How to Seal a Butcher Block

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When you buy a new butcher block cutting board, prep table or counter, or are renewing an old one, seal the wood before using it. Sealing helps preserve and protect the board by reducing water absorption.

Things You'll Need

  • Cleaned, sanded butcher block surface
  • Bottle of food grade mineral oil from the drug store or pharmacy department of your grocery store
  • Brush, sponge or sponge brush
  • Roll of paper towels
  • Bee's wax or paraffin wax (optional)

Prepare the Surface

  • Make sure the surface is smooth, sanded and clean with no remaining sawdust. If your butcher block is not ready for sealing, take the time to brush it off, and give it a final wipe with a lightly damp cloth an hour or two before sealing, to give the wood plenty of time to dry. Inspect the surface before adding sealer; the oil will make sanding a bit messier and more time consuming.

  • Open the bottle of mineral oil and drizzle it lightly over the surface of the board. Use a brush, sponge or sponge-brush to spread the oil evenly over the surface of the board covering all exposed wood. Add more oil if needed to get full coverage. Allow the oil to sit until the wood has fully absorbed it.

  • When the oil is fully absorbed, repeat the above step. When the board is sealed for the first time, you may have to drizzle oil three or four. Expect to use a large amount of oil. You'll be finished with the oil when the wood strongly resists absorbing more oil, even after the oil is on the board for an hour or more.

  • Saturating the wood will prevent water from soaking into the wood easily. Wipe away any oil left standing on the butcher block.

  • An optional final step is to finish the block with a coat of melted paraffin wax or bee's wax. This is not necessary to seal the wood, but it does provide a nice, smooth finish. Heat the wax to melt it, and use a rag or brush to work a very light layer of wax onto the surface. Allow the wax to cool, and then polish with a low-lint oiled cloth or a carpenter's scraper.

Tips & Warnings

  • This sealing technique works for any butcher block used to prepare food. A polyurethane finish is often used to finish a butcher block that will be used as fine furniture, but the oil can also be used. Do not use the polyurethane on a wood surface used to prepare food. A polyurethane finished board will develop a scarred, cracked finish from knives.
  • Use mineral oil, not mineral spirits. The mineral oil that you can buy at your drug store is fnon-toxic.
  • If you choose to use a commercially sold butcher block finish, make sure it does not harden on the surface if you intend to use the board for cutting. The finish is similar to polyurethane and scars and cracks with cut on.
  • Be sure to use oil considered food-safe, if you choose to experiment.
  • Vegetable oils are acceptable but not recommended for sealing a butcher board. They oxidize over time, darken, and go rancid. The aesthetics, flavor odor could be unpleasant unless you plan to clean, scrape and refinish regularly.

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