How I Stained & Sealed My Butcher Block Countertops

**Update:  I refinished my countertops AGAIN (for the fourth time) four months after writing this post.  I do NOT recommend using water-based polyurethane on butcherblock countertops…especially if your butcherblock is on your main countertops where your sink is located.  And after three attempts, I also don’t recommend staining butcherblock countertops.  Click here to see how I sealed my Ikea Numerar butcherblock countertops for the fourth…and final…time.  I wish I had used this method from the very beginning.

How I stained and sealed my Ikea Numerar butcher block countertops

They say that the third time’s the charm, and I’m hoping that’s true with my Ikea NUMERAR butcher block countertops. Yep, this is my third time to stain and seal these things. Interestingly, even with the headache of having to sand them down, stain them, and reseal them, I’d still choose butcher block again. I just love the way they look, the way they warm up the space, and the fact that they CAN be sanded and re-stained. In one weekend, I can change the color of my countertops…and the look of my kitchen…and spend relatively little money. What other countertop material can you do that with?

The last two times I did my countertops, I used Minwax stain and sealed them with Waterlox. Both times, my countertops turned out yellowish orange, and seemed to get even more yellowish orange over time. Not pretty.

So this time, I decided to try completely different products. Here’s how I refinished my butcher block countertops…

I started by sanding the current finish off of the countertops with my orbital sander. I started with 80-grit sandpaper just to make the job a bit faster, and then ended with 150-grit sandpaper to leave a smooth finish.

Using an electric orbital sander to sand finish off of Ikea Numerar butcher block countertops

DIY Tip:

When using an orbital sander inside, remove the dust bag attachment, and place the hose of your Shop Vac over the spout thingamajig that the dust bag attachment usually attaches to. Turn on the Shop Vac, then turn on the sander and sand away. The Shop Vac will catch most of the dust.

After everything was sanded down, and the dust was wiped away, I put a coat of Wood Conditioner on the butcher block according to the instructions on the can. I used Minwax, and found it at Home Depot.

Before staining butcher block countertops use wood conditioner to make the stain go on evenly

This was my first time to use wood conditioner, and I really did notice a difference. The stain seemed to go on much more evenly, and the grain blended in more with the rest of the wood when the stain was applied, which was definitely a welcome sight.

Next it was time for the stain. I used Rust-Oleum stain in Early American. It took five coats to get the rich, dark color that I wanted. I just made sure that each coat was completely dry before adding another one.

I used five coats of stain on my Ikea Numerar butcher block countertops to get them the rich, dark color that I wanted

When the stain was completely dry, I was ready to seal the wood.

This is the decision that I really struggled with the most…how to seal the butcher block countertops. The first time I finished the countertops, I was very concerned about using a product that is food safe. That’s why I went with Waterlox…it’s food safe after it fully cures.

But after two tries with Waterlox, and after living with my countertops for 2.5 years, I realized that food safety really isn’t a concern for me. I simply do not ever put food on my countertops. I use cutting boards, or plates, but I don’t ever place food directly on the surface of my countertops.

So this time around, food safety wasn’t an issue for me. I decided that I wanted durability first and foremost, and a close second was that I wanted something that would not turn yellow.

I narrowed down my options to Rust-Oleum spar varnish and Rust-Oleum polyurethane in a matte finish.

My options for sealing the butcher block countertop were spar varnish and polyurethane

Both of these products are water-based. Water-based products definitely have their advantages, lack of noxious smell and quick drying times being two of the big ones. Another advantage…they don’t yellow over time. SOLD!

I was leaning towards spar varnish. I figured if it was tough enough to be used on things that sit outside in the weather, then it was tough enough for my kitchen countertops. But after a quick call to the Rust-Oleum customer service number, I realized that I was about to make the wrong decision. I honestly can’t remember all of the details, but the man explained to me why the spar varnish shouldn’t be used indoors. I wish I could remember, but suffice it to say that he made a very convincing argument.

I went with the Rust-Oleum polyurethane in the matte finish.

Water-based polyurethane is really quite different from oil-based polyurethane. It looks streakier when it’s applied, and also appears milky white. It always makes me a bit nervous in the beginning.

Water based polyurethane looks milky white and a bit streaky when first applied, but dries clear

But somehow, it always dries without streaks, and completely clear. And let me tell you, that matte finish is simply gorgeous. I don’t think I can capture it completely with a picture, but in person, I just want to stare at it. It’s just beautiful.

