HOME > Chowhound > Cookware >


What's safe to use to finish butcher block?

Just got a new kitchen cart w/ a butcher-block top and the wood is unfinished. I'd like to stain it in some way but I don't want to use something that will end up seeping dangerously into the food I prepare on there. Can I use linseed oil? Should I just leave the wood raw?

  1. Click to Upload a photo (10 MB limit)
  1. You might want to look at Tried and True. They make pure Danish oil, no metals or solvents/dryers added. It is food safe I've only used their Varnish and Beeswax oil for mouldings but I can attest to the beauty of the outcome. You can also call them and talk to the main guy about what you want to do and he will give you great advice. Either that or use a food safe mineral oil.


    1. NO, no, no!...do not use linseed oil - it's not food safe. Pour on a good amount of mineral oil, let it soak into the wood for thirty minutes, then wipe off the excess. Use a soft rag or paper tower for this. As you wipe off the excess oil rub vigorusly to push the oil into the wood. Mineral oil is food safe, will not go rancid, but will need to be reapplied every month or so, depending on how frequently you use your block for chopping. Do not put any other finish on the butcher block, and do not leave it raw.

      1. Behandla makes a good product for butcher block food prep surfaces. A bit more trouble than mineral oil, but makes for easier cleaning of the surface in my experience.

        1. Don't use linseed oil. I'm curious as to why you want to stain it?

          Mineral oil is a good treatment for keeping the wood in good shape (and you won't poison your family with it). Apply the mineral oil once a month, and wipe off the excess.

          1 Reply
          1. re: greglor

            Third the mineral oil. I have one maple butcher block board from the early 60s that is still going strong thanks to regular mineral oil treatments (I'm not religious about "once a month" but you can tell when it's getting dry).

          2. There have been a few threads about this over the past year or so that I've been
            reading this site, and a while ago I got curious again and tried to track down a
            definitive answer. As far as I can tell, there isn't a definitive answer.

            The FDA publishes guidelines on what it considers safe for food contact surfaces.
            It's a huge document: http://edocket.access.gpo.gov/cfr_200...
            From what I can tell, every consumer-grade clear finish available at your
            local hardware store meets these standards once the finish has dried.

            For any product you're considering using, the manufacturer must publish
            a Material Safety Data Sheet (MSDS). This is a document which contains
            everything known about the toxicity of the product. You can usually find them
            with a web search for the product name and "msds". For example, here's the
            one for a common Minwax polyurethane finish: http://www.rockler.com:80/tech/RTD200...
            which looks like after those scary organic solvents dry, it's perfectly safe.

            However, while "perfectly safe" means you're probably not going to die or grow
            a third ear, it doesn't mean you're going to be comfortable having that stuff around
            your chow. Personally, I'm not; and fortunately there are some good alternatives.

            The purpose of a wood finish is to fill the pores of the wood with something so
            that all the liquids, juices, bloods, etc you're going to have all over the cutting
            board stay on the surface and can be wiped off, rather than soaking in and
            permanently staining the wood. And what you want is something that when it
            dries, cures solidly so that it can't be wiped or washed out. Some oils do not
            cure. Some oils cure naturally, if slowly, and various chemicals can be added
            to speed up the process (manganese dioxide, cobalt dichloride, various other
            scary things).

            The two most common natural, unadulterated oils used as food surface finishes
            are mineral oil and walnut oil. The problem is, neither one of these cures to a
            solid, durable finish. Walnut oil partially cures, but mineral oil remains essentially
            unchanged. This means that heavy use of soap or hot water will wash the finish
            off the wood. Which isn't really a problem as long as you're expecting it and
            don't mind slathering on some more oil every once in a while. You can find
            walnut oil in the oil section of any well-stocked grocery store, and mineral oil
            is sold in drugstores in the laxative department (!).

            One option you don't want to use is other non-curing vegetable oils. Corn oil,
            olive oil, etc. These oils over time tend to get rancid and smell funny, in addition
            to not providing much protection.

            There are a number of commercial finishing oils marketed specifically for use in
            kitchens. In addition to the Tried and True mentioned above, the German company
            Livos (http://livos.us/) makes a couple of wood oils they claim are safe and
            I've used and been happy with. Other commonly seen products are Jasco butcher block
            oil which I think is just pure mineral oil, and Behlen Salad Bowl Finish which, according
            to the msds, contains a cobalt drier.

            So when you add it all up, walnut and mineral oil seem to win in both the inexpensive
            and safe categories, and do ok in the protection department. At home my heavily-used
            cutting boards get a good scrubbing and a good wipedown with one or the other once a
            month or so.

            8 Replies
            1. re: Chuckles the Clone

              There is NO WAY that a "common Minwax polyurethane finish" or any similar finish can be "perfectly safe." They are "food safe" if you lay food ON them, but not if you're chopping and hacking on them with knives and sharp utensils. The finish will chip and pieces of it will end up in your food.
              Only food-grade oils that don't turn rancid should be used. There are a few that include a small quantity of beeswax that do give a nice finish if the block doesn't get hard wear, but for blocks that are used constantly, it's best to stick with mineral oil. Some manufacturers add jazzy things to them that aren't necessary except to get you to pay more.

