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Walnut Island top used as cutting board - photos & finish details

Posted by petestein1 (My Page) on
Tue, Sep 14, 10 at 13:35

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. :-)


Follow-Up Postings:

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RE: Walnut Island top used as cutting board - photos & finish det

What a great summary. 'Thanks for sharing'! Gives us all a lot more confidence.


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RE: Walnut Island top used as cutting board - photos & finish det

It's beautiful!


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RE: Walnut Island top used as cutting board - photos & finish det

Beautiful, I say use it and enjoy it.


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RE: Walnut Island top used as cutting board - photos & finish det

Thank you for sharing. In the past I have never really loved the idea of a wood countertop but I really love yours! The walnut is stunning! And I think the idea of having a massive functional cutting board sounds wonderful. I am forever losing vegetables off the edge of my cutting boards. If you don't mind my asking, what is your reason for only designating 25% of the island for cutting?


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RE: Walnut Island top used as cutting board - photos & finish det

OH Petestein1!! I'm so happy you posted this! We are putting a black walnut top on our island, and I have been racking my brain on how to incorporate a butcher block without it taking away from the look of the walnut top! You just answered my question!!

Mind me asking where and how you found your walnut, and also, did you stain it, or is that the natural finish with the beeswax and mineral oil? I was thinking of doing a food safe marine finish in order to keep water spots and any rotting/warping around the sink.

Do you have pictures of your kitchen? I'll do a search in the KFB and see if it's there. I want to see the entire island. Do you mind sharing the size of it? It looks just like what I've been envisioning in my mind for my own.

Thanks so much!


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RE: Walnut Island top used as cutting board - photos & finish det

Thanks for the great follow up. I've been trying to figure out the best way to deal with my Maple BB island. We really want to use it more, but needed a food safe finish that would also keep the wood conditioned and your solution sounds perfect.


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RE: Walnut Island top used as cutting board - photos & finish det

Love it! I don't have room for an island, but that's exactly how I'd want mine to look and use it like if I did!


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RE: Walnut Island top used as cutting board - photos & finish det

Thanks everyone for the compliments. Here are answers to a few of the questions people brought up:

PrickyPearCactus, you say "I am forever losing vegetables off the edge of my cutting boards."

...indeed, losing things off the edge of the cutting board was the main motivation for having such a large cutting area (which is ~3 feet wide and 2 feet deep). I also left an "open" area under the main work area so that I can slide a bowl or pan right under the edge of the counter and slide everything in. To try and picture what I mean, picture removing an 18" wide drawer that's right under your counter. See how that leaves a nice hole for you to slide a round pan or bowl half way under so you can sweep everything right in?

PrickyPearCactus, you also say "If you don't mind my asking, what is your reason for only designating 25% of the island for cutting?"

...well, honestly, I just don't need more space. The island is a full 8 feet long by 4 feet deep so there's room for 3 people to work simultaneously in the 1/4th I've designated.

SusieD, you say "We are putting a black walnut top on our island, and I have been racking my brain on how to incorporate a butcher block without it taking away from the look of the walnut top! You just answered my question!!"

...so glad to help! Seriously, forget the butcher block. This is the answer.

SusieD, you also say "where and how you found your walnut, and also, did you stain it, or is that the natural finish with the beeswax and mineral oil? I was thinking of doing a food safe marine finish in order to keep water spots and any rotting/warping around the sink."

The species is plain old American Black Walnut. My cabinet maker found it -- where, I don't know. But I'm in NYC and he's in upstate NY so somewhere in between I imagine.

There's absolutely no stain involved. That's the natural color of the wood once waxed with the beeswax/mineral oil combo.

As far as marine varnish, I considered Waterlox -- especially around the sink, but chose not to use it. First, it's tung oil based as I recall so there's some incredibly small chance that food prepped on it could cause food allergy problems. Odds are a million to one, but why risk it? Second, any kind of marine varnish wouldn't work on a cutting board surface -- it would be penetrated by the knife, water would get underneath and it would start to peel.

