Restoring a Butcher-Block Countertop
When wood counters lose their good looks, here’s how to make them beautiful again, and keep them looking that way
Stir a teaspoon of powdered oxygen bleach (sodium percarbonate) into a cup of hot water until it dissolves. Wearing a nitrile glove, dip a stiff, nylon-bristle scrub brush into the solution and scrub the wood for a couple of minutes. Redip as needed to keep the surface wet. The mix will foam slightly, then subside.
Wait 10 minutes for the bleach to work, then rinse thoroughly with a sponge and cool water. The wood will lighten as it dries, but if it’s still stained, mix up a new batch of bleach and repeat the scrubbing process.
Pour fresh hydrogen peroxide (3 percent solution) into a bowl. Use a cotton swab to dab the peroxide only on the stain; it can lighten unstained wood. Let the solution sit for a couple of minutes, then wipe with a damp microfiber cloth. Repeat until the stain disappears, or nearly so. Let it dry.
Once the countertop is dry and the blemishes are mostly gone, sand the entire surface. Start with 100-grit paper, which should eliminate any remaining marks, then finish with 150. The best tool for this purpose is a 6-inch random-orbit sander, guided in slow, overlapping passes going with the wood grain.
Pour a wax-and-oil finish, like Butcher Block Conditioner, onto the wood and rub it back and forth with a lint-free cloth. Wait 20 minutes, then buff with a clean cotton cloth. To maintain the countertop’s stain resistance, reapply whenever the wood looks dry.
In hardworking kitchens, food-safe oils and waxes are ideal finishes for butcher block because they’re easy to wipe on, and, for the most part, there’s no wait for them to cure. Mineral oil is cheap and readily available, but doesn’t last long. Blends of beeswax and mineral oil, like Howard's Butcher Block Conditioner, have a lovely scent, a bit of sheen, and better water repellency than mineral oil alone.
Steer clear of linseed oil and cooking oils, like olive and canola, which turn rancid. Also, avoid finishes like varnish and polyurethane; their hard films are difficult to refinish when they chip, peel, or get scratched.