Kitchen countertops take a beating! When it comes to sealing your butcher block countertops you don’t want to settle for any run-of-the-mill sealer. Trust us – we’ve tried! When it comes to sealing, Tung Oil for butcher block is your best bet!
After two years of heavy use, our countertops finished with 100% Pure Tung Oil from Real Milk Paint Co. still look AMAZING! Here’s what you need to know.
A case for butcher block countertops
Somehow in our decade plus of marriage we’ve owned 4 different homes and done 3 pretty involved kitchen remodels.
Plus, all of them were done on a very tight budget. You can read more about our cost saving tips in our post – How to Create Your Dream Kitchen Remodel on a Budget | 5 DIY Ideas to Save Thousands.
If there’s one thing we’re sold for life on, it’s butcher block countertops. Here’s just a few reasons why:
They’re inexpensive. You can buy standard lengths of raw butcher block from most major hardware stores at very affordable costs as compared to even the most entry level countertops, like laminate.
They’re DIY friendly. You don’t need to be a pro to install them. With just a circular saw and some other basic tools you can easily install your own butcher block countertops.
They’re forgiving. Yes, butcher block is not impenetrable like other countertop options. But with just a light sanding and reapplying your finish they can always look brand new!
They’re natural. When it comes to food prep you want a toxic-free surface. Many countertops are industrially produced from plastic that continually give off toxic fumes. Even stone options often require a toxic sealer or conditioner be applied regularly to the surface. What’s more natural than wood?
They’re beautiful! Butcher block countertops provide a warm and friendly feel in any space. They can be modern, quaint, or rustic. And they just stand out! They’ve been the perfect compliment to our farmhouse kitchen.
But we’ve definitely learned a thing or two about how to finish them.
How NOT to seal your butcher block countertops
After excitedly installing butcher block countertops in our first kitchen remodel we soon realized we overlooked one important detail; how to seal them?
So we hopped over to our local hardware store and checked out the options. We found a bottle of butcher block sealer made with a blend of beeswax and mineral oil. It sounded natural enough so we went with it!
It was easy to apply – looked great – even smelled great. But after a couple months of routine kitchen use we were feeling uneasy about what we got ourselves into.
What, another ring from leaving a water glass out on the counter overnight?
We learned quickly that leaving a drying towel down for any amount of time when doing dishes was just a bad idea.
And I’ll never forget the day I came home after a mishap with some beets and a blender and realized I’d be staring at those purple spots for along time.
The kitchen is not the place to be on pins and needles about making a mess. We sold that house but resolved that should we ever have butcher block countertops again we would do a bit more research.
What is the Best Tung Oil? – Why we chose Real Milk Paint Co.
A year or so later I decided to make Joelle a cutting board out of one of the cutoff butcher block pieces we still had from that kitchen remodel.
And that cutting board would get some daily use and abuse! Time to research a more impenetrable finish option.
Polyurethane? Nope. Yes, it would make them waterproof. But coating natural wood in plastic just didn’t seem right. And refinishing them would be a nightmare. Why even have butcher block then?
There were plenty of oil options out there for a sealer. Each with their own set of pros and cons. But one repeatedly stood out: Tung Oil.
We had previously been introduced to Real Milk Paint Co. through their milk paints. We loved the transparency and commitment to quality, natural products this small business offered. And their 100% Pure Tung Oil finish for butcher block really caught our attention.
So, I ordered up a bottle, sealed the cutting board, and loved the end result. Four years later that same cutting board is still looking beautiful and holding up incredibly well!
Lo and behold, a little over two years ago we bought our foreclosed, 5-acre homestead property that once again needed a complete kitchen overhaul. Did we go with butcher block countertops? You bet!
And this time, sealing them with Tung Oil from Real Milk Paint Co. was a no-brainer!
What is Tung Oil and how is it used?
Tung oil (or Chinawood Oil) is 100% natural and made by crushing the seeds from the nuts of tung trees. It has been used for centuries, often nautically as a dependable waterproofer for boats and ships. More recently the uses of tung oil have expanded to the home. Particularly on surfaces that come in contact with food because of its non-toxic nature.
