Installing and staining butch block countertops may be easier than you think, and it can be a relatively cheap way to upgrade your kitchen space in just a few hours! We’ve upgraded to butcher block countertops in both our home and our rental properties – here’s everything we’ve learned about how to easily stain butcher block counters so you can do it, too.
Thanks for popping in today. Today I am sharing why we decided to stain our butcher block counters.
The butcher block install was part of our kitchen refresh project for the One Room Challenge.
We were looking to replace our 17-year-old kitchen countertops that were Formica and in dire need of replacement; you can see them here.
I knew I wanted to add butcher block counters to the kitchen from the day we bought this house.
I love the warmth that wood brings to a room, and they are a very affordable countertop option.
It was a bonus that we could easily DIY them ourselves, and I wasn’t worried about the upkeep as we are empty nesters, which means our kitchen doesn’t receive nearly the daily wear and tear it once did.
Plus, you can easily sand and restain butcher block if you encounter a serious problem!
Installation of the countertops went pretty well (says she that did not have to cut for the sink twice).
The problem was I procrastinated (remember we were on a deadline for the challenge), and I didn’t realize it would take over two weeks to have the countertops shipped to our Lake House.
So, our only option was to look at the big box stores to meet the challenge deadline.
Luckily, we ended up finding the sizes we needed at Menards.
They were only available in birch (solid wood but lighter than I wanted), But I thought, hey, okay, I’m flexible.
Insert laughter here if you don’t know me well.
–A side note: if you buy from a big box store, lay them on the ground to ensure they are not warped. We had to return two of ours that were warped when we went to cut them. We learned to pull them off the shelf on the final visit and lay them flat on the floor to check for warpage.
Once installed, I was SOOO excited!
I had the beautiful wood I wanted (YAY), but the birch wood color was off.
The natural light birch color, which I usually like, drove me crazy in the space.
I tried to talk myself into loving them in their natural state, but I just didn’t.
The only solution was staining the butcherblock.
Here’s the (super simple) process I used for staining birch butcher block counters.
This is a step I skipped as we had just bought the countertops, but this is a must if you’re restaining old ones.
Sand the butcher block with 80-grit sandpaper to remove any previous varnishes or stains, then use 150-grit sandpaper to prepare the wood for the conditioner.
I knew I had to prep the countertops before going further, so I conditioned them with butcher block oil (I like this one). Conditioning the countertops helps ensure the stain goes on evenly and doesn’t become blotchy in some spots.
I applied it with inexpensive foam brushes (you could also use a tack cloth)and let it set for 2 hours.
One thing to know about wood conditioners is that some are specifically for oil-based stains, and some are specifically for water-based stains. It’s a good idea to know what stain you plan to use and choose your conditioner accordingly.
My next step was to fill in all the cracks where the countertops have seams.
For this, I used the wood shavings from where we had cut the countertops and added wood glue.
I mixed it in a plastic bag and applied it using my finger, then used the edge of a butter knife to scrape off any excess.
This mixture, once stained, blends into the same color as the top. It works like a charm.
The seams are a little darker but have the same wood tones.
Once the seams are filled and the wood glue has dried, it’s time for the best step – staining the countertops!
If you want to be sure you actually like the stain once it’s on the wood, try staining just the edge of the countertop or practicing on a small piece of leftover wood. Or, you can be like me and stain everything before deciding you don’t like it. (Not recommended!)
I used Monocoat, which greatly simplified this process as I only needed to apply a single coat of stain AND didn’t have to seal the countertops afterward—highly recommended!
However, you can use another oil-based or water-based stain – make sure it’s food-safe.
Paint the stain parallel to the butcher block boards. If you’re working with an oil-based stain, you can paint the entire length and then come back to wipe it off, but if you’re working with a water-based stain, work with a small section at a time.
To get the best finish possible, always check the directions on your can of wood stain, as each brand may have slightly different instructions.
In most cases, you’ll want to apply at least two layers of stain. However, you must leave around 8 hours between coats to ensure the stain dries completely first.
Once you’ve achieved your desired stain color and the last coat has dried for at least 8 hours, it’s time to seal the butcher block. (Or if you used Monocoat, you can skip this step.)
