Finish for Walnut countertop in California

wh242January 5, 2010

I just had a carpenter make and install a large walnut 2"slab to use as a countertop on the kitchen island. This will be used for eating but not preparing food. He is a great carpenter but asked me to do some research to see how we should finish it. I was set on using Waterlox after reading this forum. But I live in Los Angeles and this product is not available here. What would be other suggestions? The carpenter suggested butcher block wax/oil? Or should I use some other furniture wax? The walnut is beautiful, but in its "raw" state now. I definately want to protect it from water and other marks. I prefer a "natural" finish or a satin. Nothing glossy. Please help! Thanks

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For water resistance, you need a film finish. Wax and oil provide minimal protection. I recommend you hold out for the Waterlox Original Satin. If you can't find it, I can hook you up with a guy who knows a guy who can send you a quart can in a plain brown wrapper.

You CAN buy the product, legally, in CA, subject to quantity and VOC-version restrictions. Of course, being able to and being allowed to are two separate things.

Another alternative, though not quite as water-resistant, si Cabot 8000-series (non-polyurethane) varnish. Some Lowe's and Do-It-Best Hardware carry or can get this for you.

Here is a link that might be useful: VOC requirements

    Bookmark   January 5, 2010 at 7:07PM
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Thanks Bob - A local woodworking outfit I visited today suggested using General Finishes Polyacrylic Matte finish for my project. It is water based. Are you familiar with this product and would you think it is suitable? Thanks

    Bookmark   January 5, 2010 at 7:39PM
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I've used it once for a special needs project where I had to finish a buffet in a living room. I do use a lot of W/b products, just not this one in particular. W/B products can be difficult to apply evenly without spraying. But since you are looking for a low-gloss, you can always rub it out at the end. W/B finishes have a tendency to look terrible right after application but even out before curing. "Spray and go away," is what I remind myself when I've sprayed a piece and it looks like its orange peeling.

It would be more durable than the oil or wax approach. However, W/B products can be rather "cool" looking with more white-blue than amber that we have come to expect from finishes. If this is your plan, I suggest doing a couple of light coats of amber or orange shellac (DEWAXED!) such as SealCoat from Zinsser to warm up the walnut a bit. W/B will go over it just fine as long as it's dewaxed.

By tomorrow, I'll have a couple of boxes together with walnut panels that I plan to shellac. I have a little more work do to on them before finishing. I'll try and post some photos.

First rule of finishing: run your whole finish schedule on a piece of scrap before committing it to your project.

    Bookmark   January 5, 2010 at 10:07PM
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The other option recommended to me was "good stuff" butcher block oil. this is not water based. But I was told that the good stuff would not be as water resistant as the polyacrylic. Your recommendation to do a test is a great one and I will try that out.

    Bookmark   January 5, 2010 at 11:46PM
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Most "butcher block oils" are either mineral oil (like you can buy in a drugstore) or mineral oil with some added wax. While these are fine for working cutting boards because they don't build a film finish that can be cut and chipped, they will not provide the same level of protection as a varnish product. They also need to be periodically renewed when the surface looks dull.

I'd take in a piece of walnut and have them apply a sample and see how you like it after a few weeks.

Note that water beading up on a surface is merely a surface tension phenomenon, it does not mean that the water is not penetrating into the wood.

    Bookmark   January 6, 2010 at 9:20AM
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I haven't had a chance to get to the finishing of my walnut countertop. After talking with various people I am leaning towards using Danish Oil followed by Briwax for the initial finish. A friend with beautiful walnut countertops in her kitchen that is heavily use simply uses orange oil with a bit of beeswax applied every two months to keep the countertops in decent shape. Can I use the orange oil to maintain the counter if the initial finish is Danish Oil and Briwax?

    Bookmark   January 19, 2010 at 10:54PM
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The advice about General Finish is good. IMO it would be your best choice. You can't tell the difference between General and an oil based finish. Rated number one by several sources for brush and spray. Do not undercoat with shellac. follow directions on the can and you will be gratified.

    Bookmark   January 21, 2010 at 10:35PM
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Get waterlox online. It is legal in CA just in smaller cans.

    Bookmark   January 24, 2010 at 2:26AM
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Looking for finish for my walnut countertops, and wondering what wh242 used and how it turned out? Thinking about polymerised tung oil but not sure if it would work for moisture.

    Bookmark   May 3, 2011 at 2:29PM
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Get the Waterlox. I made my countertops out of leftover jatoba (Brazilian Cherry) flooring two years ago and they are still holding up well, and not only that, it makes the wood positively glow. You can get it in California, like the above poster said, in smaller cans, I heard rumors they are coming out with a low-VOC version as well.

    Bookmark   May 29, 2011 at 9:06PM
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