The directions on the can said that sanding in between coats wasn’t necessary. However, I did notice that after the first two coats, it seemed a bit rough in places. So instead of taking a chance in messing up my newly stained and sealed countertops with sandpaper, I decided to use brown paper (like the brown shipping paper or a brown paper bag) to sand the surface.

When doing delicate sanding, use a brown paper bag instead of sand paper -- finishing butcher block countertops

It worked amazingly well, and gave the countertop a very smooth finish. After “sanding”, I wiped away all of the dust, and then gave them two more coats of polyurethane. The finished countertops look just like I hoped they would look…dark, rich, not glossy at all, and not yellow.

And this time, I’m going to do my best to be sure they stay looking beautiful!

Now I know that making a decision on how to stain and seal butcher block countertops can be quite stressful. I remember before I purchased mine, I spent hours and hours doing research online, trying to figure out what products were the best, which ones were food safe, which stains could be used, etc. With all that research, plus refinishing my own butcher block countertops three times now, I’ve definitely learned a few things over the years. All that to say this…if you have any questions about it, please feel free to ask. If I know the answer, I’ll gladly share it!

SUBSCRIBE HERE!
Enter your name and email below to receive:

New posts delivered to your inbox * Giveaways exclusive to subscribers
Exclusive behind-the-scenes videos * Additional DIY tips
The occasional DIY project, just for subscribers
A plate of warm, freshly baked cookies

(Okay, probably not that last one.)  :)

Comments

  1. says

    The countertop looks amazing! So weird … I just scheduled a post for tomorrow featuring you, your blog and your chrysanthemum mirror. I then checked my email and there was your post. Crazy timing. I love your blog – you are crazy talented. Thanks for all the inspiration!

  2. says

    Kristi! This post is awesome! I have to refinish my butcher block countertops this summer and I was so dreading having to “tent” everything from the dust. That trick of attaching the sander to the shop vac. GENIUS!!! I love the way yours turned out. I am pinning this post, and I think I might actually do the exact same thing. I use the Wood Conditioner every time I stain, and I love the way the stain takes to the wood. Your countertops look perfect. Thanks for all the tips and the steps! -K

    • says

      Karen, I’d love to see yours when they’re done! And I can’t take all the credit (or any credit…LOL) for that Shop Vac trick. My smart hubby taught me that one. Before he showed me that, I always made the BIGGEST messes inside with my sander!! :-D

      • says

        You can tell your husband there is a girl in Northern California who is SOOOO grateful for that tip about the sander! I have sanding mess everywhere. I have come up with all kinds of barriers to keep it to a minimum, but sanding inside my home is just the biggest headache. Two years ago I tried to refinish my butcher block countertops, and the dust covered every surface in the first floor of my home, for months! I am so excited about this tip, I might just do this next week! Thanks again. -K

  3. says

    They look BEAUTIFUL!! While I’m still convinced I wanted recycled glass counter tops eventually (should probably buy a house first!) I have to say your butcher block would be a strong contender for a backup plan!! :)

  4. says

    Kristi!
    Again….gorgeous countertops!
    I too love wood conditioner….it really makes for an even fine furniture look. Between coats I use the black sandpaper and after dusting, I dust with a tack cloth. I’ll have to try the brown paper. We suggest that if a customer’s handle feels a bit rough to use the paper bag as sandpaper. Never thought beyond that.

  5. says

    Thanks for sharing the process of how you stained & finished your countertops. The steps you followed and tips you gave can be applied to sanding, staining, and sealing pretty much anything wood. I never would have thought to use brown paper as sandpaper – I’m definitely going to try it out next time I have a stain & seal project :-)

  6. Krista says

    I’ve been told that polyurethane can get milky again when it gets wet (though it goes back to normal when it dries). Is this something you’ve experienced?

    • says

      I have noticed that, Krista. Only the water-based does that, and I thought it was because the polyurethane hasn’t cured completely. According to the specifications on the can, it takes a full seven days to completely cure. Now I’m anxious to see if that’s the reason, or if it’s always going to be that way. If it’s always that way, I’m going to have to coat it with an oil-based poly, because the milky white spots will drive me crazy!