Pure tung oil, like Waterlox, is a popular option as it’s also a food-safe sealer. Apply with a cloth in long strokes along the length of the wood. You’ll need to apply around four layers, letting each coat dry for at least 12 hours.
The final coat needs seven days to absorb into the wood fully, but then it’s time to enjoy your new countertops.
There are a LOT of options out there for butcher block stain. Water-based stains, oil-based stains, and even just straight tung oil (which is usually used to seal butcher block.)
The choice depends on the color you’re hoping to achieve, budget, availability, and how much time you want to spend on this. Water-based stains are generally quicker to apply, but oil-based stains last longer and are more stain-resistant.
The first time I tried to stain the butcher block, I decided to use Dark Tung Oil to darken the wood as I was trying to keep the counter’s food safe.
And I have to admit….they were darker.
But they also pulled a bit orange (which I think is from the birch).
This is after I applied four coats here. I do like how it shows off the wood grain.
It was pretty, but still not what I was looking for.
I went back to researching more options. Just when I was about to give up, I must have typed a new combination into Google, and this AMAZING product popped up: Rubio Monocoat. Now, I am the first to admit it’s not cheap, but it works! And once dried, it’s food-safe! Win, Win!
Well, for one, it’s food-safe once dry, comes in over twenty colors, and only takes ONE COAT! There’s no need to apply 2+ coats of stain and four coats of oil and wait 8-12 hours in between. Just one coat and done! I think that more than makes up for the price.
I ordered two samples, the Black and the Walnut. I mixed the Walnut with just a touch of black added (I tend to mix stains to get the desired results), and here is the final color.
Excuse me for a second, as I am still happy dancing.
I genuinely love the final color!
It’s not unusual for butcher block to lose its shine and begin to look a bit dry or for little nicks to appear.
After six months of use, we are delighted with how they are holding up with the Monocoat.
I have touched them up (I don’t bother to mix the two colors; I just used the Walnut) a time or two for nicks, but mostly use boos mineral oil every few months when they start to look a bit dry. I don’t consider that too hard for regular maintenance.
I put the mineral oil on with a clean rag, let it sit overnight, and wipe off the excess in the am.
It doesn’t feel like a lot of upkeep, but I make sure we always have a cutting board handy.
If you went the more traditional route, you can apply another thin coat of tung oil every four months or so, though you’re supposed to wait 3 to 4 days before using the countertops again.
Still have questions about this DIY improvement project? Here are some common concerns and questions.
This is entirely a personal preference. I’m clearly on the “yes!” side, but if you like the lighter, natural look of butcher block – there’s no need to change it. Plenty of people seal their countertops with mineral oil and keep them natural.
If you’d like to keep yours in their natural state, I have found the Boos Mineral Oil to be my favorite way to keep them looking gorgeous.
I stained mine after installation, but you can also stain the wood beforehand. It’s recommended to do so within 48 hours of removing the plastic wrap to prevent warping.
What stain should I use on butcher block counters?
The most important thing when choosing the best stain for your butcher block is to choose one that’s food-safe! Not all stains are food-safe; if this countertop is going in your kitchen, that should definitely be a primary concern. I like Monocoat wood stain for that reason, but you can find other water-based and oil-based stains that are food-safe. Check with the manufacturer.
It’s highly recommended that you do. Conditioning the wood helps prepare it to absorb the stain and ensures that the stain goes on evenly. If you end up with blotchy spots and have to sand it and start all over, you’ll wish you hadn’t skipped the step!
Can you sand and restain the butcher block?
Yup! That’s one of the great things about butcher block countertops. If you decide in a few years that you no longer like the color, you can sand it off and start again. If you like to change things up frequently and are always redesigning the kitchen, this is a great option!
We loved how these turned out so much that we added them to the recent Airbnb renovation we completed.
I went a tiny bit darker in color on these (a little more black) because the entire space is light and bright, but I love them also!
Both of the butcher block countertops are holding up very well!
Until next time,
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A bonus pic for the cuteness factor!
This post has been updated on 1/10/24.