How to finish butcher block counter-Formby's?

vindivinoDecember 23, 2008

We have a 2 inch thick Brazilian cherry edge grain butcher block that will be placed on our island. We volunteered to finish it ourselves to save a little money but now I am in confusion over what would work best. I initially wanted to use Waterlox but have been unable to find it locally. What I did find is Formby's Tung Oil finish in low gloss. Has anyone ever used this for a non-food prep countertop? If so, about how many coats would you suggest and was the low gloss the right choice? Also, how often will this need to be reapplied...once a year, once a month, once every few years?

I want the finish to bring out the natural luster of the wood and offer some protection from water etc. What I do not want is a high gloss lacquer look. If anyone has used Formby's or can suggest a different, yet easily accessible product, I would appreciate it. I need to have this done by Monday! Thank you.

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First off, Formby's Tung Oil Finish is not tung oil and does not contain any tung oil. It is simply a varnish thinned enough to be a wiping finish. It is an OK finish if you don't mind being lied to. If you look down the topic list a little you will see a countertop done in Waterlox Original that is also a varnish _made from_ tung oil (it is not tung oil either as the process of making varnish it is only used as a component). Where are you located, maybe I can help you find a source for the Waterlox? If you are near a major metro area, I'll bet you can find it somewhere.

Here is a link that might be useful: more on oil finishes

    Bookmark   December 24, 2008 at 10:08AM
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Bobsmyuncle, thanks for responding. I have actually read the other threads regarding tung oil and am happy to hear from you as you seem very knowledgable on the subject. This is the deal, I have to have this project done by Monday no ifs and buts about it. I have called every hardware store in my area (I live in Dubuque, Iowa) and no one has it. I am running out of time with the holidays and would unable to travel very far to find Waterlox. I did buy the Formby's yesterday when I was unable to find the Waterlox b/c it mentioned tung oil on the front. I now know that there is not a drop of tung oil in it. I am fine with that if it will still give me the same style finish as Waterlox would give me. I really would like to go ahead and use the Formbys if possible.
In your attached article Waterlox and Formbys are mentioned as if they are comprable products. Is this true? Would I be making a mistake by using the Formby's?
Thank you so much for your time.

    Bookmark   December 24, 2008 at 11:36AM
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If you have the Formby's already, go ahead with it. It's a perfectly fine varnish. Being a varnish and not an "oil," it will last quite a while without being reapplied.

Waterlox's web site shows it available at
Key West True Value Hardware
2100 Stone Hill Dr
Dubuque, IA 52003


Galena Hardware
11359 W Industrial Park
Galena, IL 61036

But since you are under a time crunch, go with what you have.

    Bookmark   December 24, 2008 at 2:25PM
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Formby's is an alkyd- and soy oil-based varnish.

Waterlox is a phenolic- and tung oil-based varnish.

Waterlox is a darker and more water-resistant version, but either is fine.

Just for reference, the first time I used Waterlox was in 1965 or so. I used it on a chair that sat in my parents bathroom until a couple of years ago when I inherited it. Despite years of wear from a family of six, it looked good.

    Bookmark   December 24, 2008 at 2:32PM
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Thank you so much for your advice. I was under the false understanding that it would be no problem to find Waterlox b/c their website listed the 2 locations in my area. So I waited to the last minute to pick it up and lo and behold neither store carries it currently. That is why I am feeling like my only choice is the Fromby's. I am happy to hear that it will be an ok alternative.

Thanks again and happy holidays.

    Bookmark   December 24, 2008 at 4:49PM
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Not to hijack this thread but I have the same problem, almost.
We bought a kitchen cart with an unfinished butcher block type top (1"). We wanted this for multiple purposes, use as an eating area if need, rolling out dough, etc etc. We were told to use tung oil on it as it will harden when dry and also seal the wood. Formbys tung oil finish is all we could find and was told that after drying it is completely non-toxic and what we was looking for. So, I now have 2 coats on it then I find this info! bobsmyuncle, are we OK and if not then could we still put PURE tung oil on it and be fine for our purposes??

    Bookmark   December 31, 2008 at 3:05PM
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There is no reason to apply pure tung oil over top of varnish. (In addition to little reason to apply pure tung oil all by itself, IMHO. It is more expensive, more time consuming, more difficult to apply successfully, and if you don't do it right, you have to strip and start over. Nor does it look any different than cheaper, more available, easier to use boiled linseed oil.)

(Curing) Oil finishes are generally always soft, offer little moisture protection, and need renewal. You already have a hard film finish with the wipe-on varnish. This is great for an eating area finish.

Nearly all finishes are toxic in liquid state and non-toxic in cured state.

Just do not use the Formbied surface for cutting (if that's one of the etcs). Cutting will create cuts in the film finish, looking unsightly and allowing moisture to penetrate and will accelerate its demise by flaking.

For anyone finding this thread, if you want a good, working butcher block finish, the finish of choice is either no finish or mineral oil. Mineral oil is inert so it will not go rancid like non-curing vegetable oils. If you want, you can shave in 1 part paraffin to 6 parts mineral oil, heat in a double boiler until the paraffin melts, slather it on, let it cool, and scrape off the excess with a plastic scraper. Repeat either treatment as needed, maybe a couple of times a year or less. You can buy "butcher block oil," but this is usually just high priced mineral oil. You can find mineral oil at a drug store or drug department of grocery or discount store, where it's sold as a laxative / stool softener. (Thus it's "non-toxic") Paraffin is also easily found in the canning supply section of stores.