Tung Oil is thick and needs to be thinned for deep penetration. To thin, it’s commonly paired with a Citrus Solvent. Citrus Solvent is also a natural, food-safe product derived from orange peels. Plus, you can’t beat the aroma it leaves! Mineral spirits is another option to thin Tung Oil with, but is less natural being derived from petroleum.
Mixing Tung Oil and Citrus Solvent at a 1:1 ratio allows for a deep and penetrating finish on your wood. Real Milk Paint Co. sells a pre-mixed blend called Half & Half, which is a 50/50 blend of Tung Oil and Citrus Solvent.
The seal Tung Oil provides is hard and waterproof, yet flexible and easily allows for refinishing. Tung oil gives a clear, matte finish to wood that does not yellow wood to the extreme of other oil finishes like linseed oil.
Real Milk Paint Co. also offers a Dark Tung Oil that provides a beautiful and rich dark wood color. Many stains contain toxic ingredients, but the natural resin used to stain wood in Dark Tung Oil holds true to the companies commitment of a truly natural product. You can also purchase Dark Half, which is the dark version of their 50/50 Half & Half blend. This is what we used for our countertops!
Benefits of 100% Pure Tung Oil for butcher block
Real Milk Paint Co. guarantees their Tung Oil to be 100% pure. No additives, preservatives, or petroleum derived ingredients. There are only two things; oil from the tung tree and citrus solvent from orange peels. It doesn’t get more simple than that! And this matters when it comes to the surfaces your food will come in contact with.
There are few, if any marks on our countertops from liquids after a couple years of heavy use. Water literally pools on top like it would on granite. We do try to be conscious and wipe up wet spots when we see them. But we don’t have to live in constant fear that one slip up or forgotten water glass will produce an everlasting ring. And we even have our butcher block around our sink!
Easy To Apply
Seriously, you don’t have to be any sort of woodworker pro to produce a stunning end result! The application process is as simple and forgiving as it comes. You can really WOW your guests when you let them know you finished your own countertops!
Tung Oil has zero VOC’s (volatile organic compounds) and is safe to contact skin during and after application. Just like in the food industry, you have to do your homework and read labels these days as to what’s inside building materials and products. As a former construction manager, one of my main reasons for leaving the industry was how cheap and toxic many standard materials have become. Stains and sealers are often atop of that list.
Tung Oil does an amazing job at preserving the natural beauty within wood. Many oil sealers continue to darken or yellow wood over time. Tung Oil only provides a slight coloration that holds true over time. And the Dark Tung Oil applies evenly and leaves deep, stunning wood tones.
Disadvantages of Tung Oil for butcher block
Every oil will have its disadvantages. Our experience with Tung Oil has been so positive though that it seems like a bit of stretch to come up with any cons. However, here’s a couple things to consider.
Tung Oil can take up to 30 days to fully cure. This can easily be remedied with setting up temporary kitchen prep surfaces for a time while curing. Honestly though, we started using our countertops pretty quickly after we first finished them and they still help up shockingly well. The curing time is a minor disadvantage but it’s worth mentioning so you can plan for lighter use during that period.
When going with butcher block, regardless of sealer selection, maintenance comes with the territory. Tung Oil is no different. The “set it and forget it” option doesn’t exist. All butcher block sealers need to be reapplied occasionally. The good news is that reapplying Tung Oil to keep them looking new is really simple, which we’ll talk more about.
How to finish butcher block countertops and cutting boards with Tung Oil
I will always recommend you check out the manufactures recommendations when it comes to application. Real Milk Paint Co. has a helpful butcher block tutorial post.
But here are the simple steps we followed when applying Tung Oil to our butcher block countertops:
Step 1: Prep Surfaces
Assuming you are starting with raw butcher block, provide a light sanding first to remove any bumps or imperfections. Start with a 80-100 grit sandpaper for larger flaws, then finish with 120-150 grit sandpaper. It’s important to not finish finer than 150 grit as the oils will not be able to penetrate as deeply. Wiping the surface with a moist rag will raise the grain allowing for a smoother finish when sanding. Wipe away any dust or debris when satisfied with the surface.
