Monday, December 26, 2016

Prepping Our Butcher Block Countertop for the Kitchen

Although most of my previous kitchen makeover posts have been cabinet-related, there's been other progress (slowly) happening as well. Just to quickly recap, we decided to go with butcher block in our modern farmhouse kitchen as it's a very cost-effective option for the amount of counter space we'll have. (Especially considering we're adding a breakfast bar.) 

Old tile countertops.

Getting these layers off was not fun, in case you were wondering.

The new countertops we chose are builder oak from Lumber Liquidators. Although something like walnut would have been beautiful, the oak was much cheaper and still gives us that natural look we're going for. We actually ordered them about three months ago, but they sat in their boxes a good while before we were ready to do anything with them. Finally, a couple weeks ago, we figured we could go ahead and at least get two simple pieces cut for one side of our kitchen. 

This trusty plywood has served as our countertop for a few months now.

The 8-foot oak countertop slabs are very heavy, but Luke and I managed to carry one out to our back deck where we had set up three sawhorses. (We also enlisted my father-in-law's assistance for an extra set of hands.)  Once the measurements were madeand triple-checkedwe began cutting and there was no turning back!

For these two simple cuts, we set up a rip fence by clamping down a 2x4 on either side of the countertop, and Luke used a Diablo 60-tooth ultra fine finishing circular saw blade in his Skilsaw. This blade gave us a really nice, smooth edge. 

Now we had two sections cut for the "easy" side of the kitchen. After that it was time to sand, sand, sand. We cycled through medium, fine, and ultra-fine sandpaper until the tops felt really smooth. I'm not exactly sure how you know when you are done sanding butcher block countertops. Looking back, we probably could have sanded even more. 

The next important step in the process was giving these thirsty pieces of oak something to drink. I had researched a lot of other blogs and articles about how to treat/stain/seal butcher block. Ultimately I decided that I wanted to keep it simple and chemical-free, so I opted to stick with just mineral oil. In addition, this blog post and this blog post had convinced me about the powers of about Howard's Butcher Block Conditioner, so I decided to give that a shot too. The conditioner is a mixture of mineral oil and beeswax, which gives it extra protection and water resistance.


I started off slathering the cutting board oil (i.e. mineral oil) onto the countertops and letting it sit there and soak in for several hours (as opposed to the 20 minutes suggested on the directions). Then I'd wipe off the excess with a clean cloth, and repeat again. After absorbing just one application of the mineral oil, the oak gets much darker and richer in color. That's when it really starts to feel like a countertop!

Once I had done this several times (over the course of a few days), I switched to the butcher block conditioner. With this stuff, you want to set the bottle in some warm water to make it really soft and liquid-y so it soaks into the wood better.  It's also important to shake it really well to mix up the oil and beeswax.  After that, I wiped on a couple applications in the same manner as the mineral oil.  

Before and after mineral oil/conditioner.

Over time, I believe the butcher block conditioner will build up a thicker protective layer, and also add a slight sheen as opposed to plain mineral oil.

It feels like the countertops are sufficiently saturated at this point. However, they're still sitting on sawhorses in our living room, waiting to be installed. We just haven't quite gotten to that part yet. Once they're on, I'll continue to apply the conditioner every so often. I've read articles about re-applying oil which recommend everything from once a month, to once every six months. I guess we'll just see how it goes. It's definitely going to be more maintenance than other solid-surface countertop options, but hopefully it will be worth it in the long run. As usual, we're learning as we go!

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