              1. re: MakingSense

                >> There is NO WAY that a "common Minwax polyurethane finish" or any similar
                >> finish can be "perfectly safe." [...] The finish will chip and pieces of it will end
                >> up in your food.

                Like I said, you might not feel comfortable with this stuff around your chow. However, there does not appear to be any evidence at all either that the finish will chip or that if it does that the fully-cured, microscopic particles will be in any way harmful. Nor is there any reason to think that these particles are any more dangerous than the same microparticles that would be detached from a conventional plastic cutting board.

                Polyurethane is covered under title 21, part 177: http://www.cfsan.fda.gov/~lrd/FCF177....

                I wouldn't encourage people to use this stuff, and I get the same big
                capitalized NO WAY feeling when I think of using it myself. But if you've
                already gone and done it, all evidence suggests that you're fine. These
                finishes are sold for, and expected to be used on, childrens' toys, an area in
                which eating and chewing receives considerable attention.

                Here's the guy who wrote the Rodale Press book about finishes making a similar argument:

              2. re: Chuckles the Clone

                >>The purpose of a wood finish is to fill the pores of the wood with something so
                that all the liquids, juices, bloods, etc you're going to have all over the cutting
                board stay on the surface and can be wiped off, rather than soaking in and
                permanently staining the wood. And what you want is something that when it
                dries, cures solidly so that it can't be wiped or washed out.<<

                That's exactly what the Behandla does I mentioned earlier. I'm not 100% sure of the exact composition, but it seems to me to be like a wax suspended in a water based carrier. Slather it on, let it soak in and dry, rub a bit and presto, my oak countertops don't get stained. You can buy Behandla at Ikea stores.

                I've also heard good things about beeswax, however I remember when researching a good protectant for my countertops that beeswax was 'hard work', in that it had to be rubbed in (enough heat from friction to soften it, along with enough pressure to push it into the wood).

                1. re: ThreeGigs

                  All I can report is my personal experience with beeswax. I've got a neighbor who's a fine cabinetmaker who gave me samples of lots of products to experiment with. The beeswax doesn't sink into the wood no matter how hard you work but it does give a beautiful finish on the outside of things like salad bowls. It wasn't worth it for hard-use surfaces like cutting boards because it didn't give any protection that would build up. If you put too much it just scraped off.
                  Plain mineral oil worked the best for plain utility cutting sufaces. The wood will absorb as much as it can and you just keep oiling until the wood itself says "enough."
                  For a heavily used surface that I really cared about looking terrific, I used a mineral oil that included a small amount of beeswax that does have to be buffed. It was more trouble than straight mineral oil but worth the effort because it looked great. It took much longer to build up a resistant surface but when I finally got it, the counter looked great and takes pretty heavy wear. We can eat crabs, chop food, leave wet thing, etc., right on it with no problems. A good cleaning with vinegar and water cleans it right up and a buffing brings the surface right back. Water doesn't soak into this surface as long as it's kept oiled. A lot more work.

                  1. re: MakingSense

                    >>I used a mineral oil that included a small amount of beeswax that does have to be buffed.<<

                    Makes me glad I researched finishes before picking one. Your comments on beeswax seem to follow on what I read, namely that to get it to penetrate even a little, you need to rub enough to heat up the wax and the wood so it softens, with enough pressure to impregnate it. An electric buffer might do the trick, but wasn't something I wanted to do on a regular basis.

                    Do you have a brand name for the oil/wax combo you use? I like the stuff I can get at Ikea, but if I can pick up something similar from a much closer hardware store I'd go with the convenience factor.

                2. re: Chuckles the Clone

                  Thanks for all the great info, Chuckles the Clone!

                  1. re: Chuckles the Clone

                    This is a good reply. I use only mineral oil, as walnut oil can have rancidity issues, and all the others use chemicals that I don't care to have on my cutting surface.

                    But then again, I'm not as driven by aesthetics as some people. I work mainly on a kitchen island, from which (when I bought the house) I removed the formica top and replaced it with a roughly 4'x6' beech countertop board from Ikea (for about $150, I think). After 7 years it's scarred in various ways from the bread knife, especially, but I really just use it like an enormous cutting board.

                    Some people seem to place a high value on a glossy, "sealed" kind of surface, which mineral oil cannot provide. But I strongly suspect (I'm a woodworker, too) that any solid finish would be the last thing you'd want to work on with a knife. Even if one accepts that the finish is safe after curing, it will look horrible if you cut on it. And refinishing would be a PITA. Imagine using your coffee table as a cutting board!

                    1. re: Bada Bing

                      Hi Bada Bing;

                      "But I strongly suspect (I'm a woodworker, too) that any solid finish would be the last thing you'd want to work on with a knife. Even if one accepts that the finish is safe after curing, it will look horrible if you cut on it. And refinishing would be a PITA. Imagine using your coffee table as a cutting board"

                      You are absolutely correct, any wood finish should be safe after the solvents have evaporated and more correct on what a PITA it would be to deal with the knife marks and any water that got under the finish.

