Extreme durability is what makes butcher block 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 for even longer with proper maintenance and finishes.
To make that happen, you can get them painted or stained with oil-based paint using a natural-bristled brush.
Do not use water-based or acrylic paints to whitewash your old butcher block as these paints will not adhere to the block’s surface well and will eventually get damaged very soon.
When painting, staining or sealing there are however certain steps and techniques you need to follow which I will cover in the article below.
But before getting to those steps, for those who are not aware, let’s understand what butcher block is, what it is made of, and what makes them special for your kitchen.
What is Butcher Block?
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 that will allow you to work in your kitchen without any clamoring.
Traditionally, the blocks were made of hard maple and were commonly used only in butcher shops and meat processing plants.
Now, these are becoming popular in homes, especially in kitchens where there is a need of regular cutting and processing of meat for food preparation.
For home use, butcher block countertops are usually built by boding together thick pieces or strips of wood like such as teak, walnut, oak, cherry or sugar maple.
They are gentle on knife blades and yet made to withstand heavy daily usage and scratching due to cutting, chopping, slicing as well as dicing.
How to Paint Butcher Block?
Due to the nature of wood material, butcher block countertops typically hold a lot of germs and can remain dirtier for long.
To keep them clean, it’s good to wipe the surface well after every use with a mild soap and water or vinegar solution.
Additionally, you can make your butcher block countertop look tidy as well as decorative with a coat of paint color of your choice.
Below are a few easy paint preparation and application steps you need to follow to get the job done.
Step 1 – Clean
Before applying any paint, wipe down the surface with a solution of warm water and dish soap.
In a bowl, take 5 to six of warm water and add 2 tablespoons of mild liquid dish soap.
With a soft cloth or a sponge, wipe the butcher block countertop to remove any loose dust, dirt, grime or attached food particles.
Next, dry the cloth with a piece of clean soft cloth.
Step 2 – Sand
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 countertop surface including edges.
Make sure you use smooth back-and-forth motions while rubbing the surface gently.
Continue sanding until all the finish is removed and the surface is roughened up – this will allow the paint to adhere properly without any issues.
After you have sanded the block, wipe the surface clean to remove the sanded dust with a piece of dampened cloth.
Allow your countertop to dry completely before you move to the next step.
Step 3 – Apply the Paint
For cutting boards and butcher blocks, make sure you pick a food safe oil-based paints and sealants.
Use a natural-bristled brush to apply a thin layer of oil-based paint in the direction of the wood grain.
Although water-based and acrylic paints won’t work well, if you want you can use a non-toxic water-based whitewash stain which can serve as a good alternate to oil-based paints.
After the first coat of paint is completely dried (in around 2-3 hours), apply one or two additional thin coats for better protection and finishing.
Let the final coat sit and cure for at least 24 hours before you use your butcher block again for food preparation.
Do You Need to Seal Butcher Block?
Since wood can expand and contract when exposed to moisture and humidity, sealing is often recommended after you have painted your butcher block countertops, cutting boards, or island tops.
Sealing it not only adds a protective plastic like coating to make the surface nearly waterproof but also will resist it from 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 quality of finish you desire to achieve.
Basically, 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, and Food-grade linseed oil) and evaporating oils (like mineral oil, walnut oil, and coconut oil).
Do not use boiled linseed oil for wood that is used for food preparation – it is toxic.
Film finishes you can use like polyurethane, shellac or clear sealers like offered by Watco or Waterlox.
All of these come with their respective pros and cons, which should be kept in mind before using.
Whatever you choose, make sure that the sealant is food-grade, and can be safely used on countertops as well as wooden cutting surfaces.
Sealants like polyurethane are, although non-toxic and food safe (when fully cured), they still pose safety concerns.
For butcher blocks countertops you will be cutting on it daily against the grain which can cause fibers to raise up.
This can cause bits of finish to detach and mix in food items which can potentially be harmful for health when ingested.
Due to risks like these with paint, clear sealers and sealants, I recommend using either coconut oil or an almond oil for sealing your butcher block work tops after staining.
These are completely safe for cutting and preparing any kind of foodstuff including meat.
What Paint Color Goes with Butcher Block Countertops?
When selecting the color and shade of paint for your wooden kitchen counter tops, always consider the undertone of the wood species that has 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, there are a range of other hues available to pick from.
You can get some samples and swatches at your nearby local paint shop, which will help you get the right color options from the wide variety available.
Just hold up each color swatch next to the wood you need to paint and seal.
There are certain wood species that can enhance the look of your kitchen countertop by adding wood backsplash tiles.
When used together, these can add some extra texture by syncing with butcher blocks.
A few other things to consider when refinishing and maintaining butcher block countertops:
- If you spill any liquid, wipe it out immediately to prevent staining
- Do not mix one type of finish with the other. Remove the previous one if it’s already there, as it can create a mess
- Whatever finish you choose, allow the product to fully cure for about 30 days before making it completely food safe
- Do not put/install the butcher block countertops near the sink or stove – water and heat can cause damages like mold, bubbles and cracks
The Bottom Line
Good butcher block countertops 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 or a cutting board that needs refinishing, get them painted and sealed properly.
This can add a cool, refreshing new look to your kitchen in a budget friendly way, and also will help you prepare healthy meals.
Jack Luis is a semi-retired painter who loved painting his clients’ ideas on their walls.
He had worked as a painter for more than a decade to serve the customers in areas such as Charleston, Mount Pleasant, Beaufort, Georgetown, SC (South Carolina). Today in his free time, he likes to read and write about the newer techniques that are being implemented in his profession. You may read more about him here or get in touch with him here.
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