    • says

      I got curious, so I actually called Rust-Oleum and asked about that. The man I spoke with said that after it’s fully cured, it won’t turn the milky color when it gets wet. He said that if you use multiple coats (like my five coats) it could take even longer than seven days to cure, but when it’s fully cured, there won’t be any color change when water is dripped on it. :) Phew!

  7. says

    Thank you so much! I’ll def be referring to this when I stain my kitchen cart. What are your thoughts on using mineral oil? As in what the heck do i do with it? my dad always used it on our butcher blocks at home growing up.

  8. Kari says

    This is soooooooo helpful!!
    I’m about to start a complete kitchen remodel and wonder, since my counters are still in the box, how much of the work, if any, should I do before the countertops are installed? Should they be cut and installed before beginning the staining and sealing process?

    • Catherine says

      You should have your cuts made before staining so that the final color will be uniform. If you stain first then cut, the fresh cuts will require stain causing a possible line where the new stain covers the previous stain. So dry fit first, then take it back off to stain/sand/stain if you like, though not necessary especially if you don’t have the room. Then do your final finish once it’s fastened down.

  9. Catherine says

    This is awesome. I am looking online for ideas for counter tops on a budget and was looking at the Ikea tops. I really like tile but don’t have the time nor the patience to do it in the 3 weeks window I have open to work on this. After closing Home Depot’s website in horror and shock over the non-laminate counter prices, I thought “Ikea has counters…” then went on a search to find people who’ve made Ikea wood tops work. I was just looking for ideas to piece together in my feeble design brain, but you gave me the paint-by-numbers with background experience for what to avoid. Thanks, Kristi! I sure do appreciate when people keep web logs of their home projects and really do appreciate this one. I’m excellent with tools and following directions, but the original ideas take me too long to put together–I can do it, but MAN it takes me forever. Thanks for helping this stranger in a time-crunch out. :)

    • Catherine says

      By the way, I’m not a food-on-the-counter person either (nor a bare produce on the grocery store conveyor belt person neither, but that’s another topic for another blog). I’m glad you pointed that out because so many websites are talking about “food safe finishes” and I was naturally thinking I had to do that. But duh, of course I don’t… I don’t prep bare food on the counter! Heh. Anyway, thanks!

    • says

      So glad you found it helpful! One thing…I wouldn’t recommend the water-based polyurethane. I’m probably going to go back over mine with oil-based (i.e., REAL) poly in the near future. Even after almost six weeks, the water-based poly still turns milky white when water gets on it and sits there for a few minutes. It always clears up when it dries, but I still don’t like it. :)

      • Catherine says

        Ah! Thanks! Duly noted. This is good to read because I tend to favor oil based finishes. I find they are more durable. :)

      • will says

        Yah I was scrolling through to see if this came up… especially around the sink…. water based sealers are re-activated by water! so it seemed like a problem waiting to happen, I’d love to hear how the rust-oleum oil based turns out.

        thanks for documenting all this, I’m about to walk through it myself

  10. Danielle says

    Wow I am so glad to have found your blog!! We are venturing our second home remodel and I am going to install these countertops from Ikea once again. This time I am desperate to stain and coat them – and will be following your example :) Another question that I had was this – how did you cut the sink opening into the top. I am being told special kinds of saws are needed and have no clue where to find the solution!! Any help??

    • says

      Hi Danielle~
      Please don’t use these instructions. I have refinished my countertops once again since I wrote this post, and I just posted about it this morning: http://www.addicted2decorating.com/my-ikea-numerar-butcherblock-countertop-saga-continues.html

      This was my FOURTH time to refinish my countertops, and I have finally found the perfect finish for them. I honestly wouldn’t recommend anything else. Do NOT use the water-based polyurethane that I wrote about in this post. It will frustrate the heck out of you. Even four months after I sealed my countertops, the finish was still turning milky white when it would get wet. It would dry clear each time, but I just couldn’t stand that it was turning white when water would sit on it for more than a minute.

      I was just about to edit this post with an update when I got your comment in my inbox. Seriously…head over here for the only finish you’ll need for your countertops: http://www.addicted2decorating.com/my-ikea-numerar-butcherblock-countertop-saga-continues.html

      Now regarding the sink hole, you’ll need a circular saw to cut the straight edges, and a jigsaw to cut the rounded corners. Be sure that each tool has a brand new blade so that you can get the smoothest cut. Then follow up with an electric sander. You’ll also nee to do quite a bit of sanding by hand, especially on the rounded corners.