                  2. Food-grade mineral oil (says the girl who built her own wooden boat, builds furniture, and received a drill press for Xmas several years ago). If your hardware store doesn't have it, or if it isn't labelled as food-safe, go to the pharmacy & ask (mineral oil is used as a laxative, so you can often find it at the drug store). You want to protect the wood from liquids, but you don't want a polyurethane or wax or linseed/danish oil/turpentine, as none of those are food-safe. The point of a wooden board is the texture of the wood; it keeps food from sliding around while you're chopping. As for cleaning, hot soapy water or an anti-bac food spray will do the trick. Personally, I wouldn't use a built-in block for meat, as I like to really soap up a board used for poultry, etc, but if you're a meticulous cleaner, it should be fine.

                    The mineral oil will darken the finish a little. DO NOT STAIN your butcher block, as stains aren't food-safe. The wood will continue to oxidize/darken over time.

                    1. Despite what you've read elsewhere, almost every wood finish should be considered food-safe.


                      Please refer to Chuckles the Clone's post above.

                      Bob Flexner, guy who wrote the book about finishes:
                      "Food safeness is a non-issue because there's no evidence of any problem. So far as we know, all finishes are safe to eat off of, and safe for children to chew on, once the finish has fully cured."

                      2 Replies
                      1. re: State St.

                        I'll clarify what I meant regarding food-safe: I wouldn't use a polyurethane finish on an actively used butcher block (one you actually CHOP on, not just for display) because even the hardest oil-based urethane finishes will scratch over time under a knife blade, eventually flaking into the food and looking all ratty. (Think of the damage someone in stiletto heels can do to a varnished/urethaned wood floor.) While the testing might indicate that you can ingest such flakes without harm, it's just plain ol' gross.

                        1. re: Hungry Celeste

                          I did a "butcher block" table from a massive cut off of laminated wood I picked up working construction. Probably fir. I thinned down some stain,put it on-let it soak in,sanded the surface. I then thinned some Man-O-War spar varnish...again,so it would soak in and seal. Sanded again. Then I rubbed on mineral oil. 95% of the time I use a cutting board but the surface should be pretty safe and sanitary and I do some cutting on it. It does clean well and I use dilute bleach on it once in awhile,but mainly just routine hot water and a little dish soap. I ain't dead yet. I would typically recommend the mineral oil only route for a cutting board. For a utility top...this is pretty decent.

                          Most clear coat varnish/varathane type products once dried are pretty much insoluable and chemically inert. If you got a tiny flake in your food....it would not get digested.

                          Oil stains are not as insoluable or inert. If you use a stain for color you certainly give a clear top coat. Even then.....I'd do that generally for a work surface ---not a cutting board.

                      2. There's not really any reason to use anything other than food-safe mineral oil. the wood will darken over time and develop a nice golden patina. just use the oil about daily for a week, 1ce a week for a month, then then once a month. cleaning is best done with lemon juice and kosher salt and scrubbing with that combo. I avoid using my block for cutting chickens, but will do that occasionally. on those occasions, I'll clean with a mild soap and hot hot water , then the lemon/.salt scrub, followed by a feresh application of oil. My block is about 125 years old, and I haven't had any problems yet.

                        1. Wow. This is a simple matter. Go to any butcher block store, any kitchen store like BB&B. They all have mineral oil next to the cutting boards. It is the standard. I have 8 ft of butcher block as counter tops for 15 years. Apply several coats of mineral oil and relax. Chop like crazy. Clean with a soapy sponge without a ton of water, just moist. The oil will keep the water (and food stuff) out. If you use the rough side and scrub, you will have to reapply oil. Otherwise, it will last for a while.

                          If you want to get a good hard surface, the trick is sanding the board. Start with a rough grit, like 80. After you sand, run a moist sponge or paper towel over it and the "nap" will rise up. Sand again. Then go to a 100 grit. Sand, damp wipe and sand. Then a 140 or 160, and do the same. You will get a glass smooth and hard surface. Oil on top of that, and you're good for a year or two.

                          1. Came across this thread too late -- I have a large piece of butcher block top I wanted to use on a little cart -- and I mistakenly just slathered it with boiled linseed oil. Is there any way to strip it off/clean it off and start over with a food safe alternative? Or is it useless now? I certainly do not want to cut/chop/put food on anything that is not completely safe for it. Apparently boiled linseed oil is not....

                            Any suggestions, or should I just go get a new one?


                            2 Replies
                            1. re: daviddmc

                              Nah, don't throw it out. Wipe off as much linseed oil as possible, then get out your orbital sander (or go buy one). Hit it with some 60 or 80 grit; you ought to be able to take off enough wood to get past the linseed oil in 30 minutes of sanding with coarse grit. Dust it off, wash with warm soapy water, dry well, and wait a couple days....you can usually tell by looking if some areas of the wood still show traces of being oiled (you can also feel this with your palm, too). Keep sanding until you feel better, then oil with something food-safe.

                              1. re: Hungry Celeste

                                You are right, HC. My only advice, if OP will be using it for a real, daily cutting board, is to do the coarse 80, then wipe with a damp cloth to bring up the nap, then hit it with a 100, then damp wipe, then hit with a 120, then damp wipe, then hit with a 160, damp again, then finish with 200. damp and 200 again. This way the finish will be smooth and hard as glass. Then apply the mineral oil.

