Advice to help keep wooden counter from rotting!
January 11, 2011 8:43 AM   Subscribe

How can I treat my butcher-block (wooden) counter top surrounding the sink so that it doesn't rot?

I have just started living in a home with "butcher board" counter tops. Looks nice, but the area around the sink is a matter for some concern because it's getting slightly darker after being in continual contact with moisture... would hate to have it go downhill.

I guess this means I should treat it with something. I have "hardwood oil" (NL: hardhout olie; FR: huile pour bois dur) but maybe I should buy something different.

Two and a half questions:
1. What should I treat this wood with?
2. How can I apply it neatly? I'm afraid that the chemical I use in (1) above will spread under the tape I'll use to just treat the wood around the sink.
2.5 Is there some trick? I bet the chemical will change the color of the wood, and I don't want to have to stain the entire rest of counter top since I like the color which it is now (and it is a large counter top, it'd take forever, plus the smell).

Thanks a lot guys. I'm a novice home-repair DIYer so really appreciate the advice!
posted by mateuslee to Home & Garden (16 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
We use beeswax on an unfinished wooden butcher block work table in our kitchen. It's non-toxic, easy to apply and smells nice.
posted by fixedgear at 8:46 AM on January 11, 2011

Yeah, some sort of oil—I *think* for the butcher block I used to have, I used linseed oil, but don't quote me on that—but in any case, what you want is some sort of non-toxic edible oil which you can apply on a semi-regular basis.
posted by dubitable at 8:55 AM on January 11, 2011

Best way to apply beeswax is with heat. Warm the edges of your sink with a hair dryer, then rub with a stick of beeswax; it should go on like a big thick neutral colored crayon. Then get in close with the hair dryer and heat the wood until it sucks all the beeswax in, then rub it over some more. Keep doing that until you can't make any more soak in. I don't think water will get past that.
posted by flabdablet at 8:59 AM on January 11, 2011 [2 favorites]

I've used mineral oil in the past. Cheap and available at the drug store.
posted by pised at 9:02 AM on January 11, 2011

Mineral oil is widely recommended. I use this on our butcher block counter.

We have a butcher block sink and we used a permanent sealant (that we got from Ikea along with the butcher block, not sure what it was). Other than that we keep a rag next to the sink and wipe the wood down after washing dishes. Wiping the wood down seems to make a big difference, since we had a bit of wood swelling before we started but it's stopped now.
posted by Frowner at 9:03 AM on January 11, 2011

Best answer: "hardwood oil" is probably some combination of linseed oil with various "hardeners" and solvents and stains: pure linseed oil can take a long long time to truly cure/harden. boiled linseed oil hardens faster but is still slow. it's not clear whether the added hardeners would be food safe. unless it's that ikea stuff, which is a mystery to me and doesn't seem to work very well.

it depends a lot on how the countertop is finished. does it have a coat of polyurethane/laquer/varnish? if the countertop isn't already oiled, then oil will darken the wood even if it doesn't have added stains. if it isn't oiled i.e. polyurethane then you really need to do more than just something around the sink i.e. refinish the whole thing. if it has already been treated with the ikea wood treatment, then i'd say the best thing would be to sand with a fine grit around the sink and retreat with the ikea stuff. it's main selling point is the water clean up, so this should be very easy.

you could try a wax (like beeswax), but don't be surprised if the finish looks very uneven going away from the sink.
posted by at 9:14 AM on January 11, 2011

Mineral oil is widely recommended.

mineral oil is purified (less yellow) vegetable oil (canola) with vitamin e added as a preservative. if the previous sealant was something different you will likely see color variations where you apply the mineral oil.
posted by at 9:16 AM on January 11, 2011

Mineral oil was what I used, and it's worked well thus far (4 years, roughly annual re-application). Um, unless there are regional variations in supply & label laws, mineral oil is a petroleum byproduct of gasoline manufacturing, and has nothing to do with canola oil.

Note: "boiled" linseed oil may have exciting additives as well. Check labels carefully before assuming it's food-safe.
posted by aramaic at 9:19 AM on January 11, 2011

If you are using mineral oil, be sure to get what in the U.S. is called "food grade" mineral oil, or U.S.P. mineral oil. "Food grade mineral oil has been additionally refined to remove all of the carcinogenic agents, it is rated as safe for consumption. Plain mineral oil still has some chemical traces in it that have been shown to cause cancer in laboratory animals."

I have seen recommended, but have not tried myself, using a combination of mineral oil and beeswax: "shave about 1/2 teaspoon beeswax into a microwave safe dish with a cupful of mineral oil; microwave on high for about 45 seconds. Apple to the cutting board or butcher block while still warm. Save or dispose of the remainder of the oil."
posted by gudrun at 9:45 AM on January 11, 2011

Arghh, that should be apply to the cutting board or butcher block ..., not "apple" to the cutting board ... sigh.
posted by gudrun at 9:47 AM on January 11, 2011

I also use mineral oil-- the stuff you buy in the incontinence section of the drugstore. It's cheap, safe and does the job. I apply it pretty much every time I need to clean the board with water which, depending on what I'm cooking, may be nearly every day.
posted by joan_holloway at 9:51 AM on January 11, 2011

Best answer: Mineral oil is great if you want to use the counter as a butcher block (cutting food on it, etc) -- it's totally food safe.

Mineral oil is not a good finish if you want to preserve the wood color, or if you don't intend to use the counter like a cutting board. Mineral oil never fully hardens, and must be continuously renewed. The wood will still darken over time and will be much more susceptible to water damage than with other finishes. Also, if you finish only part of the counter, then the part you finish and the part you dont will begin to look different over time.

I'd recommend an oil-based finish applied over the whole counter. Oil finishes can be rubbed on by hand and aren't too difficult to apply. Several coats of tung oil or linseed oil would do the trick. Both of these oils penetrate the wood and then harden, protecting a bit better than mineral oil. Your counters will still age gracefully over time -- if you want a complete seal you will have to sand them down and use a lacquer, varnish. You might also investigate oil-based polyurethane finishes, which are similarly easy to apply by hand.
posted by cubby at 9:51 AM on January 11, 2011

Best answer: The classic way to do this is with a mixture of beeswax and raw linseed (flax) oil. About 50-50, slowly heat up the oil and dissolve the wax, let cool, apply what should turn out like a paste with a cloth or something similar. Re-do whenever needed.
posted by Namlit at 10:40 AM on January 11, 2011

Best answer: I use a food-safe urethane sealer called Good Stuff on butcher's block counters, it seals out moisture much better than oil and is more permanent.
posted by nicwolff at 11:12 AM on January 11, 2011

Best answer: The surface finish is only one part of the issue.

Most importantly, make sure there is a REALLY GOOD seal on the end grain. If you have an above mount sink, then you might want to lift it up a bit, put a bead of silicone under and squash back down. You want to be sure that water isnt wicking under the lip. Keep it wiped dry at all times.
posted by bonobothegreat at 11:31 AM on January 11, 2011

Also think about trying Walnut oil. Non toxic and works fairly well. Also one of the slowest natural oils to go rancid, or so I have heard. I even use it on the canoe paddles I make.
posted by freakazoid at 1:10 PM on January 11, 2011

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