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.


  1. says

    Ohhhhhhhh, so pretty!! I love the way the product brought out all the variation in the wood! I bet this was a very satisfying project- wipe it on and watch it become gorgeous!! Do you have to apply the product monthly forever, or just for a certain period of time? I am loving your kitchen!!

    • Sarah says

      The purpose of oiling the counter is two-fold: one, to protect the surface from water and stains; and two, to protect the wood from drying out and possibly cracking. The benefit of the two-pronged beeswax and oil mix is that the beeswax is extra-nourishing for both purposes (water & drying) than just the oil alone, or so I’ve been reading.

      So I think that while the monthly application is recommended with normal oil applications, I’ll probably have to maintain it less often thanks to the beeswax. I figure it will depend on how the wood feels (also considering that I live in a naturally humid climate, I’m not sure how that impacts me versus someone who lives in a more arid region). Lots of factors I guess to consider, and in hindsight, I probably should have put all of this reasoning in the post! If enough questions come in about it, I’ll update the post with the same info.

  2. says

    Giggle inducing comment placed here: That is some Sexy Wood! LOL. I love how it got darker and all the variation. Before you oiled it up I was thinking it was so light that it needed to be stained. But the oil did an amazing job.

  3. says

    LOVE these. They’re so pretty. I’m curious as to what your total cost was for the counter tops after all the set backs and plan changes. Overall, it looks like it worked out for the best.

  4. says

    Holy moly! That is gorgeous. I think it’s one of those moments that define you as an adult when countertops can be just that exciting.

  5. Heidi says

    That Howard’s is great stuff. It definitely breathed some new life into some crappy old cutting boards we have that I (gasp) have neglected for, oh, the last ten years or so.

  6. Brooke says

    Love this! We actually just purchased butcher block countertops but they look nothing like this! What brand name of stain did you use & where can I purchase it? Also, did you use cloth or brush to put stain on? Details please :)

    • Sarah says

      No stain, just good quality wood (you may need to re-read the post for full details).

  7. Kim A says

    Love, love, love your countertops. Think I would love those even better than granite. Could probably even talk my wood lovin’ hubby into these.

  8. says

    So. PRETTY! I love how rich the walnut looks with just the oil/wax on it. Stain definitely has it’s place, but mostly naked wood is pretty gorgeous too.

  9. says

    Oh baby–love that wood. And hard (again) not to giggle after you end your post with that statement. (I mentioned I am married to a boy in a man’s body, right? UGH!) Seriously….”oh, baby, love.that.wood.” Yes, I would be petting. The cluster that ended up a blessing–those are good times :) I am SO glad you paid for the $9 product–no biggie there in cost! It is beautiful!!!

  10. says

    It looks great! We’re still trying to decide what surface to use when we do our big kitchen remodel, but wood is really looking up.

    Since you are sealing against the wood drying out, do you need to treat the underside of the counter? It seem’s silly, since it’s not going to get wear and tear from use, but if it’s just bare under there wouldn’t it dry out as well?

    • Sarah says

      I wondered that too, but I read up a few reviews of other people using the oil method and a few of them disclosed that they didn’t bother to seal the underside. So I didn’t either. I think as long as I regularly take care of the top, I’ll be doing what’s necessary to protect the wood from drying out (I’m spending several weeks just letting things soak overnight with each application, which will then get to the point of treatment every 1-3 months or so). The air in Georgia is also naturally humid, so I may have that on my side, too.

  11. Patti says

    Wow your countertops look awesome. On a separate, but related note, can you tell me what size your base cabinets are to the right of your sink and left of your oven? I have a simialar corner and have been debating a corner cabinet or just leaving it “dead” and trying to figure out how much room I’d need to scooch my oven over a little from it’s current placement. Thanks Sarah!

    • Sarah says

      The base cabinets are standard sizes, so they are 24″ deep, and the length will depend on your layout. The corner is dead and I am planning to keep it that way (future post, but it was really gross back there after leaving it dead for 30 years and there is NO WAY I’m turning that into functional utensil-touching space now that I have those images in my head!). There’s also a small cookie sheet narrow cabinet to the left of the oven (which I assume is a standard size as well, since nothing in this house was custom). Hope that helps!

  12. says

    Looks SOOOOOO good!

    This is the same stuff we’ve been using for the last year and it’s been working great. We usually apply once per month to keep it looking nice and saturated. But it sure makes a mess of your hands (though my skin is so smooth after applying it).

  13. Susan says

    Hi I am also installing maple butcher block counter tops and using mineral oil to treat them. I was curious if you put anything on the bottom of your counters to protect from your dishwasher and the sink area? I have read a few websites suggesting to line the underside of your counter with heavy duty aluminum foil above dishwasher and seal with polyurethane around and under sink area. Did you do either of these or something else to protect from water damage? Thanks :)

    • says

      No, I didn’t do anything like that (I’ve had no problems, but I haven’t used the kitchen much since starting the renovation, so the worry might get to me & I may do something about it). The sink was sealed between the wood and basin with clear silicone caulk, but no poly. I haven’t really run the dishwasher much since installing the counters and will possibly take the dishwasher back out to add something between the counter and top of the dishwasher (just because of steam). My advice is to do whatever sounds reasonable to protect your counters. I’m hyper vigilant about wiping down the sink so that no water is ever left standing (not a drop!) on the counter to soak into the wood.

  14. Leanne says

    I love your walnut counters. We are considering this in our kitchen remodel. Can you tell me where you sourced the counters? The only ones I know of are John Boos and it is a little pricier than I wanted.

  15. 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.

  16. 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!

  17. 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!

  18. 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.

  19. 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.

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