Wood you help? Butcher-block imperfections

Furniture Medic of the Shenandoah Valley, LLC

Q. My butcher-block countertops are older than I am. During my kitchen renovation, I kept noticing imperfections in the wood. How do I restore the countertops without sacrificing the wood's character?

A. As far as restoring butcher-block, you don't really want to put a finish on them. When the countertops begin to age, there will be some imperfections in the wood. If you want to remove a minor imperfection, it's best to sand it out. To do this, use a 180-grit paper at first– go at it aggressively. Then, to remove the scratches you just made, use a finer grade paper, 240-grit. However, as is the case with any piece of wooden furniture, the imperfections add character– do not sand down butcher-blocks too much.

You can take some daily precautions to keep the countertops looking healthy. Don't leave water on the countertops for long periods of time. When you use the butcher-block, try to vary the area on the counter where you work– don't use the same area all the time. Be sure to work in different sections, so as not to wear down one area. For cleaning, always use anti-bacterial soap and water.

With respect to bacteria, butcher-blocks are actually safer to use than plastic cutting boards. Bacteria tend to dwell longer on plastic. If you do not clean the cutting-board immediately after you cook, wood surfaces are much safer. On wood, bacteria exist only for a few hours before they die.

To keep the surface looking finished, most hardware stores carry special block oils. Also, you can do a Google search for "block oils" and find the right oil for your wood. The oil tends to give the countertops a little sheen as well as providing some protection. I recommend periodic applications of oil, but this is definitely a personal preference. As a general rule of thumb, when the appearance of the wood starts to look dry and not finished, apply the oil. If you overuse the oil, it tends to build up excess on the surface. The oil won't destroy your food, but you don't want the taste of oil in your dinner.

Butcher-block countertops can last a lifetime. I have seen butcher-blocks over 100 years old– sometimes the imperfections add to the appeal of wood. However, if they are not aesthetically pleasing to you or it's just time to renovate, take out the sand paper and oil.

Ray Rinaldo of Furniture Medic