                            2. Over the years I've made a dozen or so cutting boards ranging from a simple chunk
                              of leftover maple up through large 3-inch thick, end-grain jobs. The finish I'm currently
                              using and liking a lot is a homemade concoction of mineral oil and beeswax.

                              Go to your local craft shop and get a 1 pound package of pure beeswax in the candle
                              making department for about $10 (this is enough to last you six lifetimes but it's the
                              smallest amount I've seen available). Then pick up a bottle of mineral oil from the
                              drugstore. Get a clean glass jar. Pour about 1/2 cup of oil into it. Add a chunk of wax,
                              roughly an oil/wax ratio of maybe 4/1. Set the jar in an inch or so of simmering water in
                              a pot on the stove and heat it up until the wax all melts.

                              Wipe a generous helping of the warm wax/oil mixture all over the block. Let it soak for
                              an hour or so then wipe off any excess. The next day the wax/oil in the jar will have
                              congealed into a soft jellyish mass so you won't have to re-heat it to make it workable,
                              just wipe some more on, let sit for a while, then wipe off the extra. Two applications seem
                              to suffice before starting to use it, then some more whenever the board starts to look

                              As for daviddmc's predicament: a good scrubbing with strong soap or TSP followed by
                              a light sanding (which shouldn't take more than about 3 minutes, rather than the
                              30 mentioned) and you'll be all set and down to bare wood.

                              9 Replies
                              1. re: uh ... art

                                Wax melted into oil is great. If you're careful you can even melt them in the microwave. I use filtered unbleached beeswax and mineral oil. You might also try shellac as a base sealer. Before the flames start I DO NOT mean hardware store shellac but the best filtered, unbleached flakes you can find mixed with food grade alcohol (high test clear liquor like everclear or high proof vodka). Shellac is often used to preserve apples, so you have probable eaten it already.

                                1. re: Mit

                                  My husband is making us new wood countertops for our kitchen. We wanted to do 100% pure tung oil but cannot get it in our town and will take a while to ship to us. Would a mixture of mineral oil and beeswax be as good or should we wait for tung oil?

                                  1. re: lostgirl

                                    Tung oil is going to give you a much darker color. The wax and oil mixture is almost colorless. Tung oil is a definite amber. Also with the tung oil, you'll get a generally more resilient finish that you can ignore for longer (like a year or so) where the oil/wax is going to need some attention every month or so.

                                    But there's no reason not to try the oil/wax first to see if you like it. It scrubs off pretty easily with hot water and soap (much easier than the tung oil will). Plus, with the beeswax it smells subtly like honey.

                                    I've never had any luck trying to heat it up in the microwave. The jar gets hot but the oil/wax stays cold. A jar in a pot of simmering water is all that works for me.

                                    1. re: uh ... art

                                      Thanx for the answer . Think I will try oil/beeswax first as I don't mind the reapplying and see how it goes.

                                      1. re: uh ... art

                                        Those very small slow cookers (1quart,used for dips, sometimes given away for free with larger slow cookers) are great for keeping oil/wax in a liquid state. If you don't want to commit the cooker to permanent hardware status, put the finish in a glass container inside the cooker full of hot water.

                                  2. re: uh ... art

                                    I have found this recipe for a finish on a few site now and decided to try it. Could you tell me how much of both the mineral oil and beeswax, including the ratio amount, I should use to cover a little over a 4.5 ft surface.

                                    1. re: Leia001

                                      My suggestion would be 0% of beeswax and 0% of mineral oil. Your block has natural resistance to bacteria. It is a working surface. Just treat it right. Wipe it off or scrap it. I would take a scrapper to that and scrap all that old finish off that you have been eating for the last few years.

                                      1. re: butcher99

                                        My grandfather was a butcher and he did just as you say, he scraped it every evening before he went home. But I'm not sure a homeowner has the same situation as a butcher shop. There was never anything on my grandfather's block but meat, most home cooks use a block for more than just cutting meat. A beeswax and mineral oil finish helps preserve a block that isn't in constant use.

                                        1. re: mikie

                                          We have a butcher block at home. We don't cut meat on it 8-12 hours a day either. After 75 or so years is appears to be holding up well. Of course the first 50 years it was used 8-12 hours a day for cutting meat.

                                  3. Don't stain it with oil stain. There are things in there that you don't want in your food. IDK about alcohol or water based stains, but my inclination is to advise against them as well.

                                    There are 2 kinds of linseed oil, RAW and BOILED. Linseed oil CAN be fine, but only if it is the RAW, i.e. not boiled variety. Boiled is much more common at the hardware store, so be sure what you're getting. Here's a quick primmer: Linseed oil is made from the seeds of the flax plant. Why then is it called 'linseed' oil? What's the 'lin-' got to do with it? Well, the flax plant itself is used to make linen cloth and thread, so you see the connection between linen and linseed oil. Still, why not call it 'flax-seed' oil? Er. Um. It is called that, too, by people in health food stores who sell it as a dietary supplement, i.e. something you're supposed to eat to make you healthier. So, yes, coat your butcher block in RAW linseed oil, or in flaxseed oil if you want to call it that and you're worried about purity, and can afford to shop at the health food market..

