Butcherblock Countertops - finishing for scratch resistance

tyler23September 5, 2013

Hi All -

My wife & I recently discovered that under our disgusting salmon-colored laminate counters resided butcherblock slabs. We spent a week sanding, staining and finishing them to the desired look. The counters are a very, very dark, almost black, where you don't really know they are wood until you get close to them. This is exactly what we wanted.

Because this is a food prep area (we have NO intention of ever cutting on these), we finished/sealed it with General Finishes Salad Bowl Finish. The counters came out beautifully overall, although they are a bit glossier than we would have liked, but can live with it.

The problem is the finish appears to scratch very easily (I mean VERY). Last night we had a pot of water sitting on a folder towel for a couple hours. The edges of the towel actually left marks. They have gone down a bit today, but are still there. (We did not drag anything across the counters; just set it straight down).

We would like to put something tougher over the top of this but we are not sure what. We do NOT want to have to re-sand the counters to remove the Salad Bowl Finish. Looking around online we see some people recommending pretty hard-core lacquers like they use on restaurant tables, others say Tung oil with citrus solvent, and many other things.

I would like to ask for opinions on what options we might have. We don't know if a lacquer or Tung oil is something we could put right over the top of the Salad Bowl Finish and have it stick.

FYI: we finished this project two weeks ago, and while we know a "full cure" could be a month or more, it's pretty ridiculous how easy these scratch. Starting to regret using the SBF in the first place.

Thanks for any help.


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Those are beautiful! Most people use Waterlox on their wood counters, but I don't know if it can go over your current finish.

    Bookmark   September 5, 2013 at 3:51PM
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Thanks clg.

I ran across someone who used Old Masters Spar-Marine Varnish on their counters who claim it's held up really well. Based on the data sheet, it looks like it can be applied over pretty much anything ("...may be applied over previously varnished, lacquered or stained surfaces which are free of waxes, silicones, household greases or other substances which would impair adhesion").

Not sure if anyone has thoughts on this.

    Bookmark   September 6, 2013 at 9:51AM
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Have you ever owned a black car? Shiny dark colors just show stuff more and you have to accept that. There really isn't a scratch proof coating for wood counter in a kitchen that gets used. Sure, any of the above suggestions will work fine for areas that don't get anything set on them ever. But, in your work zones, you're going to get tiny scratches and dings. IF you cook.

What you need to do, if that bothers you, is to sand down the counters and choose a lighter color. Or, keep the dark color and choose a more matte top finish that you can redo easily and frequently. That would be something like satin tung oil. Most of the marine varnishes etc. have to be sanded completely down to be able to do another coat. And then you start getting that plastic look. With tung oil, when the counters start looking used again, you can sand them lightly and do a fresh coat to give them that "just done" look.

But, you'll make yourself crazy over this if you aren't careful. Because you're kinda asking for the impossible. Start using and enjoying working in the kitchen, and don't sweat it so much!

    Bookmark   September 6, 2013 at 10:38AM
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It sounds like your issue is scratching the finish, and not the wood. In that case, I agree with live wire, just get rid of the finish and go with an oil. I have both Maple and Mesquite counters with nothing but mineral oil on them, super easy to care for...

    Bookmark   September 6, 2013 at 12:51PM
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Thanks live wire and ctycdm for your input.

Live wire, are you saying that a satin tung oil would resist scratches better than the salad bowl finish in general? Or is it just because it would be lower gloss and therefore the scratches wouldn't be as noticeable?

Would it be enough to simply sand down slightly the salad bowl finish (rough it up a bit; get rid of the sheen) then apply the tung oil? Or are are you saying it needs to be sanded OFF before the tung oil goes on? Not sure we have it in us if it's the latter considering how long/messy this process was.

We want to keep them dark and your point about a black car is well taken (both our cars are black :-). However, I have set worse on those than a towel under a pan of water and no marks were left. It's ridiculous how easy it is to leave a scuff on these counters.

Ctycdm, to answer your question: yes, it is certainly a matter of the finish that is getting marked. I believe these counters are maple and they're as hard as a rock. We are not worried about them.

    Bookmark   September 6, 2013 at 6:46PM
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You als might want to check out the John Boos Varnique product.

I have not used it myself, as we used the oiled finish on my Boos hard rock maple (yes your counters ARE probably that...just as you described)

    Bookmark   September 6, 2013 at 8:42PM
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What live wire oak said. You're in the wrong product if you're concerned about scratches. Even all those fancy finishes you mentioned [I'd use Waterlox] will scratch. ANYTHING will scratch, especially anything with a gloss finish.
The good news is, and oiled finish is MEANT to be used, marred and scratched, because it can be easily dressed, prepped and re-coated for the next cycle. The length of the cycle is dependent upon how much you use you tops and how careful you are.
Good luck.

    Bookmark   September 6, 2013 at 10:29PM
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What live wire oak said. You're in the wrong product if you're concerned about scratches. Even all those fancy finishes you mentioned [I'd use Waterlox] will scratch. ANYTHING will scratch, especially anything with a gloss finish.
The good news is, and oiled finish is MEANT to be used, marred and scratched, because it can be easily dressed, prepped and re-coated for the next cycle. The length of the cycle is dependent upon how much you use you tops and how careful you are.
Good luck.

