s holding up nicely (but I’m very careful to watch for any beading water so I can wipe it up asap). Great tip.

  2. Frank says

    Hi Sarah!

    Counters look great! I realize this question/post is not very recent to your post on the topic, but I happened to come across this while ‘googling’ :). My wife and I just installed our butcher block counters. The question I have… Did you sand in-between coats at all? Did you sand after your final coat? I’m finding that the oil sealant we are using (watco butcher block oil and finish) is working very well, but the finish itself isn’t very smooth to the touch – perhaps it’s not supposed to be?

    Would it make more sense to put 3, 4 or 5 sealant coats on before sanding? I’d love to hear your application and sanding process!! Thank you.

    • says

      Frank, the product you’re talking about is a completely different type of treatment for butcher block than the mineral oil/wax mixture I’m using, so unfortunately, I don’t have much advice since I haven’t used it for mine. Your product is more of a varnish, so I would imagine it would be more like finishing a piece of furniture (best I could tell you is to look at the manufacturer’s instructions). But to answer your question about my sanding process, I have experienced a little roughness on the surface here and there after some cleaning over the last few months, but all I needed to do is just sand them a little more and apply the oil again as I do on a regular basis (every couple of months). Good luck on your counters!

      • Terri says

        what is the product you are using? i am trying to seal an oak countertop that i have sanded and stained.

        • says

          There is a link to the product in the post above; it’s a mineral oil/beeswax mixture that’s meant to treat unstained wood. If you’ve stained the countertop, it isn’t food safe, so you will probably need to use a tung oil sealer or poly.

    • ben says

      Lary Fish nailed it in saying:
      “After you sand down to a 320 grit take a sponge and wipe the table or counter top down with water and the grain will Bristle after it dries for about 24 hrs. (Then sand) So when you put on your finish it will not Bristle the grain and you won’t have any rough spots.
      It’s an old trick my dad taught me.”

      but you can also use a sanding sponge in between coats.

  3. Adam says

    Did you cut the whole for the sink or did you buy the countertop pre cut? And what type of sink did you buy and where from? Thanks!

  4. Laurie says

    what is the name of the beeswax/oil product you used? I am getting read to make my countertops this winter from old barn wood. And I love the color of your counters.

  5. Dana says

    These countertops are gorgeous!!! We bought some butcher block countertops to use as a desk. If I use the mineral oil/beeswax mixture to seal them will it leave an oily residue? I want my kids to be able to work on homework there without worrying about their papers/clothes (should they lean against it) getting messed up. Clearly I am very new to this!

    • says

      Yes, it is an oil mixture, so it will soak into anything on top if you don’t wipe it off well enough. When it comes to my kitchen, my biggest concern was choosing a foodsafe product that I don’t have to worry about and won’t yellow on me. So you might be better off using a more traditional poly if you’re looking for durability against kids.

  6. Larry Fish says

    After you sand down to a 320 grit take a sponge and wipe the table or counter top down with water and the grain will Bristle after it dries for about 24 hrs. So when you put on your finish it will not Bristle the grain and you won’t have any rough spots after you lastly do a final sanding with the 320 grit before you put on your finish.
    It’s an old trick my dad taught me.

  7. Tina says

    How many coats of butcher block oil/beeswax did you have to apply to get the darker warm look?

    • says

      The color looked like that on the very first application. The oil/beeswax mixture does not add color—it just brings out the existing color in the wood (similar to how the wood looks when wet). So, the color you see here is because the butcher block was a walnut butcher block. A lighter wood species (like birch or beech) will produce a lighter color.

      • Tina says

        Thank you, my butcher block is maple. I used the same method as you, it did not darken. I do not want to stain it and after more research last night, I found that if I use dark tung oil first then the mineral oil beeswax, I will get the results I am looking for. Thank you again for replying back.

  8. Jennifer Topash says

    I am curious, I just purchase IKEA butcher block in walnut. The product says it is sealed with wax. Do I need to sand surface in order for the mineral oil/beeswax to work. Please tell me your regiment from the beginning. ie; like one coat a day for a week, once a month…etc. thanks,

    • says

      My countertops are solid walnut butcher block from a different vendor, not veneer like Ikea’s. The Ikea butcher block is totally different. For mine, I sanded the bare wood surface gradually to finer and finer grit to make it smooth, then applied the first coat and let it soak in overnight. I wiped the excess off the next day if there was any with a soft cloth (the first few coats really soaked in since the wood had no other treatments on it). Then added another and another until I could see water droplets beading up on the surface when I tested it. After that, I’ve been treating it whenever the wood feels dry to the touch. No more than once a month.

      • Ken says

        I bought a walnut Butcher Block counter like yours and intend to use the same stuff—-do you do anything after wiping down the first coat and applying the 2nd and 3rd? sanding? 0000 steel wool? or just apply again on top of the first and second dried and t-shirted coat?

        • says

          Regardless of sand or use steel wool, I would do all of that before oiling. It’s not like applying poly. The oil is supposed to soak into the grain. You might also want to raise the grain using some spritzes of water before your last or second-to-last sanding job. From time to time (like a year later or as you get more wear & tear on the butcher block from use & cleaning), you might experience some raised grain if you use water-based cleaners; you can always sand these spots smooth again and treat once more with the oil mix. This isn’t a one-and-done kind of finish; you’re going to treat it and care for it many times over its lifespan. Hope that helps!

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