                                    Linseed oil is used in lots of finishes like varnish and paint, but usually this is after various chemical processes have been applied to it. Boiled linseed oil has been boiled and also has chemical agents in it to make it dry. As per the discussion below, these finishes may be non-toxic when dried / cured but (a) if they are a hard surface coating finish they will flake / chip off in your food and just generally look bad if you do any amount of chopping or cutting on the surface; and (b) I'm not sure I want to eat even small amounts of them.

                                    This said, linseed oil is darker - amber - than mineral oil and will continue to darken over time. This may and may not be an issue on a work surface that gets washed and re-oiled and maybe even sanded a little every dozen years. There's no reason you can't mix mineral oil and linseed oil to get a darkness you like, or alternate between them.

                                    I advise heating the linseed oil before applying it, which isn't that difficult if you're in the kitchen. Warmed up, it will be thinner and penetrate more. Just be sensible about oil and open flames, etc. (And, be careful with rags soaked in linseed oil as they can spontaneously combust as the oil oxidizes as it 'dries'. I usually just leave mine spread out outside until they're hardened, then throw them out.)

                                    2 Replies
                                    1. re: hoobie

                                      Linum is the Latin name for flax, that's where that comes from. Boiled linseed oil isn't actually boiled, but is heated. As far as using it on a butcher block, I wouldn't.

                                      1. re: oldunc

                                        Yes, kudos on the Latin. IDK if boiled linseed oil needs to be boiled or only heated to get it to polymerize. Nor do I think it matters, the point here being that most products labeled "boiled linseed oil," whether or not they were boiled or just heated, contain chemical or petro-based drying agents that I wouldn't want to have on my food.

                                        If someone wants the darker amber color (as compared to the clear mineral oil) of linseed oil, I see no reason not to use it. I've never had problems with it. For that matter, it's been used for... IDK... forever on things like gunstocks, as a furniture polish, putty additive, and so on. I'm sure in more recent times this has been more modified or treated oil, but not so historically. I've never heard anyone complain their great-grandpa's gunstock went rancid after it had been linseed oiled for a couple decades.

                                        Allback - a Swedish company - makes purified linseed oil products that they say won't get rancid (not that I think this is a real problem): http://www.allbackpaint.com/eng/index... . They have a list of online retailers on their site. Not cheap, but again if you want that natural amber color, it's gorgeous.

                                        It's not a miracle finish or anything. It will 'dry' and provide some surface protection, but like mineral oil, it's susceptible to water penetration if the surface isn't wiped clean fairly promptly. So, as for using it on butcher block, I do, it works swell, and I like it.

                                    2. Do NOT use raw flax oil on your butcher block. It will go rancid. That is why raw flax oil is always refridgerated, and why linseed oil for woodwork always contains solvents and petrochemicals to keep it stabilized.

                                      1 Reply
                                      1. re: Seitan

                                        I have to respectfully disagree with Seitan. I have yet to experience a problem with flax oil becoming rancid, altho Seitan is definitely correct about the health food stores selling in dark bottles in the fridge section. I typically use the RAW variety from the hardware store which advertises 100% pure. (I suppose that they might mean 100% pure... plus a few toxic additives.) It's not refrigerated, but may have undergone some processing. It's certified EN71 safe for use as a finish on toys, and doesn't have the chipping off issues mentioned elsewhere in this thread. I feel perfectly safe using it.

                                        That said, I have also used the food grade / health food variety (at a couple of friends') on cutting boards and not had a problem with rancid oil.

                                      2. You use mineral oil. In fancy food shops and catalogs they sell oil for butcher blocks, but it is mineral oil. Food safe, non-animal.

                                        Also, you may want to think about sanding that block to a serious hardness before applying the oil. Ask a woodworker, but, basically, it is about using a palm sander and going from an 80 grit to 100, 120, to 160, to 200... basically, from rough to finer and finer. In between passes, a slightly damp wipe will bring up the nap of the wood. as you go along, the surface gets incredibly smooh and hard. it will last for quite a while. If you do it, you''ll think back on the smoothness you feel now, (and think is very smooth), and realize, "wow... it was downright rough when I bought it." GL

                                        4 Replies
                                        1. re: woodburner

                                          Woodburner, does the sanding work on a butcherblock that has already been oiled for a few years? Also, would the Tung oil work well, after sanding, if I don't really want to use the block to cut on, I'd rather use other cutting boards that I can scrub. Thanks!

                                          1. re: Koukla

                                            Oh yeah... the oil doesn't go all that deep. I mean, you'll start with a rough grit and take off a nice little layer of wood, til its clean. Then the slightly damp sponge, then more snading, moving up to finer grits...

                                            I don't know tung oil... is that a mineral product? I recommend mineral: after the sanding, once a day for a week, once a week for a month, then just every few months or even longer if you don't cut on it.

