finish for wood countertops?

laurielou177September 16, 2011

Our cabinet maker is making some simple cherry wood countertops for our 2 counters which will be food prep areas - one next to the stove, the other off more to itself w/baking stuff in cabinets. The sink countertop has been tiled. What are the options for finishing the surface? We will not be cutting on the surface, as we will use cutting boards, but we will have food in contact with the wood - making a peanut butter sandwich, setting down fruit, sprinkling flour for rolling sugar cookies, etc. What are the advantages and disadvantages of the different finishes? Any advice appreciated.

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Most any wood finish is food safe once cured so long as you do not cut on it. Many people here have used waterlox (or other tung oil like products) because it can be touched up without re-sanding. Since we plan to cut on ours we are just doing mineral oil, possibly upping to mineral oil + bees wax later if we want a longer lasting protection.

    Bookmark   September 16, 2011 at 8:48AM
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we had a cherry countertop in our old kitchen for 10 years, just sealed with tungg oil. it held up so well, all we did was oil it every few months , no biggie

we used it pretty much like you are describing

it wore so well and we liked it so much that we used cherry again in our new kitchen, including around the sink.... this time we opted for a marine finish

    Bookmark   September 16, 2011 at 10:07AM
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I forgot to add, this topic has been discussed many times, so I would try a GW search. You will find many threads that are useful.

    Bookmark   September 16, 2011 at 11:14AM
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We used Waterlox on the woodwork throughout our house, including our wood island top. We have a kitchen table that came already finished and it was always obviously inferior to our Waterlox finished wood. When one of my daughter's friends spilled fingernail polish remover on it, where it went down to bare wood in a second, I took the opportunity to strip it all down and Waterlox it. I feel like the Waterlox is almost bulletproof. I know it's not an issue for you, but it's really done well around the prep sink in our island.

    Bookmark   September 16, 2011 at 12:32PM
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I'm probably old school, but I agree with brickton. Mineral oil and beeswax. Don't know about anyone else, but I prefer the natural things when it comes to my food and it's prep.

    Bookmark   September 17, 2011 at 3:06AM
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Thanks for advice so far. I did read a lot of older threads on this. The hard part, is I could be completely convinced by the arguements of the mineral oil crowd at the same time I can be convinced by the Waterlox crowd. Both sides seem so convincing! I like the more care-free waterlox, but also like the more natural oil or oil and beeswax combos when it comes to food. It looks like from reading waterlox stuff that we could try the mineral oil method and if it's not working for us, then go the waterlox route, after following the waterlox instructions for treating a surface that's been oiled in past. Anyone do that w/sucess? We are really looking forward to counters going in. Right now we have leftover plywood on tops.

    Bookmark   September 17, 2011 at 10:19AM
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Have you read this link fro the Waterlox site? Scroll down to the "Waterlox Versus Other Finishes" section, it may be helpful.

    Bookmark   September 17, 2011 at 11:55AM
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We debated about this for a really long time and went with Waterlox low VOC in the end. It came out beautifully and I really, really love it!

We also used the mineral oil/beeswax combo in the old kitchen on our butcher block, which I did cut on occasionally (though not often). It was okay, but took a lot of maintenance to keep it looking pristine and still has some stains. Good if you want to cut on it since Waterlox isn't an option then, but if that's not important I think the easy cleanup of the Waterlox v. the mineral oil/beeswax is well worth it. (I caught my husband, whose project it was, dropping drips of water on it, watching them bead, and then wiping them up at one point. :) I think he did two (maybe three?) coats of regular Waterlox on both sides and then four of Waterlox satin finish on the exposed surfaces. The satin was much harder to work with, FWIW.

I'm using a tung oil mix on some unfinished furniture today, so might have thoughts after that as far as comparison, too.

    Bookmark   September 17, 2011 at 1:02PM
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If you are on the fence, I think the crux of the matter is this - do you often prepare food directly on a counter (of any type). I do not. I always have a plate, a chopping board, even the bag an item came in. I just do not usually put things right on the counter because, if you did... 1) you would want to clean the counter first and 2) you will have to clean the counter after. Simpler to use something under my food.

Since I don't use the counter directly, I was okay with the marine varnish. I wanted wood around a sink and an integrated drainboard, so I thought marine varnish was probably best. This despite the fact we used no VOC paint for the whole house (at much greater cost and coverage issues) and nothing synthetic on our random width wide plank pine, and we eat organic (so we do care about this stuff!). I did not notice an off-gas fyi.

One last note - some people use the term "tung oil" and do not mean pure "tung oil".

    Bookmark   September 17, 2011 at 3:51PM
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Still deciding on this!

Mtnrdredux - your comments are reassuring, as you looked into no VOC paint for rest of house ( we considered this too, but didn't). As far as whether I put food directly on countertop, it depends. When most of my family packs their lunch in the morning, they don't. They place the bread on the counter, make their sandwich, get out their fruit and set it down, etc. Nothing high tech, but they don't generally use a plate. I myself, generally do use a plate. I still think that's probably fine to use Waterlox w/that amount of contact.
What about the counter where we are going to make cookies and pie crust. And, I don't mean all the time. Lots of times this "baking counter" will be for mixing up a cake mix from the box. But, it is where I'll roll sugar cookie dough and pie crust. I was kind of thinking it would be nice to just roll directly on this wood surface. Any thoughts to that kind of use w/waterlox vs oil/beeswax?