The sink was a concern that turned out not to be. When I wax the counter I just make sure to get a nice heavy coat on the lip of the sink and underneath the edge where the undermount sink meets the wood. I glop it on. Water beads up. It's been over a year and no sign of any trouble whatsoever.

SusieD, you also say "Do you have pictures of your kitchen? I want to see the entire island. Do you mind sharing the size of it?"

There aren't any pictures online yet. I'll try to add some -- as well as elevations of the island -- to this thread in the next few days. In general, the size is 8 feet by 4 feet. Seating on one side, working space on the other. Book cases on either end and garbage on one corner (and it pulls out both directions. But that's material for a whole additional thread.)

I think that covers the questions for now. Keep 'em coming!

-Peter


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RE: Walnut Island top used as cutting board - photos & finish det

The grain in your wood is SO beautiful, I love it. I am also planning a walnut top and am so thrilled to hear about your success with it! I am wondering about your "plank lengths" --- it looks like they run the entire 8 feet, or is that my imagination? Also, it looks like you have some very wide boards. Have you had any issues with them warping, curving, or anything like that? I love the look of the wider boards for flooring and countertops, but some say wide can be a problem. In your experience, it looks like the long and wide boards have worked out well, right? I feel like having fewer joints is a benefit of the wider boards, but am not sure where to draw the line?

Thanks again for the super detailed real life experience review. It is very helpful.


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RE: Walnut Island top used as cutting board - photos & finish det

That is gorgeous!


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RE: Walnut Island top used as cutting board - photos & finish det

Thank you so much for sharing Peter. I love it when people come back and give us the hindsight... so valuable!

We're installing a walnut block on the end of our island - I'm definitely going to try your finish advice. If you don't mind my asking, where do you get your beeswax from?


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RE: Walnut Island top used as cutting board - photos & finish det

MyThreeSonsNC... The island is actually 100" long (8'4") and 50" wide (4'2") -- not the 8' x 4' I previously mentioned -- and indeed, the boards run the entire length of the island. And yes, they're pretty wide too -- 7" on average.

Have I had any problems with warping, curving, cupping... anything like that? Not at all. I think it helps quite a bit though that the boards are a full 1 5/8" thick (the edge has a bevel on the bottom so it doesn't appear quite as a thick to the human eye.

Also, the boards are edge glued the entire length of the island and doweled together quite frequently I imagine. Floorboards that have cupping problems are rarely edge glued at all, let alone the entire length.

Finally, you say you don't know where to draw the line -- I'd encourage to make sure the island top is made by someone you like and trust and decide through a conversation with them. If they're worth your money they'll stand by their work and come back to fix any problems.

AlabamaMommy, you ask where I got the beeswax. I used Liberon brand beeswax that came in 200 gram solid bars (not the paste or liquids -- they already have additives). It turns out to be the same stuff my cabinet maker used for the initial batch. I'm pretty sure I got mine from Amazon but a quick Google search turns up tons of sources.

I think that answers all the new questions. Keep 'em coming!

-Peter


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RE: Walnut Island top used as cutting board - photos & finish det

Your island is stunning!

I'm really glad you posted this. We have a cherry butcher block counter that we cut on and people think we're crazy. I love it. We use vegetable oil on ours and it also works really well. Every few months I pour some more on and rub it in, usually at night and by the morning, it's beautiful again. Our wood counter by the sink is covered with waterlox. We started with vegetable oil there, but it seemed like something more heavy duty would be better around the sink (my children are a mess). Aside from any potential allergy issues, you can't cut on waterlox, it cuts right through the finish.

Thanks for posting, I hope that it helps many people who are thinking of chopping on their counters to dive in, we love it too!


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RE: Walnut Island top used as cutting board - photos & finish det

Looks great and I'm so glad to see someone who doesn't mind a kitchen that looks used! It's a sign of a life well-lived, IMHO.


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RE: Walnut Island top used as cutting board - photos & finish det

Your island is gorgeous! Glad to see it being well-used (like a kitchen is supposed to be IMHO!) Thanks for keeping us posted- such great info. Keep on cuttin'. ;0


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RE: Walnut Island top used as cutting board - photos & finish det

AutumnGal, glad you like your butcher block but vegetable oil? Uh-oh, I think that could go rancid on you -- how long have you been doing that?

