What I Wish I Knew Before Installing Butcher Block Countertop

Hey there, friends! I’m all sorts of excited today because, 1) this fall AZ weather is giving me all the feels, and 2) I get to talk more about our kitchen renovation! I’m still coming down from the newly-finished-home-renovation high, so I thought I’d take the opportunity to dive a little deeper into our butcher block island.

It is BEAUTIFUL and it adds a dimension of warmth to our kitchen, but it requires more upkeep than I expected. I honestly feel a bit hoodwinked by all the pretty pictures I’ve seen on Pinterest – LOL. With that in mind, I want to share some of my knowledge on all things butcher block to help you decide if it’s the right choice for your kitchen. Without further adieu, let’s dooo ittttt.

butcher block in renovated farmhouse kitchen

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Please forgive my hair #thisisreallife ????

Butcher block needs some a lot of TLC

Your butcher block is (obviously) made from a tree. Trees are basically sponges and will absorb anything they come into contact with. So, once we took it out of the packaging, it was super “thirsty.” It had to be oiled so much that it stopped absorbing other liquids. This protects it from water and other juices that spill on it.

I’m terrible at staying consistent, so we’re wiping it down with this food-grade mineral oil every few days so the butcher block can fully hydrate. The downside is that we can’t set any paper on it, as the paper will get lots of oil spots after a few minutes. It’s a hassle, so we’re about to switch to a butcher block conditioner that will give it an extra seal using beeswax. This should minimize the oily-ness quite a bit and we’ll only need to do it monthly.

Without this oil coating, the wood will dry out and even crack. No thanks! With the proper TLC, butcher block can withstand spills and even wetness around a sink.

oiled butcher block countertop
Butcher block after oiling

The alternative to oiling…

There is an alternative to doing the whole oil thing. Instead, you can coat the butcher block in polyurethane. This will keep it from getting scratched, protect it from spills and stains, no oiling, and no oily paper. The caveat is that the polyurethane can leave a glossy or fake-looking sheen and it’s not safe for food prep, so you can’t use the countertop as a literal “butcher block.” I may consider switching to polyurethane down the road, but it’s semi-permanent so I don’t want to commit to it quite yet.

butcher block countertop - what you need to know

A note about nicks, scratches, and water spots

Since our butcher block is exposed wood, it will dent and scratch. Additionally, water can leave spots quickly and easily (especially right after installation, before its properly oiled). I’ve been hesitant to set anything on it that’s even a little damp. This is prettty inconvenient in a kitchen!

Fortunately, we can use a 220 grit sandpaper to lightly buff these marks off. If we had used polyurethane, it would be much less likely to scratch, but as I mentioned, that has its drawbacks.

Types of wood and wood hardness

We had three priorities: Good price, good reviews, and a warm color. We chose this birch butcher block from Home Depot for only $299!

Because we wanted a good price, we didn’t look in specialty stores. That being said, if you have a bigger budget and want to be more selective, then take a look at this awesome guide on choosing butcher block. They discuss the hardness of the wood and tones so you can get the exact look you want.

butcher block view from underneath

Stain isn’t necessary

At first, my husband was pretty convinced that we’d stain the butcher block. I scoured the internet and learned that most people didn’t stain (plus, it’s not food-safe). When we bought the butcher block it was very pale in color, but after the first coat of mineral oil it turned a warm honey color.

Using it for food prep

Using the butcher block as a cutting board is entirely possible; however, there are a couple things to keep in mind…

  1. If you used stain and/or a synthetic finish (like polyurethane), it could flake off into your food. Ick! Only use food-grade finishing products if you plan to use the countertop for food prep.
  2. Using it for food prep will scratch, dent, and roughen up the surface. Some people embrace that feel, but we’ve opted to keep our butcher block looking nice and smooth by not using it for food prep.

To wrap it up…

Butcher block is a beautiful addition to almost any kitchen, but prepare to give it the maintenance it needs! It’s not an install-and-forget countertop like granite or laminate. I wasn’t quite prepared for all the maintenance, but it’s been fun to learn how to properly take care of it. It’s like a new family member, LOL.

Questions? Drop me a note below and I’ll get back to you ASAP!

Pin it!

what i wish i knew before installing butcher block countertops

PS – If you’re curious about this picture, I use a plastic bag to spread around the mineral oil because the plastic won’t soak in a bunch of oil, as a rag would!

42 thoughts on “What I Wish I Knew Before Installing Butcher Block Countertop”

  1. I recently installed butcher-block and sealed it with a product called OSMO, it is from Germany. I used the Osmo Top Oil, which is specially made for wood countertops. Osmo is a mix of oil and wax and provides an outstanding water repellent finish with little odor. It is also food safe and so far….I am very impressed! The only way I was able to purchase it was through a google search, as no stores near me sell it. Even though it sounds like I am getting paid to say all of this I am not, it was a very good find. My boyfriend have used their products in multiple projects so far and haven’t been disappointed.