A couple other points that might help to understand use and looks for the top - we are a generally messy family, which leads me more to waterlox, and we are bringing our kitchen back to a more period 1920's look, so we are not looking for anything too shiny, but still need practical. We are heavy, daily kitchen users. And, we lived w/prior owner's kitchen for 16 yrs, and expect to keep this one forever, or as long as we are here (at least another 10 yrs). I suppose that doesn't matter much for the wood finish choices, but maybe give some kind of insight.
Thanks again for any additional input.

    Bookmark   September 19, 2011 at 8:20AM
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I went back and forth between mineral oil and waterlox too and decided to go with mineral oil because I like the matte/natural finish and being able to cut on it. When I put the mineral oil on the bottom to try it out, I did not like the color of the wood. My top is black walnut from Craft Art's DIY store. It was too light and had an orange tint. It was confusing because many pics I had seen on the web of bw were darker and had less grain... I decided to stain the top a darker color and eliminate some of the graininess. Here's a picture of just the mineral oil:

After staining, the mineral oil finish was not an option, so I had to go with the Waterlox. Here is a picuture after staining and with several coats of original Waterlox. I just put the Satin on last night, so the top has a bit more shine in this pic than it will when I'm finished. Now that I have the Waterlox on I'm reall glad I don't have to worry about water rings and stains. I have three kids and that would have been a constant issue. I realize I'm glad for the protection. It is my favorite thing in the kitchen and I would hate to always be worried about stains on it. I went with a really dark stain but I love it!

    Bookmark   September 19, 2011 at 8:30AM
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jillandmatt - that is a gorgeous kitchen!

We've been using just mineral oil since Jan when our new maple boos countertops were installed. Initially I'd planned on doing waterlox, but then the installer recommended just mineral oil, so I figured we'd try it. It just didn't work for us in that even oiling daily, it just didn't seem to build any resistance. We ended up with rings from glasses all the time, and ended up with stains from when the 7yo makes a sandwich and isn't super careful with the jam.
I've been sanding down today, and I'm planning on trying 3-4 coats of the waterlox, as we really just use the counters as counters, not a prep surface. And it's what I had in mind originally as far as appearance. But I keep second guessing myself, thinking maybe I should try the mineral oil/beeswax. And this is all with my vocwaterlox waiting for me in the corner :-)

Has anyone gone to waterlox after the mineral oil? Any recommendations?

    Bookmark   September 20, 2011 at 2:13PM
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Thanks jillandmatt andcookingof joy. Somehow I didn't realize any more posts to this thread, and asked a similar ?, but more of a pure tung oil vs mineral oil ? today, and asked for some pictures. Your experiences both lean again more towards the waterlox. I'd kind of decided to just go w/mineral oil or pure tung oil, as it looks like you can go to waterlox afterwards when I read the waterlox site. But, then again maybe not? I was hoping to hear from a few others w/my other thread who had been successful w/mineral oil or pure tung oil, and to figure out whether they have some special tips/tricks that have helped them. Thanks for the pictures. Beautiful.

    Bookmark   September 20, 2011 at 3:12PM
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>I'd kind of decided to just go w/mineral oil or pure tung oil

Mineral oil and tung oil are VERY different things. Mineral oil is a temporary finish, but any kind of tung oil is a curing finish--you can't cut on it and it has to harden before it becomes food safe. I only mention it since it sounds like you think tung oil is a temporary finish like mineral oil. It isn't. You may or may not want tung oil with resins and hardeners in it (like waterlox), but the general procedure and the type of finish is similar with any kind of tung oil product.

Apologies if I misconstrued your post.

    Bookmark   September 20, 2011 at 3:16PM
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You should look at this thread. It is a mixture of bees wax and mineral oil.

Here is a link that might be useful: Bee Wax and Mineral Oil Thread

    Bookmark   September 20, 2011 at 5:10PM
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JillandMatt.. I just love those countertops .. they came out great. The Kitchen is awesome also. great job.

    Bookmark   September 20, 2011 at 10:16PM
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Thanks Rosaleen! We just finished last we and we are thrilled! It was worth ALL the work! :)

    Bookmark   September 21, 2011 at 6:17AM
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laurielou - I'm not sure if you're still interested, but I thought I'd post a quick follow-up. I've finished sanding and applying four coats, sanding between each, of Waterlox original finish, the voc version. It dried very quickly, even with the cool temps and rain here, it was drying in about 2-3 hrs. I still waited at least 24 hrs between coats. After that initial drying, the smell is really inoffensive.
I started with a foam brush for the first three, but I had trouble with bubbles. For the last coat I used a bristle brush, and I was very happy with how that turned out. Right now it is very glossy. I'll wait til spring, and then if it still seems too glossy, I'll order a quart of the satin for a finish coat. If I were to do it over, I'd use the bristle brush for each coat, still sand between, and only do three coats.
Hope your decision-making is going well!