                                            1. re: Koukla

                                              Going for a fine furniture finish on a butcher's block that's going to be used at all seems pretty pointless, but for the record- a palm sander is good for finishing (though hand sanding is better) but is very slow, and will tend to leave a surface that's not very flat- a random orbit with a hard disc is a much better choice for the rough work. It will leave tiny little pigtail marks, which will be nearly invisible but reappear in oblique light or when finish or stain is applied; best to do the final work with a palm sander or by hand. To get a fine finish (not on a butcher block) sand to at least 600 grit. Use a polymerizing oil, such as Tung oil, boiled linseed oil, or a mixture; apply and keep rubbing until the rag feels dry. Allow to cure, rub down with very fine sandpaper or 00 steel wool, and reapply. A third coat is usually advisable; then sand or steel wool again and apply wax. Most woodworking waxes are mixtures of Candelilla, Carnauba and beeswax, maybe one or two others- in truth there is very little difference in how they behave as wood finishes. Buff hard and voila. If properly applied, wax will not build on a surface; it's outstanding characteristic is it sticks to other things far more than to itself. Rewaxing, which is usually not necessary often, is usually done with liquid waxes, which contain lots of solvent and will redissolve the old wax. Wax gives a very nice look and feel to the finished product, but offers very little actual protection. Sanding will not make wood harder.

                                              1. re: Koukla

                                                I used tung oil and its work for me. Here are some photos of my chopping block. Between the second and the third ones, I applied tung oil.

                                            2. My husband is a woodworker and he referred me to this article.

                                              1. Okay, I just got the most beautiful John Boos 20x15 x2.25 maple edge grain cutting board from irawoods.com, great price. Then I started thinking, and you know what happens when I start thinking! (Or maybe you don't but read what follows). Anyway the beee-yooo-tiful board was pretty dry when I got it,. so I started researching, how do we oil this masterpiece? So what I found was "food grade mineral oil". And I thought (always thinking) what in the H is "food grade mineral oil"?. More thinking. More researching. And what I found, I didn't like. Ick. Ick. Ick. I had a pretty good idea it wouldn't be a very good thing. More research. (!)

                                                So long story short: Are you ready??????? Here we go: 5 parts coconut oil to one part grated beeswax. Heat until melted together, very low heat (patience is called for) in double boiler, or microwave. New cutting boards: Oil once a day for one week, once a week for a month after and once a month after that. It doesn't get any better I promise you. Put your lovely concoction in a special little jar, tie a ribbon on it, and go to town.

                                                As far as cleaning the beautiful board, I am committed to 50-50 vinegar/water spray bottle/ cloth. There we go. Problem Solved. At least in my tiny corner of the woods.

                                                22 Replies
                                                1. re: mobius981

                                                  That coconut oil is also good for your Alzheimer's disease.

                                                  1. re: mikie

                                                    Ah, thank you for providing my morning giggle!!!

                                                    1. re: mobius981

                                                      Seriously, check it out: http://www.google.com/url?sa=t&amp;rc...

                                                      These are just a few articles on coconut oil and Alzheimer's. Ok, not that you may necisseiarly need it, but there is a possible side benefit of using coconut oil on your cutting board.

                                                      1. re: mikie

                                                        I know, ain't it great? A friend emailed this to me just recently. It is so right: Two uses in one! I also feed it to my dogs. Lol. I really do. Lately, they seem to be getting smarter and less forgetful.....hmmmm....not wandering around the neighborhood so much either....

                                                  2. re: mobius981

                                                    A tiny update: Addition to the above recipe: Vitamin E for preservative purposes in case of rancidity. (Some folks have expressed concern about that, ergo the FGMO). And, How I am applying the finish.

                                                    So here is what I made: 1 oz beeswax, and 4 oz coconut oil. It actually all melted together in a little pot on my stovetop warming burner. I let the mix cool slightly, and added 400 IU Vitamin E (1 capsule squeezed out). I mixed, poured it in a little jar and let it solidify over night.

                                                    Application: New meaning to handrubbed finish!!! The hardened oil/beeswax will melt under pressure from my hand and fingertips. It actually feels good to spread this around on the board and feel the wood under my hand. Bonus: Good for my hands, too, I have a light film left on them when done with the board oiling and just rub it into my skin.

                                                    All in all, I am very pleased with the results. The wood is beginning to take on a very lovely sheen and feel. I think it will be good for my knifework also!!!

                                                    1. re: mobius981

                                                      Try using coconut oil after a shower. If there is a little bit left on your hands, rub it into your wet hair. I'll never waste money on fancy oils or creams again!

                                                      I'm going to get myself some beeswax and try your recipe, having just bought a cutting board. I already have the Vitamin E and coconut oils.

                                                      1. re: elmowarren

                                                        elmowarren, if the beeswax is solid, grate the beeswax and/or use a vegetable peeler on the beeswax like the one I have from oxo...makes it easier to measure and melt....you will be amazed!!! thanks for responding!!! tell me what you think!!!!

                                                      2. re: mobius981

                                                        While I'm aware that coconut oil is less susceptible to turning rancid, I would assume that most experiences relate to oil that is stored in containers. Have you located any studies that support it's use in this manner?

                                                        1. re: SanityRemoved

                                                          No. Vitamin E is a good preservative however. YMMV.

