Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Butcher Block Care and Maintenance

Butcher Block was originally developed to provide a stable cutting surface for professional butchers. It can also be a useful and warm addition to a kitchen. The natural variation in color and grain in the wood (usually maple) add great character, and what kitchen couldn't do with a bit more counter space?

Now, I am of the mind that butcher block should be used as a true cutting surface. While I appreciate the look, I think its a bit of a waste to have an island or counters with finished butcher block that cannot be used as a cutting surface. But then, I am the kind of person who actually cooks in my kitchen.

That being said, true butcher block takes a bit of care. Nothing too difficult or demanding, but there are some basic rules that should be followed. With a minimal amount of care and attention, Hard Maple Butcher Block can have an exceptionally long life. I have a small portion of my kitchen counter that has edge grain butcher block original to the house - which would put its age at about 65 years. It is need of a good refinishing, but has held up remarkably well. In discussing this post this afternoon around the office, I've heard stories of people still using butcher block that is 100+ years old.

As for sanitary? There are numerous studies that have since proved wood to be more sanitary than plastic. Documentation of one such study can be found here: University of Wisconsin-Madison Wood vs. Plastic.

The rules:
  1. DO NOT wash butcher block with harsh detergents.
  2. DO NOT place butcher block near excessive heat without proper insulation between the heat source and the edge of the counter top.
  3. DO NOT cut, drill, or otherwise deface the tops without refinishing the exposed unfinished wood.
To clean your Butcher Block:
  1. Brush or scrape all loose particles from the surface.
  2. Wash surface with warm mild soapy water.
  3. Rinse surface with warm clear water.
  4. Dry all surfaces thoroughly.
Periodically, depending on usage and humidity levels in your home, you will want to apply a heavy coat of food-grade mineral oil. You can get food-grade mineral oil at many kitchen supply stores (usually near their cutting boards and wood salad bowls). You DO NOT want to use any sort of vegetable, canola, or olive oil. Flood the surface of the top with the mineral oil, and give it a few hours to soak in. You want the wood to absorb as much mineral oil as possible. Wipe away the excess, and let it cure overnight.

If you are the crafty DIY type and have a source for this sort of thing, in my opinion, the absolute best way to finish butcher block? A beeswax rub. Since my kids suffer from seasonal allergies, I have a couple great sources (shout out to Hummer and Sons!) for local honey, and hence local natural beeswax. Check around, and I'm sure you'll find the same in your area.

Oddly enough, add a little peppermint oil to this recipe, and you've got a fabulous lip balm...
  1. Melt 0.5lbs of natural beeswax slowly, either on your stovetop or in a slow cooker.
  2. Once melted, stir in 2-1/2 cups of food-grade mineral oil.
  3. If your beeswax is as natural as mine, run the mixture through a seive into the bowl of your stand mixer to remove the bee particles.
  4. Blend on medium speed with the whisk attachment as it cools. This whips some air into it - you're looking for a peanut butter consistency. It will thicken as it cools.
  5. Once cool to the touch, scoop the rub into an airtight container.
  6. To use on your butcher block, apply the rub like you would car wax - just rub it into the surface. It won't take much.
  7. Let cure overnight.
  8. Buff the butcher block the next day.
This process ensures a lustrous water-proof finish (and soft lips!).

Now that you know how to care for your Butcher Block, why don't you head over and check out our Kitchen Islands? Each island features a domestically produced Hard Maple Edge Grain Butcher Block top.

*I'm not sure if using the beeswax rub is a great idea for those of you who may be allergic to bees and/or honey? Best to stick with the mineral oil if you are unsure!

1 comment:

  1. You shouldn't cut on butcher block countertops with this finish because cutting will remove the protection, leaving the wood exposed to water and other household liquids. It is extremely difficult to fix cuts in this finish so that you won't notice them.

    However, if you're not cutting on this finish, the advantage is that it is virtually carefree. It's waterproof, so you can have a sink cut out in it. And you can spill grape juice of red wine on it, wipe it away, and not have a stain.
    butcher block