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How do I finish this bare wood counertop?

We bought coutners from IKEA. The person helping to finish the bare wood suggested. I am watching TOH right now, and he suggests some sort of mineral oil. They talked about other finishes that are no good, as they contain toxins, others degrade with food use. The plumber advising the helper suggested boar varnish. He works in kitchens all the time and his work is good, but this sounds wrong to me. Can anyone confirm if boat varnish is the right material to use for a kitchen counter? If not, what would you suggest? If mineral oil, is there any specific kind of mineral oil, or just go into Home Depot and ask for "mineral oil."

Re: How do I finish this bare wood counertop?

Lil, you sound like you bought yourself a lifetime project. Mineral oil never really dries and you have to repeat the treatment fairly frequently. It will probably also harbor germs and such from food juices.

Boat varnish, otherwise known as spar varnish is good for exterior use and probably has no lead in it any more so it will be somewhat safe. It'll keep the finish sealed and that's what you really want.

Good Luck.

Re: How do I finish this bare wood counertop?

Let us dispel the myth of toxic finishes for starters.


Then let's consider just how this wood countertop will be used and where it is located. Many of the wood countertops you see on TV are in high-dollar show kitchens which never really get used. My, my...don't they look impressive?

Fact is that wood countertops will be problematic for most folks *if* they expect or desire them to look *nice* all the time. They won't look like on TV....if you actually use them for everyday work. And..........wood counters housing a sink present special problems. Namely...water. Lots of water
nearby that will splash out and require attention in short order....or else.

If you're considering the use of film type finish , such as varnish....realize that any slit in that finish will allow water and juices into the wood under the finish. That means bad
news. The finish will lose its bond to the wood and begin peeling. Not a good thing.

Penetrating finishes such as tung oil ( and I mean the real deal,not just something claiming to be or have tung oil in it) won't peel away and are relatively easy to renew and keep up. Yes, it will take timely maintenance, but that is easier than stripping and refinishing with yet another coat of film type finish when it begins to peel.

Mineral oil is a decent penetrating finish for this application. Buy the pharmaceutical grade at your pharmacy. Flood the surface and let it sit for 15 minutes or so. Wipe up the excess.
Wait a day and do it again. Repeat until the wood doesn't absorb any more. This will result in a somewhat dull finish, but servicable in a
working kitchen. And....you can cut on the sutface without worry of slitting a film type finish....and ruining it. Basically...
you finish and treat the counter just like it was one big cutting board.

Clean the countertop with a dilute bleach solution every few days or even every day if used heavily. (Same as a butcherblock in a restaurant.) When you see the wood absorbing some water.....let it dry overnight and retreat with the mineral oil until it doesn't.

Or...use a finish comprised of a combo of 50% mineral oil and 50% paraffin. Place the paraffin into an appropriate container with the mineral oil and SLOWLY heat over a burner. This combo will ignite if heated too high or too fast. Or better yet...use a heat gun for this purpose. Much safer
than an open flame.

When melted and ready, quickly and thinly apply this mixture to the countertop and allow to harden. Scrape off the excess (cabinet scraper) that doesn't absorb in some areas and apply
a little more to those areas that sucked it all in. Renew as necessary...which will likely be far less often that mineral oil alone.

Will paraffin harbor bacteria? Ummmmmmmm....it's used to seal jars when canning for long term storage.

Again...this will be a dull-ish serviceable finish. If you want to really use your countertop & yet have it look like a piece of furniture....good luck with that.

I have also read of using beeswax in place of the paraffin, but have as yet to try that.

Back to the wood countertop & sink deal. When you cut out for a sink in a wood countertop....MAKE SURE you seal the edges of that cutout and the holes for faucet with the same paraffin/oil finish ...or with a couple coats of oil-based varnish. Water *will* find the edges of these cutouts sooner or later and if there is no functional sealer there.........nothing good will
come of it.

I will also highly recommend that you apply the same finish to underside of the countertop that you intend to use on the topside *before* you install it. This is to even out moisture absorbtion (atmospheric humidity). If one side absorbs more or faster than the other..........cupping of the countertop will
ensue...unless this is a true butcherblock countertop (endgrain facing up and down). Even then, I would still finish the bottom side.

Another possibility is to use a speciality very thin penetrating epoxy finish such as West Systems offers. More $$$ though.

If this is just a lunch counter sorta deal and no one will ever cut on it with a knife....... a couple/three coats of oil-based poly will serve you well.

PS- If you decide to try the tung oil finish ...soak the wipe-up rags in water and store in a tightly closed container outside the house until disposal. This because those rags *can and might* spontaneously combust.

Re: How do I finish this bare wood counertop?

Personally I would recommend the Tung Oil. You can read it's history here http://www.sutherlandwelles.com/tungoil.htm . And as Goldie says be sure to get Tung oil not poly with tung oil added.

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