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Jul 1, 2010 02:30 PM

Antique Butcher Block

I just purchased a butcher block that my great-grandfather made approximately 100 yrs ago. It sat in the barn for at least 60 years. It was made from a cross cut of an old red oak tree approximately 3 feet across and 1 foot thick. I'm lightly sanding it to get all the dirt and junk off it. I'm finding mixed ideas on finishing it. I want to use it to cut on but I also want it to look nice when not using it. Any suggestions on how to treat my diamond in the rough? thanks

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  1. you might rub in a food-safe grade oil on one work surface and linseed on the other sides . a strict treatment probably isn't even necessary as warping isn't much of an issue unless you leave it out in the rain and the glue/joinery deteriorates. construct the base so the top is easily flipped depending on use. given the dimensions you mention, gravity alone should hold it in place on a sturdy base.

    personally I like an untreated block that shows its use, but that's just me. sounds like a gorgeous chunk of wood. just don't do anything you can't easily reverse - no polyurethane.

    1 Reply
    1. re: hill food

      Thanks for the input. There are no glue or joints as it is all one piece. I really like the untreated block best also, so I'm thinking of water and a little bleach with a wire brush and call it a day. My son really wants to use it to cut up Thanksgiving Day Turkey on! I do have to brag just a little bit. I only paid $5 for this because nobody at the sale wanted to move it. Best $5 I've every spent!!

    2. Are you sure? It is damaged pretty bad in that bottom area. Also are you sure it is 3 feet in diameter and 1 ft in thickness? It does not look like that.

      I have played with these cross section tree butcher block too. Mine is much smaller compared to yours.

      There are many want to treat it. The good thing is that this wood has already been properly dried, so it won't easily split or crack. It still can, but. You can use mineral oil, tung oil, beeswax or some combination. Each has its advantages. Before these, I would sand the surface and give it a few quick wash to remove the dust and dirt but not too much to swell the wood and crack it. Then, you can sanitize it with I don't know, salt or vinegar or bleach or hydrogen peroxide. Finally, air dry it and treat it with the mineral oil, tung oil or beeswax.

      1. That's a hefty piece of wood. Some may treat it solely as an antique and refuse to do much with it. Seeing that you intend to use it for food preparation I would sand it bare till the wood had a uniform color and then give it a week to see if anything leaches to the surface. 60 years in a barn is a long time and if no one thought it was going to be used as a butcher block it may have seen various uses over the years that aren't exactly kitchen friendly. When I was certain it was down to virgin wood and as flat a surface as possible then I would start applying food grade mineral oil. Mineral oil will show the wood's natural beauty. Treat the entire block with mineral oil, it will give a consistent appearance and any expansion or contraction of the wood will be relatively uniform. It will probably require a few pints at least and several weeks of oil application before it's ready. Please post a picture when you have finished, it looks like a great project.

        1 Reply
        1. re: SanityRemoved

          $5? holy cow. ahh I didn't realize the thumbnail posted was it (so many silly abstract icons around), that is one hefty slice and flipping it wouldn't be easily done, I was picturing the b block made as a composite. still I'd avoid the water and bleach, and take Chemical's and Sanity's advice and just psych up for some staining to occur. (and if it is about 1 foot thick a little more sanding is always possible if it doesn't set too deep) and besides, it'll just tell your history with the piece "see that's where great uncle Bobby gashed his thumb when he was tanked and just insisted on carving"

        2. A foot thick? That's gotta be a mistake. I would not put food near that thing unless at least a few 16ths of age, funk and crud were planed off it. You can rent a power hand planer pretty cheap...Sanding is gonna take forever, but also an option, starting with an aggressive grit, 40-60 or so, alla a floor sander. Patina is best left for kooky designers, magazine kitchens, and over privileged house-fraus. My kitchen gear will be clean and sanitary. Finish with mineral oil. Looking at the chunk missing, don't be surprised if more "calves" off with use.

          3 Replies
          1. re: BiscuitBoy

            Hey Biscuit,

            I thought about using a planer, but this is an endgrain wood block. Does a planer work well cutting across the wood grain (as opposed to cutting along and parallel to the grain)? In my limited experience, the hand planer did not work well for my endgrain wood block, but then I am not an expert in planing wood.

            1. re: Chemicalkinetics

              Yes, a hand planer hates end grain, the powered versions don't mind, especially with end grain wood blocks of a decent thickness. The end grain cutting boards I've made were all of a precise dimension, so sanding was much easier. That thing the OP has looks more like a slice off a log, with all of it's natural irregularites. How has your pastry board (very nice, by the way) held up over time and use? Not easy getting it season without cracking

              1. re: BiscuitBoy


                Thanks. I am not very good with tools, so it is good to know that a powered version will work better.

                That big round wood thing is my chopping block. The thin edge grain square board underneath is my pastry board.


                I posted that picture because I found out I were able to flatten my "warpped" pastry board by some water and putting the heavy chopping block on top of it.

                The pastry board is fine. The chopping block has held up very well for over a year now and not a hint of crack sign. Cross my fingers. I had two other ones previously and those two showed sign of cracks very early on. I think the key difference is that I applied tung oil and then beeswax on this one. The previous two I relied on mineral oil. These blocks were bought fresh cut, so the major challenge for me is to let it dried out slowly to avoid cracking. It turns out beeswax does a good job at that as well as preventing excessive water coming in. Now the beeswax has started to worn off, so the chopping block has a wood feel to it. Initially, it had that salad bowl feeling.


          2. If you want it as a chopping block in its natural state dont finish it. Get a good block scrapper and scrape off the old grey wood. If you are not going to use it as a cutting block just oil it with danish oil. There are butcher block oils you can buy if you want and are actually going to use the block but blocks were never oiled traditionally