The standard foodsafe oil to use on butcher block (and wooden salad bowls and the like) is mineral oil. It's maybe $2 at your local drugstore or you can pay 3 times more and get it at Williams-Sonoma and the like.


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RE: Walnut Island top used as cutting board - photos & finish det

Truly gorgeous. It's certainly your right to decide for whatever reasons, and I'm not at all criticizing, you just have me wondering... Why are you limiting the cutting only to the certain 25%? Wouldn't it be nicer to have the island, as much as possible, have a similar look overall, rather than intentionally and particularly wear one section way more than the rest? I am just curious about your thoughts in making that decision. I can see that in a year it's not a big deal, but the difference will get greater with time?

Thanks for sharing all your info!


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RE: Walnut Island top used as cutting board - photos & finish det

rhome410, it's an interesting point you make in the post directly above. Honestly though, I think it's the only solution.

First of all, had I replaced that 25% with butcher block it *definitely* would have looked *extremely* different. :-)

Second, I don't know how I could use all of it evenly. It's a bit larger than 8' by 4'. That's about 20 linear feet of counter space. That's a LOT of counter to chop on.

Third, the section that I do use is the section bets located for efficiency. It's right across from the range, right above the trash, right next to the sink. Every single other portion of the counter is inconvenient. Can you imagine my working on the other side of the island to chop and then walking the 15' around the island every time I needed to get another spice or add something to the pan? What a pain!

And really, in the end I don't care what this section looks like. As I said in an earlier post, it's a working kitchen, not a museum. :-)

-Peter

P.S. And don't forget that worst, worst, worst case -- I just sand the whole thing down a 64th of an inch, it looks brand new and I use a cutting board like everyone else.


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RE: Walnut Island top used as cutting board - photos & finish det

"First, it's hard to keep them in the designated 25% that I use as a cutting board."

I understand that it wouldn't be possible to get it all completely even, and that it makes perfect sense for you to use the area best located for your work, but you said you actively try to limit people to ONLY use that 25% when cutting. It seems that if you let all of it get used, as is convenient for however many people are using it, it will all get a 'more even' use. And I wouldn't want others trying to work in 'my' workspace when I had a great big island to take advantage of. But that's just what I would do and it's your house! ;-) --And I'm not trying to argue it, like it may sound, just explain the thoughts behind my post, and I'm done talking now. I wish you continued joy on your beautiful island! :-)


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RE: Walnut Island top used as cutting board - photos & finish det

Ah, I see your point now. Maybe what I said earlier was a bit unclear. In the 15 months of having the island, there have been maybe 5 instances where helpful dinner guests started working outside that 25%. Each of those 5 were different people who are regulars here and pretty quickly got with the program. ;-)

I'll report back in a couple years on the state of the island and my ability to corral all cutting to this section. ;-)


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Petestein, a few more questions if you don't mind

Hi Petestein, I was rereading this thread as you posted it as a response to another wood-counter thread, and a few more questions come to mind, as I love your counter and plan on doing wood myself. Where did your counter come from? Did you have it handmade by your carpenter, and was it a difficult project? If not, where did you purchase it? I've been looking at butcher block but haven't seen anything like this. Also, was it very cost effective? Thank you!!!


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RE: Walnut Island top used as cutting board - photos & finish det

pete, it's beautiful!! I have thought about using wood as well. I have the same question as eustacem and want to know where you bought yours and if it's new or reclaimed wood.

I love the fact that you use it as a cutting board. How does it hold up to glass rings?

Thanks!


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RE: Walnut Island top used as cutting board - photos & finish det

bump!


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RE: Walnut Island top used as cutting board - photos & finish det

Eustacem, thank you so much for bumping this!! I was on vacation when this was posted and this thread answers so many questions I've had about putting in a wood countertop and actually using it to cut on.

