Illustration: Harry Bates
The best way to protect your wood countertops from stains, burns, and scratches is to always put hot pots on trivets, cut only on cutting boards, and be quick about wiping up spills. But if the counter does get damaged, the eyesore is easily erased. Here's how to tackle some common countertop calamities. (Note: If the wood is protected by a coat of finish, you'll need to remove it first.)

Scratches, cuts, and burns
Give the wood a quick sanding with the grain, first with 120-grit, then 180-grit paper. When the surface is smooth, pour on warm, USP-grade (food-grade) mineral oil and rub it in with a rag. Let it soak in for 20 to 30 minutes, then wipe away the excess with a clean paper towel. Don't use cooking oils, which will turn rancid. For extra protection, apply 1 part beeswax or paraffin wax melted in 4 parts mineral oil and rub it into the bare wood while the mix is still warm.

Stains
If the discolorations caused by food or drinks can't be erased by sanding, try rubbing them with lemon juice. If that isn't strong enough, mix 1 tablespoon hydrogen peroxide in a cup of warm water and dab it on the stain. For the black stains made by, say, a wet cast-iron pot, use wood bleach (oxalic acid) instead. Rinse thoroughly as soon as the stain disappears—bleach will whiten wood dramatically and make it fuzzy if left on too long—then sand and reoil the surĀ­face as above. Treating your wood countertop to a once-a-month oil massage will also improve its resistance to stains.

Vinegar Alert
Most wood countertops are vulnerable to vinegar, which is acidic enough to dissolve the glue holding the pieces of wood together and cause the counter to crack along its glue joints. Guard against this by instantly mopping up any spilled vinegar and by oiling the wood regularly.
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