Q&A OF THE WEEK: “How Do I Finish a Wooden Countertop”

Q: How should I finish a 3 foot wide x 10 foot long lodgepole pine countertop I’m making for a kitchen and bar? I want the wood to be protected from spills.

A: The challenge with every wooden countertop is creating a finish that’s both durable and repairable. Polyurethane provides great protection, but when it starts to get cut marks and areas of wear, there’s nothing much you can do except strip back to bare wood and start from scratch. You can’t repair urethane finish so it looks good again, so that’s a hassle you definitely want to avoid. But things can be different for you if you follow the procedure used to finished the kitchen island you see below.

wood countertop
The hardwood top of this kitchen island is finished in a durable, protective yet repairable way. This kind of situation is different than most wood finishing challenges so it takes a specialized product.

The best finishing option I’ve used for countertops is something called Watco Butcher Block Oil & Finish. Don’t be fooled by the term “oil” because this stuff does form a protective surface film, something like varnish but thinner. It’s not oily in the usual sense, but it is easy to work with and non-toxic. When it comes time to rejuvenate the finish, simply rub the countertop down by hand parallel with the grain using 180-grit sandpaper to remove anything loose and roughen the surface, wipe or vacuum the surface clean, then recoat. I’ve used this product in several situations and it works and lasts quite well. Depending on the level of wear involved, you’ll have to re-apply more Butcher Block Oil every year or two. That’s the stuff I’ve been using below.

Butcher block surfaces have unique finishing needs, and this product is one of a very few made especially for the job. Although it’s called an oil, it forms a hard protective film.

Click below for a video lesson on sanding wood properly before finishing. This is especially important with something as visible as a countertop.