  11. kelly says

    Kristi – I have found your blog to be so helpful but yet I am still so torn. We installed IKEA butcher block countertops and I’ve been living with cardboard over them for the past 2 weeks while I decide how to seal them. My biggest concern is stains. We drink alot of kool aid at our house and I don’t want an accidental purple ring to take over my counters. With that said, I bought to tung oil from IKEA to put on them. How have your countertops stood up to stains since using only oil and not a poly? We are not staining them, just keeping them natural. THANKS!!

    • says

      Hi Kelly~
      Yes, I’ve gotten a few stains on my countertops, but honestly, I’d never, ever, ever go back to any other finish other than just plain oiled countertops. While I have gotten a few stains, the ease with which those stains can be removed gives me such freedom to actually USE my countertops (whereas before, I was trying to baby them…and that’s not pleasant in a kitchen). When a stain appears, it takes just a few minutes to grab some sandpaper, sand out the stain, and put some oil on it. Then they look as good as new. It was seriously the best decision I could have made for my own kitchen!

  12. Kate says

    Good job – the key is conditioning the wood first. The stain you use isn’t really the issue at all – minwax, rustoleum..it doesn’t really matter. I think it’s the conditioning that made the difference for you this time. I’m sealing my wood counters with Minwax wipe-on poly. It has out-performed waterlox in every test I’ve been able to read about.

  13. Kate says

    Thank you so much for the info on Waterlox. I was planning on buying some tomorrow, but definitely going to reconsider now. I just finished staining the top and long sides of my kitchen island butcher block. When I started to stain the 2 shorter ends, the stain grabbed so quickly I couldn’t wipe it off, and it looks about 4 shades darker than the top and long sides. I used conditioner and sanded. Did this happen to you? how did you get the stain on the super porous ends to match the top?

    Thanks!
    Kate

  14. Ayu says

    Kristi, why did you have to keep refinishing your countertops? Whenever I tell a tradesperson that I want to install a butcher block they give me the wide-eyed “are you crazy” look! Are they that hard to maintain? I read your post about mineral oil…did you have to do anything to the wood before applying the first coat?

    What would you suggest to do before installing the countertops wrt finishing them (sealing, etc.)?

  15. Mark says

    For those of you considering these counter tops, be very careful in how you finish them and take your time with the sanding. I have found the Numerar oak tops to be loaded with oil from the factory, so much so that the conventional path of hand sanding with low to high grit sandpaper (ending at 220) will NOT remove all of these oils. This will wreak havoc with your stain and sealing process. I used oil-based products as I was aiming to use the top for a work desk and I had one small section of my 1st coat of polyurethane lift off of the surface after the 2nd coat had dried. This was a good 72 hours after my stain application and it felt dry, but some stain was still rubbing off onto a cloth.

    The underside of the top that got less attention was an even larger headache. I used a very light coat of stain on that surface and let it dry for 7 days. It took the first coat of poly over 24 hours to dry completely and looked horrible, with some sections practically drinking the poly up and others having a “shiny” post poly finish. This was a “fast-drying” poly too. For comparison, the top side with the same product and same climate conditions dried to the touch in about 7 hours and looked much better in 24 hours.

    Bottom line: sand the hell out of these before you finish.

  16. Cindi says

    Thank you so much for this information. I just purchased the same countertops and cabinets from IKEA and I was not happy with repeated “refinishing” using the accepted and IKEA approved butcher block oil. They were too light and everything left marks. We had sanded them twice in the last 4 months. Finding your blog post was awesome. One thing though. I went to Home Depot looking for these items and explained you showed them. They didn’t want to help me, said they didn’t carry them and pretty much dismissed me. I ended up at Menards and though I couldn’t find the Rust Oleum brand, found minwax brands of everything you mentioned in the same colors. I LOVE THE RESULTS. They are awesome. I learned a little about staining tricks that I can use next time.

  17. Leslie says

    Kristi,

    Thanks for you post. Your kitchen looks great. We recently purchased unfinished butcherblock counters from Lumber Liquidators and have been going through the sand, staining and sealing process. We are about to choose a sealer and we are leaning towards the Rustoleum Polyurethane, but I wanted to get another update from you to see how your counters have held up this time.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>

«
»