Wood butcher block countertops are a beautiful choice but some people are put off by the idea of preparing food on a porous, organic wooden surface. There are many butcher block countertop finishing options, and the best butcher block countertop finish will vary depending on what your requirements are.
The most important thing to remember when looking at butcher block countertop finishing options is whether you need it to be food safe, or you actually intend to use it to cut food on.
Best Butcher Block Countertop Sealer For Non-Cutting Boards
Most people choose a butcher block worktop for its looks, but don’t intend to actually cut food directly on it and use smaller cutting boards that can be washed separately.
If that’s your case, a good butcher block countertop waterproof sealer may be all that is required. It needs to be food safe, of course, because unless you only use your kitchen for show eventually food will end there. And it needs to be resistant enough that you can clean it properly. The best butcher block countertop finish in this case is an oil based polyurethane sealer.
Unlike oil, a polyurethane based waterproof sealer doesn’t need to be applied many times, over a period of weeks. Once it’s dry it becomes non-toxic and waterproof, it won’t stain papers accidentally left on top and it will protect the wood from water and stains.
It’s a big win if you are DIYing your kitchen installation and don’t want to spend weeks carefully finishing your wood countertops and being scared of glass of water accidentally leaving a mark.
Before using such a sealer, it’s a good idea to use a stain to get the wood to the tone and finish you prefer. Choosing the best wood for butcher block countertop is obviously the best option from a cosmetic point of view, but if your budget or requirements don’t align with how you want it to look… a stain can go a long way to fix that. You won’t get the grain of a birch worktop to look like an oak butcher block, but you can change the warmth and depth of the wood significantly by using a stain.
Waterlox Butcher Block Countertop Waterproof Sealer
Another really good butcher block countertop waterproof sealer is a product called Waterlox, or any of its equivalents. It’s a mix of Tung oil and resins with a water resistant finish that goes on satin or high gloss depending on which product you choose. It’s also food safe. The application is a bit more convoluted than a simple stain and waterproof coat, but it also looks more similar to other oil based butcher block countertop finishing options.
You should check their website for instructions on how to apply it, but as an overview:
- You need to sand the countertops properly, so there is a porous surface
- Clean the surfaces with mineral spirits
- Apply 3-5 coats of the Waterlox Original sealer/finish
- Optionally if you want to change the level of gloss/sheen use Waterlox Satin or High Gloss for the last layer.
- Wait 24h in between each layer. Don’t be cheap with this, if you want it to last and be waterproof you need to wait the 24 hours.
Compared with traditional mineral oil you will see your countertop darkens and becomes warmer if you use Waterlox, but if that’s the finish you are going for it’s definitely a worthy contender for the best butcher block countertop sealer in the market.
Best Butcher Block Countertop Oil
If you intend to use your butcher block countertop as an actual cutting board, you will need to seal it using an oil. This means you will need nearly constant maintenance, and while this works for a small butcher block it may be too much for the whole of your kitchen surfaces.
Traditionally most people will use a non-drying mineral oil to seal the countertops. This is quite the process, involving sanding and then oiling the countertops several times at longer and longer intervals.
In terms of maintenance, non-drying mineral oil countertop finishes are on the high end. Depending on how often you wash the surface (which should be very often if you are preparing food on it) you will need to oil regularly to avoid the wood drying and becoming too porous and thus unsafe and unsightly.
Why Not Use Vegetal Oils For Butcher Block Countertop Finish?
Some people choose vegetal oils but in my opinion they are hardly the best butcher block countertop finish. Why? They are organic so they can go rancid (I am looking at you, olive oil). And the ones that don’t harden the wood take weeks and weeks to dry, which is hardly practical on a kitchen that needs to be useful.
Tung oil and boiled lindseed oil harden the wood in a process called polymerizing. However, they aren’t designed to be edible so they don’t work if you intend to cut and prepare food directly on your countertop.
Food grade lindseed oil and walnut oil, while perfectly safe to eat, take ages to dry. And in the case of walnut oil, they can trigger allergies on people with nut allergies if you use them as treatment for food prepping surfaces.
Butcher Block Countertop Finishing Options: Wax And Oil Blends
If you like the look of oiled wood, but can’t do with the waiting, a blend of wax dissolved on hot oil can seal your wood worktops very effectively, while remaining food safe. The more wax you use, the more protected the wood will be but at the same time it will be more difficult to rub in.
The process is quite simple.
Heat oil to the wax melting temperature (use a crockpot, do not use an open flame for this) and mix the wax in until it’s fully blended. Then apply to your surface, let it soak and polish it off by rubbing it in with a clean non-shedding cloth. When the wood looks dry, dab a bit of the mixture and rub it off until it’s back to being glossy.
If you don’t want to make your own wax and oil blend there are commercial alternatives you can purchase that are already pre-mixed. They are usually called butters instead of waxes and have a creamy consistency.
Using Pure Wax As A Butcher Block Sealer
If you want to go the extra mile, maybe because you have a beautiful wood cutting board with a gorgeous grain you don’t want to hide, you can also use wax as a butcher block sealant. Wax is not the best butcher block countertop sealer, but it gives the most traditional, smooth finish and it’s 100% organic and natural.
You will need to heat up the wax by using a crockpot or a double boiler. Never heat wax or oil near an open flame, you can actually start a fire! Once the wax is melted, you can pour it on top of the surface and let it soak into the wood. Wait until it cools off, then then scrape away the residue and polish it to a glossy finish. Hot wax can cause burns, so be very careful when you are doing this and again, stay away from open flames.
So, What’s The Best Butcher Block Countertop Finish?
In terms of trouble-free, quick application, a polyurethane coat is probably the best butcher block countertop sealer. However, you will have covered your beautiful wood with a layer of plastic, and this means you shouldn’t use it to cut and prepare food. However, for most kitchens that use butcher block countertops as a stylistic choice for all the surfaces this is perfectly fine.
Waterlox is a good alternative if you want a more traditional finish and avoid the plastic feel, but it takes longer to apply and it’s less waterproof. You will need to reserve several days to seal your wood countertops if using this method.
In terms of traditional butcher blocks for food preparations, including wooden chopping boards, a mineral oil is nearly always the best butcher block countertop oil. It will require re-application relatively often, but it’s inert so it won’t go rancid or cause allergies. It also dries relatively quick, which means your cutting surfaces won’t be out of use for days at a time.