Painting Butcher Block Countertops – Easy Steps and Guide

how do you paint butcher block countertop

Extreme durability is what makes butcher blocks so special. Although they come with a lifespan of around ten to fifteen years, or even longer, you can make your butcher block countertops last long with proper maintenance and finishes.

As a whole, you can get your butcher block countertop painted or stained with oil-based varieties using a natural-bristled brush. Do not use water-based or acrylic paints to whitewash your old butcher block, as they will not adhere to the block’s surface very well and will eventually get damaged soon.

When refinishing, there are, however, specific steps and techniques you need to follow, so that you do not run into any major issues later on.

How to Paint Butcher Block Countertop?

Traditionally, the butcher blocks were made of hard maple and were commonly used only in butcher shops and meat processing plants. But now, these are becoming popular in homes, especially in kitchens where meat is cut and processed for regular food preparation.

For home use, butcher block countertops are usually built by bonding together thick pieces or strips of wood such as teak, walnut, oak, cherry, or sugar maple. They are gentle on knife blades yet withstand heavy daily usage and scratching due to cutting, chopping, slicing, and dicing.

Due to the nature of wood material, wooden countertops typically hold a lot of germs and can remain dirtier for a long. To keep them clean, wiping the surface well after every use with a mild soap and water or vinegar solution is a good option.

Additionally, you can make your butcher block countertop look tidy and decorative with a coat of paint color of your choice. Below are a few easy paint preparation and application steps to follow and get the job done.

Step 1 – Clean butcher block

Before applying any finish on your butcher block, wipe the surface with a sponge saturated in a solution of warm water and dish soap.

In a bucket of warm water, add two tablespoons of mild liquid dish soap. Then with a soft cloth or a sponge, wipe the counter to remove any loose dust, dirt, grime, or attached food particles. Next, dry the surface with a piece of another clean, soft cloth.

Step 2 – Sand the countertop

To make the block accept paint better and prevent peeling, you will now need to sand the surface lightly.

With 120-grit sandpaper, sand your butcher block surface, including the edges. Make sure you use smooth back-and-forth motions while rubbing the surface gently. Continue sanding until all the existing countertop finish is removed and the surface is roughened up – this will allow the paint to adhere correctly without any issues.

After you have sanded the block, wipe the surface clean to remove the sanded dust with a piece of dampened cloth and allow it to dry completely before you move to the next step.

Step 3 – Apply the paint to the counter

For cutting boards and butcher blocks, always pick food-safe oil-based paints and sealants.

While water-based and acrylic paints won’t work well, if you want, you can use a non-toxic, odorless, water-based white wash stain which can serve as an excellent alternative to oil-based paints. Refrain from using oil-based wood stains as they are not food safe and can seep into food that you will prep on the countertop.

Using a natural-bristled brush, apply a thin layer of oil-based paint in the direction of the wood grain. After the first coat of paint is dried (in around 2-3 hours), apply one or two additional thin coats for better protection and finishing. Allow the final coat to sit and cure for at least 24 hours before you use your butcher block again for food preparation.

can butcher block countertops be whitewashed

Choosing the Paint Color for Butcher Block Countertop

When selecting the paint shade for your wooden countertops, always consider the undertone of the wood species that have been used.

IMO, neutral colors (like beige, taupe, gray, cream, brown, black, and white) look great and can complement the look of the natural wood in your kitchen. But if you want to be creative, a range of other hues are available to pick from.

You can get some samples and swatches at your nearby local paint shop, like home depot, which will help you get suitable color options from the wide variety available. Just hold up each color swatch next to the wood you need to paint and see which shade works best for you.

TOP TIP: Certain wood species can enhance the look of your kitchen countertop by adding wood backsplash tiles. These can add some extra texture when used together by syncing with butcher blocks.

Do You Need to Seal Butcher Block – What Finishes to Use?

Since painted wood can still expand and contract when exposed to moisture and humidity, sealing is often recommended after you have painted your butcher block tables, countertops, cutting boards, or island tops.

A good sealer not only adds a protective plastic-like coating to make the countertop surface nearly waterproof but also will resist scratches, stains, and build-up of bacteria that can cause food odors.

What sealant you use will depend on how you will use the surface and also on the type of grains (end grain or edge grain) and the quality of finish you desire to achieve. But in general, there are two types of sealants you can use on butcher blocks. These include:

  • Oil finishes
  • Film finishes

Oil sealants can further be classified into polymerizing oils (like Tung oil, Jojoba oil, Grape seed oil, Danish oil, and Food-grade Linseed oil) and evaporating oils (like mineral oil, walnut oil, and coconut oil). Do not use boiled linseed oil for finishing wood surfaces used in food preparation – it is toxic.

The film finishes you can use are polyurethane, shellac, or clear sealers like those offered by Watco or Waterlox. All of these come with their respective pros and cons and should be kept in mind before using them.

Whatever you choose, make sure that the sealant is food-grade and can be safely used on wooden cutting surfaces. Also, do not mix one type of finish with the other and allow the product to fully cure for about 30 days before making it completely food safe.

can you use polyurethane on butcher block countertops

Warning and Risks Involved

Sealants like polyurethane, although non-toxic and food safe (when fully cured), still pose safety concerns.

On a butcher block table or countertop, you will be cutting on it daily against the grain, which can cause fibers to rise. This can cause bits of finish to detach and mix in food items which can potentially be harmful to health when ingested.    

Due to these risks with paints, stains, and clear sealers, I recommend using either coconut oil or almond oil for sealing your finished butcher block worktops. These are completely safe for cutting and preparing any foodstuff, including meat.

Tips for Maintaining Your Butcher Block Countertop

Butcher block countertops can be vulnerable to stains, water damage, and heat damage. Therefore, it is crucial to take good care of them, such as sealing the countertops with paint. To further extend the lifespan of your painted butcher block countertops, here are some tips to follow.

  • If you spill any liquids on your butcher block, wipe it out immediately to prevent staining.
  • Do not put/install the butcher block countertops near the sink or stove – water and heat can cause damage like mold, bubbles, and cracks.
  • Make sure to place hot pots and pans on a cutting board or trivet when placing them on the counter. Also, avoid putting anything on the countertop directly that has been heated in the oven or microwave.

The Bottom Line

A butcher block (or butcher’s block) is a heavy-duty chopping block or a countertop that won’t dull your knives like stone or concrete counters. This cutting surface is softer and quieter, allowing you to work in your kitchen without clamoring.

High-quality counters, however, aren’t cheap to install. They are usually more expensive than mid-range granite but are cheaper than some top-of-the-line natural stones available on the market.

If you already have an old countertop that needs refinishing, consider giving it a fresh coat of paint to give it a new look and prepare healthy meals for a few more years.

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