Peter, your countertop is so beautiful!! I've seen quite a few wood countertops on this forum but very few seem to get used for cutting. I really want to put in a wood countertop in my prep area but only if I would actually cut on it. Your posting gives me all the information I need to do this--thank you soooo much for taking the time to post this update!!! I have to ask though, was it hard to make that first cut? I believe in a working kitchen as well, but I think it might be hard to make the first cut. Thanks again for such a thorough and informative posting!


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RE: Walnut Island top used as cutting board - photos & finish det

so beautiful! May I ask...was this walnut top expensive? I don't think I can get this look with a cheaper (Ikea/Lumber Liquidators) wood countertop. It seems I ALWAYS like the look of those countertops when they are waterloxed. I don't like them as well when they are simply oiled. Yours is the first I have seen that I like that is actually usable. I love the look of distressed wood...but for some reason, there seems to be a certain type of wood that looks good distressed, and a type that just looks worn and used.

Hope this made sense.


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RE: Walnut Island top used as cutting board - photos & finish det

Sorry I didn't see new questions had come in:

-- I don't know how much the counter cost -- it was built by my cabinetmaker and was part of the overall cabinetry bill which included ALL of the kitchen cabinetry. In general though, black walnut is not an overly expensive wood. And if you go with narrower boards, the price would drop (then again, there's more joinery so the price may go up -- best to talk to a cabinetmaker.)

-- Was it hard to make that first cut? EXTREMELY. But within a few days I didn't give it a second thought.

-- Drink rings? That's been the only real problem but I'm slowly getting a handle on it. We don't have kids (yet) so we're only dealing with the 2 adults that live here. We put beverages down all the time. But if you leave them a long time, and they're wet on the bottom... well, you get a ring. Sometimes the ring comes out with the next coat of oil/wax, once or twice I had to do a very light sanding in that area. For example, we just had a fondue party for 22 people 5 days ago and in looking at the counter, I can -- in the right light and at the right angle -- make out one drink ring. I'm sure it will come out with minimal effort.

I think that's it... any other questions?


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RE: Walnut Island top used as cutting board - photos & finish det

Thanks, Petestein!


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RE: Walnut Island top used as cutting board - photos & finish det

Hello there!
So happy to find this thread.
Pete, can I ask you how you've managed to keep the area around the faucet base clear of water damage?
I'm about to install a mahogany countertop and have chosen an undermount sink. There are so many naysayers out there, but our architect thinks it will be fine...I just need a little reassurance about the sink area. I'm looking at faucets that have one lever which extend out so my wet hands won't be over the wood all the time. Yours looks fabulous so you're a great role model! Many thanks! nancy


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RE: Walnut Island top used as cutting board - photos & finish det

Peter.. LOVE the walnut (and your whole kitchen!) we are just getting started with a renovation of an 1880's Victorian in Chicago that has some amazing Walnut wood trim and doors that were brought over from a Castle in England and retrofitted to the house around 1906... the whole main floor has this amazing doors, trim, crown molding, and baseboards.. Our debate was always how do we integrate the amazing old character with the new addition without "faking it" ... The minute I saw your island... I knew that was IT!!! I realized that was the PERFECT way! in another 100 years... my walnut island will look as old as the trim and doors and become part of the history of the house!
We have about the same size island that you do- we will have the main sink in our island. Can you give me an approximate cost of that countertop? And if you have not mentioned it before, where you got it from?
Thanks!


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RE: Walnut Island top used as cutting board - photos & finish det

Bump


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RE: Walnut Island top used as cutting board - photos & finish det

Hi Evanstonmom,

Here is the OP's response from October 20th about the cost and the maker of his walnut top:

"I don't know how much the counter cost -- it was built by my cabinetmaker and was part of the overall cabinetry bill which included ALL of the kitchen cabinetry. In general though, black walnut is not an overly expensive wood. And if you go with narrower boards, the price would drop (then again, there's more joinery so the price may go up -- best to talk to a cabinetmaker.)"

Beautiful counter! We are also thinking of a walnut island top, but won't cut on it directly.