    Bookmark   September 27, 2011 at 1:29AM
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JillandMatt - WOW that is amazing. I love the rich color. I didn't do the finish myself, I got mine from their custom line. How was the finishing process for you? I have refinished a piece with waterlox sealer/finish and satin finish and it went well.

I don't know if this offer still exists.. but I posted my pics of my finished Craft Art tops on their Facebook page and they sent me a free cutting board....(and I emailed them before and after pics because I got to be phone-pals with one of the girls that worked there) not sure if the promo is still going on but can't let a fellow Craft Art black walnut countertop owner miss out.

laurielou - My black walnut countertops (pic above) were finished with the Waterlox Tung Oil. No real sheen to them as you can see (this photo was taken day 1 btw). I read up on it and saw that it is organic and natural since
I had concerns about food safety, too. I've lived with the wood countertops for about 6 months now and love them more every day. For me, the waterproof element is a life saver... My family isn't exactly great about wiping up after themselves if I'm not in the room.

Before I had these countertops I had laminate perimeters and a chopping block style island that just had a mineral oil finish. I didn't mind putting the oil on once a month, but it stained and water marked so badly that I was pretty glad I knew that going into this purchase. I knew mineral oil wouldn't work for my lifestyle (and lack of OCD haha). But i couldn't bring myself to part with the chopping block island so I called the company I got my perimeter wood countertop from and they emailed me directions on how to refinish the chopping block. That was pretty cool actually considering I hadn't bought it from them come to think of it.

Basically, to refinish the mineral oil chopping block with Tung Oil finish they said to wait till the chopping block was Totally dry (at least a week since putting any oil or water on it). Then sand it down and do the finish. Their directions were way better. If anyone wants them I think I still have them. Let me know and I will try to figure out how to post that.

    Bookmark   September 27, 2011 at 11:23AM
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Thanks for the beeswax and mineral oil thread. I had read that before, just hadn't seen others as successful as person who did this mix.

I do know there is 100% tung oil for finishing vs things that might list tung oil in the name and may or may not have that as part of the ingredients, but are what I've now learned are more of a "wiping varnish" which is supposed to be food safe once dry, and though it still makes me leary, I'll probably go with, at least for the counter next to the stove. Going to spend some time on the woodworkers forum today, as I found some stuff there last week and didn't have time to read it all and have been busy w/company since.
Cookingwjoy, thanks for the specific instructions on finishing if we end up going w/waterlox. Very helpful to learn from what works better for others.

A new part of the decision has to do w/color of the cherry tops. They are not at all red, as I'd expected, but much whiter like pine, but w/a pink cast to them. Then someone said cherry turns red over 2-4 yrs. I have some specific questions to ask regarding that part, but will ask on woodworkers forum. Thanks again for input!

    Bookmark   September 28, 2011 at 11:17AM
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Sarahhomeremodel, Thanks so much for the info on the cutting board. I am going to check that out. BTW, what sheen waterlox did you use. I am having trouble with the Satin, getting it on without looking cloudy or streaky. I also have been told three different application methods. Craft Art says to use a short bristle brush... Waterlox hotline yesterday said do not use a bristle brush, use a regular paint brush with natural bristles...

    Bookmark   September 29, 2011 at 6:23AM
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jill, I am just starting the process, but I would think a regular paint brush with natural bristles would be the way to go. I am going by my paint store to look at the Zar stains and I will ask the lady there what she would do for the finish coat. Were you considering the high-gloss? I have read that the finish sheen reduces in time.

    Bookmark   September 29, 2011 at 8:46AM
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I got a jar of Salad Bowl finish from Rockler (think it's a General Finish product). What I like is it's really easy to refresh the finish - just a light sanding and wipe a thin coat on and let it dry. I had wiped each coat, lightly sanded in between. With 6 coats I had the finish I wanted.

My baking center is not used for cutting on, but does have food come in direct contact with it. I really wanted to go with waterlox, but the price (including shipping) scared me away.

It's been about 8 months now, and it's showing some wear but holding up as I expected, since it gets used regularly. I have not felt the need to refresh the surface, but I like patina.

I use mineral oil on my butcher block island, but that is used as one big cutting board.

    Bookmark   September 29, 2011 at 9:04AM
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Just an update- I put the 30% Satin/70% original mix of Waterlox on a couple nights ago with a natural birstle brush. I haven't seen it yet (I'll see it today) but my DH saw it and said it looks great. No streaks or cloudiness. I think reducing the amount of the Satin helped too. He said it's not too shiney! Can't wait to see it. We are moving in today!!

    Bookmark   September 30, 2011 at 6:44AM
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jill...i spoke with the sales rep from craft-art and that is what she recommended...mixing the two to get best results. Great that you are happy with how it turned out!Hope the move goes well!!!

    Bookmark   September 30, 2011 at 8:14AM
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