How to Stain a Cutting Board

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Wood cutting boards add warmth, beauty and function to kitchen decor. Proper sealing and maintenance are critical to the durability and safety of these popular kitchen tools, whether you use your board only for food prep or also for cutting. Preserve the beauty and usefulness of either a new or old board in a few basic steps.

Things You'll Need

  • Cutting board
  • Fine sandpaper
  • Food-grade mineral oil (room temperature)
  • Clean, dry rags
  • Kitchen towel
  • Clean and thoroughly dry a used cutting board before attempting to refinish it.

  • Place a new, unfinished board or a used board on your work surface. Check for nicks or splinters that might break loose or embed in food.

  • Use fine sandpaper to smooth the top, bottom and edges of your board. Remember to use a lightly dampened rag to remove any sawdust, and then use a clean kitchen towel to dry the board thoroughly.

  • Pour food-grade mineral oil onto a clean, dry rag. Liberally apply the oil to your cutting board, moving in the direction of the wood grain. Continue applying mineral oil until you cover the entire surface of your board, being careful to coat the sides and bottom of the board, as well.

  • Stand your board on its end or on its side, and allow it to absorb the oil for 15 minutes.

  • Use a clean, dry rag to remove any excess oil remaining on the surface.

  • Repeat Steps 4, 5 and 6 two to three more times to ensure that your cutting board is thoroughly coated. This also improves the board's water resistance.

Tips & Warnings

  • You can purchase food-grade mineral oil in the health and beauty department of your favorite store.
  • There are differing views about the use of walnut oil as a substitute for mineral oil in finishing a cutting board. It's preferred by some for attaining a darker finish color. Tim Albers, California woodworker and writer for Finewoodworking.com, says that the advantage of walnut oil is that it actually dries after a day or two, whereas mineral oil never completely dries.
  • Wash your newly finished cutting board in hot, soapy water (not the dishwasher) immediately after each use.
  • Wood cutting boards need to be refinished or "seasoned" at fairly regular intervals. The first week that you own it, oil it every day. For the next month, oil it once a week, and then oil your board once a month, thereafter. If the surface becomes rough, uneven or marred with cuts, you can re-sand the board to create a fresh, smooth surface. You'll need to go through the finishing process again to prepare the board for use with food.
  • Melting one part paraffin or beeswax with five parts mineral oil can create an even greater water resistance on the board's surface. This isn't necessary, but it can extend the time between re-seasonings.
  • Don't substitute vegetable or olive oil for the mineral oil in the finishing process. Both have limited shelf lives and can become rancid.
  • Don't use chemical finishes or lacquers on your wood cutting board. They're often toxic and unsuitable for food prep. Plus, finishes that create a shell-like film over the surface of the wood will crack and allow knives to penetrate the board. This allows bacteria to grow and moisture to seep into your board, which is held underneath the remaining finish.

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