    Bookmark   September 6, 2013 at 10:32PM
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Yeah, but to get to just an oil finish, you're going to have to remove the oil/urethane one you just put on.Putting anything directly over it? I'd worry that this one isn't dry & you're going to end up in trouble that way.

What did you do to get the dark color? Could the problem be that didn't dry enough before you put on the Salad Bowl finish? And that thus you're having drying problems with Salad Bowl?

Is it truly scratching with the towel, or did the towel adhere to it a bit & bring up the finish (which would indicate not-dry-yet to me).

You might want to grab a woodworking finishing forum & ask there, too

    Bookmark   September 7, 2013 at 11:04AM
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Circus Peanut

The spar varnish would work, but I suspect it will be too heavy and glossy for your taste, unless you want a glass-like surface that reflects the tiniest flaw.

I would personally lightly scuff-sand the salad bowl finish (it's water-based, correct, the one from General Finishes?) with 220 or 320 grit and apply a layer or two of satin PolyWhey on it. It's a water-based poly that's one of the hardest I've worked with, and I do a lot of refinishing. I've had it on our walnut-stained oak stairs for a number of years; no scratches at all yet and these stairs take some shoe and cat-claw abuse.

Bonus is that the PolyWhey is absolutely without odor and dries within an hour or so. Super easy application. It's also food-safe when dry, which is always a question for urethanes.

Best of luck with your project!

PS: yes, if you want the traditional satin rubbed-oil finish, you will have to sand down and remove every trace of the salad bowl urethane. (Oil finishes work by sinking into the wood, and urethanes work by preventing anything from sinking into the wood.)

Real oil finishes would be things like pure tung oil, boiled linseed oil, mineral oil, or preparations like Osmo or Rubio. These get rubbed in and sink into the wood fibers -- which is why they don't scratch, per se. But they also provide very little in the way of gloss and are less protective over time, requiring touchups.

Oil-based cooked varnishes would be things like the Marine Spar Varnish, Waterlox, "Danish Oil" and for all intents and purposes oil-based polyurethane. These get brushed or wiped on and form a hard protective shell over the wood.

But in your shoes I'd eschew either of those, and instead stick with something waterbased, so as to ensure the best bond with what you've already got on there. Thus my recommendation of the PolyWhey, which comes in a nice satin finish version.

This post was edited by circuspeanut on Sat, Sep 7, 13 at 11:41

    Bookmark   September 7, 2013 at 11:31AM
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We just installed Ikea beech butcher block counters. They are natural color. I applied six coats of their Behandla oil, a food-safe (Ikea claims) mix of tung oil, mineral oil and something else (maybe linseed oil?). I was not expecting much, but after about a month, I have had no staining, no need to baby the counters. I've tried to be careful about not leaving wet glasses and such on the counters, but they do get wet, and stuff gets spilled on them, and there have been no stains, no real problems. They clean up very nicely.

I've read that Tung oil produces a waterproof finish, so perhaps that's the ingredient in Ikea's oil that keeps my counters looking nice, and easy to clean. Ikea recommends three coats, but I did six coats, sanding in between each coat, and rubbing in the oil really well.

I don't know if this would work with your dark countertops, but it's something you could try. I didn't expect it to work with mine, but it has so far!

    Bookmark   September 7, 2013 at 5:46PM
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Circuspeanut (great handle), thanks very much for the feedback. GF's Salad Bowl Finish is an oil based urethane, so I am not sure if that changes things. But I took a look at that PolyWhey and it looks interesting. It says "Can be applied over oil-based stain or finish, as well as other waterborne finishes". Would you recommend something else since the SBF is not water based?

I think we're going to rub out the finish to knock the sheen down a bit and make it more uniform. We'll see how that looks and then make a decision from there.

Megan, thanks for your feedback as well. We really didn't rush this job at all so I would be amazed if the stain hadn't dried. We followed all directions and wouldn't apply additional coats of anything until the proper amount of time had passed or longer. It's been over two weeks now since we put the last coat of SBF on. We put nothing at all on the counters for 72 hours (per instructions) for proper curing. (We know a full cure takes longer, so we've been very careful).

    Bookmark   September 8, 2013 at 12:34AM
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All of this is very intriguing as I am considering bamboo for countertops. I am wondering about a Watco product, "Butcher Block Oil and Finish". Any experience with this finish for a high use, kitchen sink countertop?

    Bookmark   February 28, 2014 at 9:09PM
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Tyler, I think your idea of using marine (spar) varnish should work quite well. Think of it, that is what is usedon the teak decks of boats. These would probably get more wear and tear than your countertops would.
You would still have to sand before applying 2 coats of the varnish, very lightly sanding between each coat. It comes in a low-sheen finish and I would recommend that.
We had a wood boat a few years ago and this stuff is almost indestructible-almost. I wouldn't cut directly on any applied finish.

This post was edited by canuckplayer on Fri, Feb 28, 14 at 23:52

    Bookmark   February 28, 2014 at 11:47PM
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