Walnut Island top used as cutting board - photos & finish details
Almost two years ago I contributed to some posts about using my island top as a cutting board and got some helpful advice. I thought I'd post an update.
As part of a full renovation our kitchen island got a nice beefy top made of black walnut. Even though everyone thought I was nut, I said I wanted to use part of it as a cutting board. After all, it's a kitchen, not a museum. With that in mind, I had to come up with a food-safe finish for it. What I chose, based on advice here, was nothing more than a hand-rubbed application of mineral oil and bees wax.
I'm happy to report that it's been over a year and everything's gone great. First, the island looks great. Everyone comments on it the moment they see it.
Second, using it as a cutting board has worked out quite well. The wood is more than hard enough to stand up to my knives. Not having to get out a cutting board, and then keep all my chopped whatever on the cutting board as I work... it makes life so much easier. For those who told me I needed to do something akin to butcher-block -- making the island top out of end-grain... well, you were incorrect. End-grain would have been harder no doubt but the walnut is more than hard enough. And worst case? I break out a power sander and 1/64" of an inch later my island would be in immaculate condition.
No doubt, the knife leaves marks in the wood. But the wood is "busy" enough that you can only see them if you go looking for them and your eye is within 12" or so of the counter (photos below).
Oh, for those worried about food safety, I still don't get raw meat on the counter (though I think it would be fine as long as I cleaned up with soap and water afterwards). And we don't chop anything "stinky" like garlic or onion though we do work with other aromatics like rosemary and thyme. 15 months later and the counter has no odor of any kind.
Third, the finish. I was worried about this but in the end it's been fine. I melted some furniture-grade beeswax on the stove, added mineral oil (about 2 parts oil to 1 part wax) and let is solidify into a semi-hard paste. I rub it in, let it stand (sometimes for a few minutes, sometimes overnight), and then I buff it out.
At first I was doing this every few weeks but now I only do it every 2 months or so. I could probably stand to do it a bit more often in the quadrant I use as a cutting board, but, well, you know, life gets in the way.
For the first 6 months or so if you left a wet glass on the counter for more than a few hours we were getting drink rings. I had to lightly sand those out and rewax. But now we seem to have a deep enough coating that we haven't had a drink ring -- or any mark of any kind -- for over 6 months.
How do I clean it? A soapy sponge. Simple as that.
Ready for photos? Ok, here's the island as whole:
Take a good look at the image above. Can you see where I've prepared over 100 meals? You know -- the section where I've sliced up thousands of peppers and cucumbers and apples and peaches and melons and tomatoes and potatoes and celery and carrots and parsnips, etc, etc?
Okay, the "cutting board" area is the left side of the island, from the bottom of the photo to the sink. That 25% of the island is the designated "cutting board" section.
Yes, the board closest to the left of the photo has a lot of lines in it, but those aren't knife marks, that's "tiger-striping" in the wood -- I chose that board for there on purpose in case I needed camouflage for knife marks.
Ok, ready for a close-up of the knife marks? This photo was taken from about 8 inches away:
...looks like a cutting board, doesn't it? ;-)
So what problems do I have? Well, we have a lot of friends and cook a lot of meals together, People like to help. Once they get past the "What??! I can cut right on the counter???!?" moment I have two problems.
First, it's hard to keep them in the designated 25% that I use as a cutting board. Yes, the knife marks are subtle enough that they could probably work anywhere but I still haven't let go.
Second, these same people occasionally use a bread knife that can take some comparatively pretty big chunks out of the top. This has only happened once or twice, and with a coat of wax the marks pretty much disappear. But still, it's stressful.
Bottom line? I strongly encourage people to explore using an island top as cutting board. Second, a food-safe finish is easy! Third, I love my new kitchen. :-)