  2. You’re wrong on some of your statements. Most notable is that you say polyurethane is not food safe. Taht it patently false. There are dozens of food safe urethane products made SPECIFICALLY for butcher block. You should do research before making such braindead statements.

  3. Karen Blatt

    We mineral oiled our butcherblock counter tops but we are afraid to use it. We only found out a few days ago we could have polyurithaned it. I NEED to do this so I can actually cook n enjoy our counter tops. Can we Still Do This! I need a solution so they are more like real counter tops, is this Possible?

    1. Did you find out if a butcher block countertop can be oiled first and then polyurethaned afterwards?
      I have done the same thing and am worried that the polyurethane coat will not adhere properly!

      1. You’ll just need to sand off the oiled layer first before you apply the poly!

    2. Yep! Just sand off the oiled layer and then apply the polyurethane coat!

  4. Sara Utter

    We live in a 1925 farmhouse and I wanted the kitchen to be accurate for the time period. We looked at soapstone, but every time we saw what a slab would look like finished, it turned greenish. I didn’t like the look of the man made soapstone either. We did butcher block. We bought it at HD also (acacia variety). I wanted to stain it with butcher block stain, but it was too hard to find. I stained it with coffee grounds and finished with butcher block conditioner. I am pretty happy with how it turned out.

  5. Jennifer

    We are about to install butcher block in our renovated kitchen on all cabinets. I’ve done hours of research and what I’m coming up with to be the best option is to first oil with Tung oil then use a finishing coat of Waterlox (brand name) sealer. Both are food safe and there are a couple different options on their website that virtually make the butcher block waterproof. Maintenance is recommended every 1-3 years. Definitely check it out. It’s been around for over 100 years.

  6. We did Howard’s food grade oil. Not happy with my butcher block. It’s rough. We need to sand more. I want a warmer honey or darker color. Also want it shiny.
    Open to advice.

    1. Jamie Watkins

      We have just installed butcherblock countertops. We chose Watco Danish oil in dark Walnut. It made the wood have a depth that I didn’t think possible. I want for it to be completely waterproof so we are using minwax polycrylic in clear satin. If you want shiny try polycrylic or polyurethane in high gloss.

  7. My daughter has a butcher block counter installed in her kitchen and plans to oil it, not polyurethane it. She plans to put her microwave on it and that sounds terribly unsafe, as oil of any kind can ignite and cause a fire. Am I wrong to be concerned?

    1. No mention of food safe hard wax oil? Fiddies is a great product, easy to apply, super durable and unlike polyurethane it’s easy to repair not to mention food safe.

  8. Michelle F

    I’m so glad I found this post. We have an attached island that we are wanting to put a butcher block counter on. Will keep you updated once it’s all done.

  9. We stayed at an air bnb and the place had a brand new butcher block counter top. Someone brough that metallic confetti for a party (not paper, it’s like plastic/shiny) and some was on the counter, must have gotten pressed in and wet, and it left color stained prints on the counter top. I am now scrambling to come up with a solution to provide the home owner to repair it without significant cost. Any ideas?

    1. They’ll likely need to sand down the countertop until the color is gone, then re-stain (if needed) and seal it or finish it another way. If they’re not handy, then they’ll need to hire it out.

    2. That’s very nice of you to want to make it right. However, butcher block countertops are known to stain unless finished with polyurethane. As there is no way you would know that normal usage of the countertops would stain them, there is no reasonable expectation that you would be responsible for normal wear and tear. It’s the same as if they had installed paper flooring and it become damaged from walking on it. Butcher block is never meant to look new forever. It is installed in a rental situation because it is more affordable than granite.

  10. Alicia Hursley

    Thank you so much for the tips. I’ve always loved the butcher block look on countertops. We are doing a mass kitchen renovation right now and we are going to put in a butcher block countertop as soon as we are done refinishing our cabinets. I’m glad we found your post before we did that and I’m looking forward to taking care of the butcher block the right way.

  11. When I oiled mine, it accentuated these little marks that were not even visible before I oiled . They look like a lot of little short lines engraved into the wood. Has anyone ever experienced this? Was I supposed to sand it before hand?

    1. I read somewhere that it’s from the machines used at the factory.

  12. Mary Watts

    I’m at the point with my butcher block countertops that I need to decide whether to polyurethane or tung oil. After reading your page I think I want to use tung oil as I’m afraid to poly that is not food safe.
    I understand that tung oil hardens the wood and draws moisture out. Do you have any experience with tung oil?

    1. Look into Watco Butter Block Oil. That’s what I used. It’s a food safe treatment that protects wood beautifully. I’ve not had a single problem cleaning up any of the spills that occur on a kitchen counter top. Just follow application instructions.

