oiling butcher block counters

i love wood counters.  i have put wood counters into three of the five kitchens i have owned-- and perhaps the current owners of those kitchens have cursed me for it!  i just can't help it.  i love the color, the feeling of them as they age-- and i love the process of taking care of them.  butcher block counters are fussy-- they require care, maintenance, and a whole lotta patience and love.  for me that process of taking care of my counters is a way i connect with my house-- a way that my house feels more like mine-- more like home.

here's how to care for your counters:

a new butcher block counter is installed without any finish and it  will need to be oiled.  the oil keeps the wood in good shape, prevents it from drying out or cracking, and creates a surface seal that keeps stains from becoming too much of a big deal (a properly oiled butcher block counter will even resist red wine stains).

i have read a lot about what oil to use for butcher block-- some people swear by mineral oil, some by walnut oil-- i have found that any food-grade oil will do.  i have used olive, canola, corn.... you get the idea.  people worry that the food-grade oil will get rancid-- but i have never experienced this.  i do clean my counters with the scrubby side of the sponge quite often-- so there is rarely any oily residue sitting on the surface of my butcher block-- nothing really to get rancid in any case.

to treat a new butcher block counter (or one that has been newly sanded down) apply oil once a day for a week, once a week for a month, and once a month for a year.  yes-- it is a labor of love.

the truth is that you have quite a bit of lee-way.  i have started the process of oiling a new counter, then been distracted by life and not gotten back to it for several YEARS, and then sanded the whole thing down and started over with absolutely no repercussions in terms of my counter being ruined.

think about it-- wooden work surfaces have been around for hundreds of years-- which gives us a good idea of how durable they really are.

in any case-- you want to apply the oil LIBERALLY.  and i mean LIBERALLY.  pour a big pool of oil on your counter and rub it around with your hands.  it is a great hand treatment!  the butcher block will absorb an enormous amount of oil the first day (add more as needed), and less each consecutive oiling afterwards.  i put the oil on at night and let it sit overnight, then wipe it off in the morning so that i can use my counters during the day.

oiling your counters is a hassle.  you will find oil spots on the front of your shirt, oil will drip on your floors, oil will seep into all sorts of places in your life you didn't want it.  plus-- where do you put all that stuff that normally lives on the counter?  AND-- don't put any books or papers down on your counters-- they will get oil spots!

oiled butcher block counters are not for everyone-- but i could not be happier!

happy wednesday.



Norm Deplume said...

After coveting butcher block counters for years, I finally installed them in my kitchen this week. I've run out of oil twice already, but I don't care. I love them.

Have you ever used a beeswax/oil combo? I have been trolling the internet for the definitive word on how much a difference in durability and moisture resistance the beeswax makes, but of course there is no consensus.

shopgirl said...

Hi Norm-- I have never used beeswax-- but I could imagine that it would be a good idea. When oiled properly the butcher block is pretty resistant to most anything-- just clean it regularly with a scrubby sponge and then re-oil every few weeks-- the oil creates a wonderful protective coating.

And of course the wood itself is anti-bacterial! Great for kitchens....


Norm Deplume said...

Thanks! I tried the beeswax/oil combo on the smaller counter, and it gave it a nice sheen. I'll probably throw it on the other counter too, once I get a couple more layers of oil on it.

shopgirl said...

Nice! I will be interested to hear how it wears over time-- I might try this, too!

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