Finishing the New Butcherblock Countertop

by Josh on December 21, 2011 · 1 comment

in Projects

My plans for the kitchen countertop, sink and backsplash will make a big difference in my low-cost kitchen upgrade project, so I couldn’t wait to get rolling.

I started with the countertop because the unfinished length of cherry butcherblock that I bought needed to be cut and finished prior to installation. Cutting the countertop was simple, if a bit nerve-racking. It just took a pair of straight cuts across the butcherblock at the right lengths, with a notch at the front corners next to the sink. But with a $300 piece of wood, I was a bit nervous about getting the measurements right, so I was sure to measure multiple times and mark accurately before reaching for my saws. Here is the cutting diagram I used to help keep the details straight:

countertop cutting plan

I made the full crosscuts with my guided circular saw, which left the edges straight and smooth. Then I used a jig saw to cut the notches for the sink. Because I only needed to use about 82″ of my 96″  countertop, I was able to adjust the cut locations so that there were no seams along the front edges of either of my final countertop sections. That’s a detail I nearly overlooked but it will make the appearance of the finished countertop that much more professional and refined.

cutting off counter edge seam

countertop cut to size

With my countertops now properly sized, I started the finishing process by thoroughly sanding them. I picked up several packages of sandpaper in medium to fine grits at my local True Value Hardware to use with my electric palm sander, along with tack cloth to clean the surface of dust before applying finish and a couple natural bristle brushes. Although the sander was a little small for a job with this much surface area, patience and frequent sandpaper replacement eventually carried the day. I’m partial to these adhesive sandpaper sheets which stay firmly in place on the sole when in use, and make paper change-outs a snap.

sandpaper adhesive sheets

Even though the countertop was quite smooth straight from the store, a fresh sanding opens the wood surface to evenly receive finish. The finish I picked is a product called Waterlox that I tracked down at a specialty woodworking store after reading about it online. Waterlox is based on tung oil, a traditional penetrating butcherblock finish, but with additional resins to lock out water and build up a durable surface finish. The finish is food-safe when cured, but I won’t be cutting directly on the counters because I want to keep them protected and looking good.

Oil-based finishes can be a pain to work with. They’re smelly and they require clean-up with mineral spirits. I asked the Master of All Things Hardwarian at my local True Value for advice on how to ease my oil-based angst and here’s what she said:

Working with Oil-Based Finish

  • For small, one day jobs, consider using disposable foam or natural bristle brushes to eliminate the hassle of brush cleaning.
  • For multiple coat projects spread over several consecutive days, wrap your used brushes in plastic wrap and store them in the freezer until you resume working the next day.
  • When cleaning brushes of oil-based paint, get a brush cleaning tool and using mineral spirits and as much patience as you can muster, thoroughly comb the finish out of your brush until nothing more can be removed.
  • Avoid storing brushes handles up in a jar of mineral spirits, where gravity will make the bristles bend and spread. Instead, help your brushes retain their shape by storing them in the paper or plastic envelopes they were purchased in or by wrapping them in plastic wrap once they are clean and dry.

Following that advice as best I could, I put half a dozen coats of Waterlox Satin on the countertops, allowing a 24-hour drying time between coats. Unlike a clear polyurethane, the Waterlox significantly darkened the overall color of the wood and enhanced the grain appearance as well. As a result, with the Waterlox alone, the countertop is now a near perfect match for the cherry doors and drawers in my kitchen. (I had color tested the Waterlox and some other stains on small wood scraps to ensure I would get the color right.)

finished butcherblock countertop detail

But to make room for the new countertop, as well as the new sink, I need to remove their current counterparts in my kitchen. Hooray for demolition! In my next post, I’ll share the countertop and sink replacement process in which the beautiful new butcherblock takes its proper place atop my kitchen cabinets.

Disclosure: I was one of the bloggers selected by True Value to work on the DIY Squad. I have been compensated for my time commitment to the program and my DIY project as well as my posts about my experience. I have also been compensated for the materials needed for my DIY project. However, my opinions are entirely my own and I have not been paid to publish positive comments.

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