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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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!

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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!

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