                                                          1. re: mobius981

                                                            Thanks for all this amazing info- so...I have just installed an oak counter top throughout the kitchen-
                                                            Now what- can I use the same system of mineral oil ?
                                                            My family is in a panic- will they leave stains etc???
                                                            advice please

                                                            1. re: Lianneyael

                                                              It's the wrong time to ask such a question, but here's what I can tell you. Hopefully, it's white oak and hopefully quartersawn. White oak is much more moisture resistant than red oak. In general, I wouldn't suggest woods such as oak for a countertop as they are open grain which will hold foodsutfs in the pores. This is why cutting boards are typically maple or cherry or some other relatively tight grained wood. Given where you are at this point, I would use the mineral oil and beeswax combination, go heavy on the bees wax as it will stay put in the pores of the wood better. There are a lot of tannens in oak, that's why it's used for wine barrels, the tannens are what turns the wood black when it gets wet, so be sure to keep it dry. I'm sure it's beautiful, but it's going to be a bugger to take care of.

                                                              1. re: mikie

                                                                arghhhhhhhhhhhhhhh- help!
                                                                thank you for getting back to me- I have been using mineral oil on it to date-
                                                                I will get some bees wax and get buffing

                                                                1. re: Lianneyael

                                                                  The beeswax will provide a more water repellent protective layer than just mineral oil. Even a pure Carnuba wax will be food safe and again provide a more protective layer and water repelancy. I would say the more wax and less solvent you use the better the protection will be. You really want water to bead up on the surface similar to what it does on a freshly waxed car bonnet.

                                                                  1. re: mikie

                                                                    So I m ade the mixture with beeswax, a bit of mineral oil and a bit of coconut oil-it is thick and creamy and definitely has more wax than oil- slathered it on the counter top-
                                                                    Now what?
                                                                    Do I leave it overnight and then buff it- right now it is still very slippery - and I suppose my next question is how do I buff this thing!????/-

                                                                    1. re: Lianneyael

                                                                      <the mixture with beeswax, a bit of mineral oil and a bit of coconut oil>

                                                                      Ok, that starts to sound like a recipe for foods. :)

                                                                      <it is thick and creamy and definitely has more wax than oil>

                                                                      Actually, it does not take that much beeswax to get the mixture thick and solid. I think even if you use 1/5th beeswax and 4/5 mineral, it gets pretty thick.

                                                                      <Do I leave it overnight and then buff it- right now it is still very slippery>

                                                                      I like to heat it up (with a hair dryer or something) and let it penetrates deeper into the wood. Let's see what Mikie thinks.

                                                                      1. re: Chemicalkinetics

                                                                        yep it does sound like a recipe and smells like one too
                                                                        I did heat it up and it looking at it , it has begun to sink into the wood-
                                                                        jeeeeeez who knew ??/ I just want to make it safe to leave things on it without having stains all over the place

                                                                        1. re: Lianneyael

                                                                          <jeeeeeez who knew ??/ I just want to make it safe to leave things on it without having stains all over the place>

                                                                          Yeah, at the end, we were just advising you to do the "right" things. In my experience, wood is a funny. Sometime you can do all the right thing, and the wood can still misbehave, and sometime you skipped all the right procedures, and the wood survived. Kind of like our health if you think about it. Somewhere out there a smoker lives longer than a nonsmoker. :)

                                                                          1. re: Chemicalkinetics

                                                                            well- I have learned a lot- I have a very fragrant kitchen counter and I am happy to meet all of you !

                                                                            1. re: Lianneyael

                                                                              <I have a very fragrant kitchen counter>

                                                                              Yes, my chopping block smelled like that for awhile, but it will get weaker. Don't worry. Nice to meet you, and please stop by often. It is a pleasure talking to you.

                                                                                1. re: Lianneyael

                                                                                  sorry for the late reply. Yes, let it dry some and then buff it with a soft cloth, just like you would a car when you wax it. That will remove the excess and you should be good to go. You will probably need to reapply the wax fairly often for the first month or two, until it's fully saturated. Good luck.

                                                                                  1. re: mikie

                                                                                    Mineral oil that is perfect have used it on a designer bamboo kitchen block and it still looks like new just use a small piece of p towel or cloth and spread a small amount around all over it some will soak in and keep wood from cracking also safe to eat if using it,

                                                    2. really nothing is needed. Just start to cut on it. Don't get it wet. Get a good dough cutter from a real bakery and use that to scrape the block. Keep the "works" end of the scraper square. It should look like the back of a knife. If it rounds off file it square again.
                                                      You are not making a piece of furniture or art. You have a kitchen utensil. You would not paint your wooden spoon why would you colour your butcherblock?

                                                      1. they make a special oil for just butcher blocks, that is food safe and used. I ve used it for years and block is like new its good for wood spoons too and its fda compliant. Google it several companies make it

                                                        3 Replies
                                                        1. re: janders994

                                                          My block is probably at least 70 years old. It was old when I bought it 40 years ago so maybe even older. It has never been oiled with anything other than the oils that came out of whatever meat was being cut on it. I scrape it off almost daily. Still has about 3 inches of thickness left. You can pay a lot for those useless oils or just save your money.