Here is a link that might be useful: food safe finishes

    Bookmark   December 31, 2008 at 6:06PM
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Thanks for the reply and reassurance! No, one of the etc's wasn't cutting as I dont really like wood cutting boards for various reasons. Mainly I was concerned with working with dough or other food prepping tasks (other than cutting unless I use a non-porous board).

Thanks again!

Happy New Year!!

    Bookmark   December 31, 2008 at 8:14PM
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For those really, really wanting Waterlox, see the links below. Woodcraft has a number of franchised and company stores in addition to direct shipping. You can also get directly from Waterlox.

Waterlox at Homestead Finishing (Jeff Jewitt's Company)

Like most good finishes, it is fairly expensive, but consider two things:

1) Given the labor and materials in most projects, it is often the least expensive component. Also consider the costs and work if you are unhappy with the result and have to "do - over" a big box product.

2) It is often the first thing people see and feel on a project. Very few people will first note, "Wow, did you use haunched mortise and tenon on those door joints?" It is not the time to cheap out and put on an inferior product.

Here is a link that might be useful: Waterlox at Woodcraft

    Bookmark   January 1, 2009 at 1:11PM
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I know its a bit late to the game now, but FFR, an etailer out of TN I believe, is where I have been getting my Waterlox. They are extremely knowledgeable and helpful for any of your projects. Couple their advice with the Waterlox tech help line and you have a terrific knowledge resource on Waterlox products.

Also, FWIW, given your original timeline, I think a solid Waterlox finish within the time frame originally listed would have been a challenge at best. I like a full day b/t coats and then let it set for at least a full week to cure well for best results. Time to cure depends on the number and thickness of coats but number of coats is normally dictated by the thickness...For example, for my floors, the coats were applied with a lambs wool applicator which delivers a fairly heavy coat. They took a full 24 hours b/t coats and 4 coats were plenty. For fine furniture (or a butcher block countertop) I typically would use a wiped on/hand wiped application. Much thinner coats that can be recoated in 12 hours but I would use 8-10 wiped on coats...same basic time involved.

Anyway, try paintsource in the future.

    Bookmark   January 5, 2009 at 7:14PM
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Also to add to bob's comments on finishes on a working butcher block or kitchen wood surface, a company called John Boos makes their proprietary blend for working wood surfaces called Boos Mystery Oil.

Boos, from Effingham Ill., has been making all things butcher block/cutting board for over 120 years and makes everything from small cheese blocks to custom counter tops to my personal favorite - an old style true end grain rock maple 16 inch thick butcher block (in various sizes). I have one of their 16 inch thick end grain blocks and use their oil about twice a year. Anyway, their oil does an excellent job of bringing back a rich oiled look to the wood and I figure, given the source, must be good stuff...and its pretty cheap. Its about 8 bucks for an 8 oz bottle and a bottle has lasted me for the last 5 years and I still have about 1/3 of a bottle left. Their website is pretty neat if you are into butcher blocks or anything in that sort of kitchen furniture/accessory venue.

    Bookmark   January 7, 2009 at 7:40PM
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I am wondering about what treatments may or may not be used on butcher block countertops if one is planning to prepare foods, i.e., rolling piecrusts or kneading dough directly on the countertop. Is a polyurethane finish safe for direct contact of food to the counter. I am not talking about preparing any kind of raw meat on the surface.

    Bookmark   February 15, 2009 at 1:01PM
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My suggestion would be mineral oil, available at any pharmacy or health care department. It is a non-drying oil that will not turn rancid like most vegetable oils.

If you want, you can add one part of paraffin to six parts of mineral oil, heated in double boiler, applied generously while warm and excess scraped off with a plastic scraper when cooled.

Either of these will need renewed once in a while, by simply repeating the same process.

You can buy "butcher block oil" that is simply one of the above at 10 times the price.

You do not want to put a film finish like lacquer or varnish (including polyurethane) if you are going to be cutting on it.

Many "Salad Bowl Finishes" are simply regular finishes in different cans.

Here is a link that might be useful: food safe finishes

    Bookmark   February 15, 2009 at 7:57PM
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Hey all-
I'm a few years late to this post so I'm hoping someone will see it!

I've done the same as the butcher block countertops, did hours of research and still apparently managed to get the wrong product (Formby's Tung Oil Finish). I've already done a few coats on my counters...what is the best way to maintain what I've done in the future? Can I use mineral oil on top of it every so often? I know whatever you use there is still upkeep, I just want to make sure I'm using the right thing from here on out!


    Bookmark   November 25, 2013 at 2:41PM
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This is totally irrelevant any help with this question. Just kind of wondering...

We had a BB countertop growing up. Home built in 1964, and my parents moved out sometime in the 80s. We cut, chopped, sat, rolled, hammered, and just generally lived with this countertop. It must have been before germs and contamination (cross- or otherwise) were invented.
We wiped it off with Windex and moved on to another day.

I wonder what, if anything, it was ever sealed with? We baked, rolled dough, made sandwiches, cut meat, chicken, turkey, laid out cookies, you name it.

And to think we all lived to tell the tale.

I love the worn look of the actual butcher's block tables. They're chunky with cut marks and gouges in them. Most interesting is where they're worn in sloping almost bowl-shaped areas from someone working in the same area for years.

When did BB counters start to need to look perfect and unused? I've built my own out of maple (2 years ago now) and have yet to finish it. Of course, it's under a bunch of crap so there hasn't been any need -- or use, but when I do, all I care about is letting the grain show.

I'll probably live to tell the tale, too. If something I do or don't put on it kills me, I'll make certain someone comes here to warn you. [snort]

    Bookmark   December 11, 2013 at 12:45PM
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