Help me seal this birch!
July 7, 2010 9:44 AM   Subscribe

How should I seal a birch countertop?

We just bought the Groland kitchen island from IKEA to use as some extra counter space in our kitchen. IKEA says it's solid birch, which I hear is a good surface for counters. It's unfinished; how should I seal it? I have some Minwax clear sealer that I used to seal the 4x4 our mailbox is sitting on, can I use that? I'd really like to keep this countertop looking as nice as possible.
posted by InsanePenguin to Home & Garden (9 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
wood that comes in contact with food would normally sealed with a food safe finish--sometimes called salad bowl finish. I wouldn't use the minwax!

If it was me, I'd oil it lightly with mineral oil
posted by midwestguy at 9:51 AM on July 7, 2010

Best answer: Sand it with a fine grit sandpaper, I use 400. Then liberally apply plain mineral oil. Unlike some food oils, mineral oil will not go rancid. You may have to reapply a couple times a year.
posted by Nickel Pickle at 9:53 AM on July 7, 2010

Best answer: No Minwax at all if food is regularly coming in contact with it. Polyurethane = bad.

Ikea sell this product that they recommend for food-prep-safe wood treatment. Really, anything like mineral or linseed oil will be fine.
posted by supercres at 9:56 AM on July 7, 2010 [1 favorite]

I just sealed an unfinished Ikea table in our dining nook. The guy at Home Despot recommended Varathane water-based polyurethane sealant. It worked great. Water-based made for easy cleanup, and there was virtually no odor. It took 3-4 coats and needed to dry for a couple days.
posted by gnutron at 10:00 AM on July 7, 2010

I've used General Finishes Butcher Block Oil on cutting boards and it works great.
posted by mcarthey at 10:00 AM on July 7, 2010

Best answer: I have wood counters in my kitchen and bathroom, and I've done a lot of other wood finishing. Years ago, a cabinet maker told me about General Finishes, and their sealing products are great. They contain polyurethane and also a drying oil which makes the finish more flexible. When you dent your countertop by dropping a large tomato can, the finish won't crack. (A drying oil is just an oil that dries instead of remaining sticky.)

Both parts of the 'system' are applied with a cloth, so there are no drips. After sanding the wood, you apply Seal-A-Cell, a thin oil. It grabs onto the wood and gives the next coating something to really stick to. After that, a few thin coats of Arm-R-Seal, rubbing with steel wool between coats. You end up with a waterproof, flexible, good-looking surface that feels like wood. I refresh the surfaces every few years by lightly sanding, and laying down a new coat of Arm-R-Seal.

Normal polyurethane looks and feels plasticky. Once it cracks, it will peel, so it's not great for a wet area if you want your finish to stay watertight and looking beautiful.

My mom has butcher-block counters in her kitchen. She uses mineral oil, which looks very good on that kind of surface. But it needs to be re-oiled frequently, and the wood stains very easily, even with a brand new coat of oil. That's okay for her, because she can stay vigilant and doesn't allow guest cooks. Mineral oil would also be fine if you want to allow the normal stains, rust spots, and other evidence of culinary work -- like a workbench.
posted by wryly at 10:15 AM on July 7, 2010 [1 favorite]

Good Stuff is made for this.
posted by nicwolff at 12:25 PM on July 7, 2010

Response by poster: Thanks for the suggestions; I think I'm going to go with mineral oil. I don't mind reapplying it once a month and I'm careful about staining. I don't plan on cutting directly on the board for now anyway.
posted by InsanePenguin at 12:48 PM on July 7, 2010

If you plan on kneading or rolling out doughs on this surface, you can't do better than 3:1 melted beeswax:mineral oil. Apply liberally, buff, repeat. Looks beautiful, easy to keep clean, great to work on. Also lasts at least twice as long as mineral oil alone, and is a pleasure to work dough on.
posted by nenequesadilla at 7:08 PM on July 7, 2010

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