                                                          1. re: butcher99

                                                            My grandfather was a butcher, had his own grocery store with a butcher shop. His block was probably anywhere from a foot and a half thick to two feet thick. The corners where he split chickes and sides of beef were well saddeled out. And yes, he scrubbed and scrapped it every night. The difference between his block and a non commericial blaock is the amount of use it sees. A butcher's block sees hundreds of pounds of meat a day and all the fat is still on it when the butcher deals with it. By scrubbing it with a wire brush and scraping it with with a metal scraper, you remove the top layer of wood and the fat that has penetrated. This, along with whatever disinfectant he used, keeps bacteria from growing and oil from turning rancid. Most household cooks will not be able to do this to their 3 or 4 inch thick butcher blocks. It's about $5 for a bottle of mineral oil and it will probably last a year on a home butcher block.

                                                            1. re: mikie

                                                              The thicker block is a chopping block. The thinner ones are cutting blocks. The chopping block is all end grain wood. They used to cut the meat with a knife then chop through the bone with a cleaver. hence the term pork chop.
                                                              Never use a steel brush on a block. You will just open up the wood with deep scratches. There were special brushes you sometimes used but mostly you just scrape them off. the special brushes had metal tongues like miniature block scrapers. I have seen then, never used them.
                                                              No need for disinfectant on a real block. The natural oils in the wood dry out and kill off any bacteria on the wood. Bacteria cannot survive on a wood block. Recent studies have shown that the wood blocks are much more sanitary than the new cutting blocks. The new blocks get micro cuts in them which disinfectants cannot get into so not all bacteria is killed off.
                                                              About once a week I give our block a good scraping with a block scraper. Take off a micro thin layer of wood. If I don't the natural oils in the wood come to the surface and leave it kind of sticky after a month or so. No disinfectants have been used on my block since it left the butcher shop 35-40 years ago and very few were ever used when it was in the shop.

                                                        2. my two cents, a coupla things--on vitamin e in oil form; way back when, there was a book about nutritional supplementation, and, uh..extending life through "a practical, scientific approach".. (i don't know if i can mention it by title, or authors), however the preference was to buy dry vitamin e because stores might sell capsules which had been stocked on shelves for too long. the oil might have gone rancid. of course, with the book talking about antioxidants, e being an antioxidant in itself, the effect would be neutralized by the oil's rancidity, cross-linked hydrocarbons, mitochondrial DNA mutations, etc.

                                                          point being, why not just go completely organic, and rub the wood with citrus? skins, and pulp before, and after using? i'd think we're going to wipe the board down anyway, right?
                                                          the citric acid would kill (most) germs with low-ph acidity, and the skins contain the oils. (some fun from my mom--squeeze orange peel sections a flame and watch the oils become small sparklers!)

                                                          i agree with the posts which mention reductive sanding of the wood. the smoothest surface becomes the most moisture-resistant, especially regarding hardwoods.
                                                          the oldest true butcher blocks i've seen are well-worn, with a deep depression inside the edges.

                                                          we all want to do what we can to keep food prep safe, organic is the way to go, and i would advocate, and enjoy a thick steak cut on a block wiped with hi-proof, smokey-scented booze!!
                                                          for medicinal purposes, of course...

                                                          and a culinary thought--red wine as a butcher-block wood stain?

                                                          4 Replies
                                                          1. re: makemeupone

                                                            Does anyone have any experience with darkening the wood naturally? Stains are not food safe, but what about using coffee beans, or something similar to add a darker color to the chop block countertops? I know the purists will say "why would you want to stain it? wood is beautiful!" I agree, but we want it darker, without waiting ten years for it to age. Anyone have any experience with this? If not, I will experiment with our scraps and let you know.

                                                            1. re: jacker

                                                              Tea. Tea was used in colonial times to impart a brown color to maple, a common wood of furnature construction during the period. This too was for the impatient folk of the time that just couldn't wait for the furnature to darken. There are two other factors that will help it darken faster, sun light and no finish, so if you want to darken the wood naturally, put it in the sun before you put a finish of any kind on it. But tea works faster and what the heck, you drink it, so how bad can it be. Once the water evaporates you should be able to oil it without issue.

                                                              1. re: mikie

                                                                Tea. What an interesting idea. I wonder if it would go on blotchy? Some woods absorb stains in unpredictable fashion...

                                                                1. re: Bada Bing

                                                                  As you stated some woods stain blotchy, cherry for one is exceptionally bad. Edge grain maple should be better, but I make no warenties as to the quality of the wood, tea, or final product appearance. My advice is to test on a scrap and see if you like what you get. I wouldn't use any commercial stain that comes to mind at the moment on a butcher block counter top that wasn't sealed, which brings up the other issue of solid finishes on a working countertop.

                                                          2. Pure tung oil cut 50% with citrus solvent. Keep reapplying until it stops soaking in. Then 100% tung oil until that stops soaking in. Let it cure for a week or so. Tung oil cures hard.
                                                            Look up tung oil on the "real milk paint" website.
                                                            Tung oil is a natural food safe nut oil.