    2. I used pure 100% tung oil to seal some new raw wood beehive boxes a few years ago, because I wanted a completely natural but waterproof finish. It was fairly easy to do and they turned out great; they’re waterproof year round in rain and sun outside. The finish is definitely warm and “honey colored” as oils tend to be, with a satin finish, and looks more like a actual stain/sealant than mineral oil does but it’s 100% natural & food safe. I believe it’s recommend to thin it for ease of application and consistent finish, which needs to be a natural citrus based one for food-safe finishes. One thing to note is tung oil has a much more intense odor than a mineral oil does, and can take a few weeks to dissipate as it cures. It’s also a VERY thick oil; I think applying it unthinned worked for me because I did it outside on a hot summer day.

  13. I have butcher block on my island and I love it. I don’t cut on it (I have a wood cutting board I leave on it) and only treat with mineral oil 2-3 times a year. After a while it doesn’t need it as often. Im assuming that the oil soaks in and saturates the wood making it last longer. I have a rustic wood dining table that I treat with tung oil but it hardens with a sheen so don’t want that on my butcher block. I guess the bottom line is I love the warmth of natural wood and willing to give it the occasional attention it needs. Besides, I spend more time wiping down my leathered black granite countertops!! Lol

  14. Keeley Kirkley

    So we just put in a butcher block in our kitchen. So our sink is an undermount sink, so I had to find something to put our dish soap and sponge on the side on top of our counter. Well, I didn’t realize that it didn’t leave enough airflow under it, and our Butcher Block molded a little bit. Is there any way to get it off? I did the bleach in hot water and sand it and oiled it, but it still leaves a bit of mold. What can I do?

    1. It sounds like you need to keep cleaning and sanding it until it’s mold free. And open up as many cabinets as you can to let it dry. Once it’s dry and no more mold, I would probably recommend just finishing it with a coat of polyurethane so it protects the wood from moisture. That’s what we ended up doing. You won’t be able to use it as a cutting board anymore, but the wood will be protected.

      1. Keeley Kirkley

        Thank you so much for replying! I thought I had ruined my butcher block and it’s only been two weeks. I think I will continue the bleach and water solution, following it with a polyurethane coat. I don’t have to worry about using it as an actual cutting board it’s more just aesthetically pleasing.

      2. Karen Blatt

        When you poly coated yours , did you use mineral oil a couple months before that? We used mineral oil ai think in June but none since, can wr go over now with polyurethane? I love the look of butcherblock but not liking the oil thing. Everyone insisted we oil it n leave it. I need it to be waterproof so I can get back to cooking n doing the dishes in a regular manner! Please HELP, ANYONE WITH SUGGESTIONS! The STRESS IS TOO MUCH!

    2. Billie Henderson

      Use peroxide. It’s the only thing that will actually kill the mold. Bleach doesn’t kill it. It only changes the color by “bleaching” it.

  15. Thank you for this! This article is great. We just installed the same butcher block countertops in our kitchen and I love them and also a little cautious on setting things down on it. Not practical right? Haha. I will definitely be using the conditioner with bees wax, thank you for the recommendation and tips!

  16. I’m using Butchers Block for my office countertop remodel. Would you oil it before putting Poly on in?

    I want that warm honey color that you have, and I bought mine from Home Depot as well ????

    1. That’s great!! We actually ended up staining with Cherry and then covering in poly. It’s beautiful!!

    2. No, I would stain it and the use poly. Some oil won’t mix with poly. We actually ended up sanding all the oil out, staining it, and sealing it!

    3. Sylvia Lumpkins

      I can’t afford more expensive counter tops. But wanted butcher block in my kitchen and my husband was going to stain grey or use washout??

  17. I stained my butcher block counter with dark roast coffee grounds. It came out beautiful and was safe on foods.

    1. Can you share how you did that a d how it’s holding up please..

    2. Betty Milburn

      Really interested in seeing how that looks & your process! Sounds perfect for what I’m thinking about doing.

  18. Thanks for your post. I felt just the way you describe in this post until I came across an article about dark tung oil and how wonderful it is for butcher block. It is self sealing, dries to a hard finish, and only requires sealing once a year! If you don’t want the coloring of that you can use clear tung oil. It is perfect and natural/food safe. Hope this helps your future blogs!

    1. We used tung oil on our counters. It is also time consuming due to the amount of time it takes for the wood to absorb the oil before you can do the next coat. We did FIVE coats and it looks great but took forever.

  19. Hello!! I was looking into the one you are talking about. It’s on sale right now. I am a chef and was very excited about it. But also worried on the how to keep up with it and what’s really good. I’m very confused right now lololl

  20. Eva Rissler

    Thanks for the update on butcher block. I will consider when updating our kitchen.

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