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RE: Walnut Island top used as cutting board - photos & finish det

Re: Drink rings. I learned what I thought was the neatest trick about a week ago. Thought I'd share it here.

I had several drink rings on some of my wood furniture and it had been bothering me. I started looking online to see if there was an easy fix.

YES!!!!!!! take a paper bag (like the old grocery ones), lay it over the ring, and then IRON OVER THE RING. I did it on fairly high heat - 1 step lower than my iron's hottest. I went back and forth several times and then peak... back and forth and then peak... The heat drew the moisture out of the spot. I no longer have white water rings on my antique table!!! none on my end table!!! none on my dining table (still not sure how that one got past the awesome finish the table has)....

hope this helps. I was just so excited!


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RE: Walnut Island top used as cutting board - photos & finish det

I LOVE THIS POST!

Seriously.

I love that you use your kitchen. I love that you don't baby it. I love that you can handle PATINA!!!

So, can you post the link to your finished kitchen? I want to take a look around ;)

This post is an awesome resource for a) people who want to cut on their wood countertop b) people contemplating an island sink c) people who want a sink in wood countertops.

Go you!


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RE: Walnut Island top used as cutting board - photos & finish det

For those of you considering this - look at "end grain" tops. The square pattern hides the knife marks...


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RE: Walnut Island top used as cutting board - photos & finish det

Really warm and beautiful.

I just want to point out, there's a difference between a cutting board and butcher block. petestein1 cuts only vegetables and such on this countertop, so it's a cutting board, which are typically made out of planks even when you buy them separately. A butcher block is made of end grain because it's for, well, butchers--people who cut meat using very large knives and meat cleavers. If you're going to use your countertop to disassemble a pig with mighty blows, then you probably need end grain, and should still expect a lot of wear and tear. But if you're only using it for cutting, you will get the typical pattern of wear you see on a cutting board. In this case, end grain is just a choice, not a necessity.


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RE: Walnut Island top used as cutting board - photos & finish det

I love what I can see of his kitchen. The island looks stunning. I wish he would post more pics. I am also do a walnut island, although more modern.


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RE: Walnut Island top used as cutting board - photos & finish det

Okay, any reason you couldn't use an almond oil/beeswax finish? I would be more comfortable using that around food than I would mineral oil.


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RE: Walnut Island top used as cutting board - photos & finish det

Agree - would love to photos of the whole kitchen. This counter - paired with the fun painted finish and ORB pulls - was one of my inspiration pics when planning my own space. Would love to see more of this space!


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RE: Walnut Island top - photos & finish details

walnut counter top finishes? Has anyone had experience with the Varnique Stain finish. I do not want to use my island as a cutting board. Any suggestions other than oil or wax finish?


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RE: Walnut Island top used as cutting board - photos & finish det

I know this was awhile ago but based on Marcolo's post above about not disassembling a pig with mighty blows unless you have an end grain chopping block (which I understand), does the OP cut chicken/fish/meats on the counter or do you only use it for fruits,veggies, cheeses?


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RE: Walnut Island top used as cutting board - photos & finish det

Hello,
I bookmarked this post long ago as my inspiration after we found ourselves with some sentimental walnut. We have a black walnut tree in our yard, it's 100+ years olds I'm told and a few years ago we had some die back. Many walnuts in our area our dying and in hopes of saving ours we had the dead bits culled. I had it milled into big thick boards, found a commercial kiln to dry it and had a 4x7.6 foot countertop made for our kitchen remodel. The counter will be installed on Monday and I am trying to get prepped to finish it. Here is the question...

How is your finish holding up now? We have a specialty woodcrafters store in town filled with wise old gentlemen eager to dish out advice. I have recommendations from them from finishing it with walnut oil, boos mystery oil, tung oil, and Tried and True which is a mixture of linseed oil and beeswax. Would you still pick your finish? What is the benefit of including the beeswax? I should mention that we have 4 children and a busy cooking kitchen, perimeter counters are stone. It's been sometime so I thought I would ask how your countertop is doing. Plus, it's so beautiful, it's time to put this post back at the top of the list. Thank you!


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