Step 2: Mix
Unless you’ve bought the half Tung Oil, half Citrus Solvent mixture you’ll want to mix them to a 1:1 ratio. We typically just used something that can be disposed of after like an old yogurt or ice cream container. And if using Dark Tung Oil or Dark Half, don’t forget to thoroughly stir the oil before pouring so the pigment applies consistently.
Step 3: Apply
You’ll want your first coat of Tung Oil to be heavy. Raw wood soaks up oils rapidly. Pour the oil directly onto surface and work it into the wood grains with a rag, sponge, or brush. We usually used an old t-shirt or sock. Continue to apply coats allowing at least 30 minutes for absorptions between each coat. Be sure to apply coats of Tung Oil around the edges of the countertop along with at least 2 thick coats on the bottom side for an even finish and protection. Once wood appears fully saturated and to no longer be absorbing oil, move on to the next step.
Step 4: Wipe Away
Let the final layer of Tung Oil sit for at least 30 minutes, then wipe any excess away with a fresh, clean rag. Wipe smoothly with the grain to leave a uniform finish.
Step 5: Cure
Tung Oil will take 15-30 days to fully cure. Use your countertop surfaces minimally during this period. Especially for the first 10 days following application. Some residual oil may continue to rise to the surface and can be wiped away. I’ll be honest that we didn’t follow the curing procedure to a T, but still have been very happy with the look and longevity of our countertops!
Refinishing butcher block countertops with Tung Oil
The beauty of butcher block is that they can always be new again! A quick refinish (and sanding if necessary) and any flaws can instantly vanish.
But when do you refinish them? That’s really up to you and how much wear and tear you’re ok with. You might have something more catastrophic happen – a gouge or gash, spill or stain. Or you might just have minor scuffs and marks that add up over time.
We didn’t refinish ours until after two years of heavy use. Really they still looked great, but we were happy to lightly sand out any minor imperfections, reapply some fresh Tung Oil, and be setup again for at least a couple more years.
So you’ll need to decide when is the right time to refinish your countertops. It might be every 6 months. It might be every 6 years! But whatever you decide, the steps are simple and vey similar to the original finish process.
First I went through and gave a light sanding with 100-150 grit sandpaper to any spots, ridges, scratches, or other flaws I found. Then wipe the surfaces clean with a moist rag.
This time, mix at a 2:1 ratio of Citrus Solvent to Tung Oil then apply the same as above. This thinner ratio of Tung Oil allows for deeper penetration. I found another 2 or 3 coats did the trick.
Wipe away any excess and allow some time for curing before use.
What other uses does Tung Oil have?
Beyond countertops and cutting boards, we’ve found Tung Oil to be an incredibly helpful product to keep extra of around the house.
We used the same Dark Half from our butcher blocks to finish the trim we installed throughout our home.
I’ve even used it reseal wood handled garden tools like hoes and rakes.
And while we didn’t use it for this, a common application is to use Tung Oil for wood floors. Non-toxic finish options for flooring are difficult to come by. We researched the gamete when checking out options for our white oak floors we installed. We ended up choosing to soap finish them, but Tung Oil was a close second, and still may be the finish we switch to in the future.
Indoor to outdoors use. Furniture making to spoon carving. Cutting boards to trim. Even concrete countertops! Tung Oil truly has a broad range of applications.
Where to buy Tung Oil?
We’ve had a really positive experience ordering directly through the Real Milk Paint Co. website.
And if you use the promo code – FROMSCRATCH – you can get an additional 10% off your order!
Other brands of Tung Oil exist, but Real Milk Paint Co. is the only brand we trust for 100% Pure Tung Oil without any added junk. We have promoted products from them for years and are happy to do so now as an affiliate earning a small commission from sales at no extra cost to you.
It’s worth also checking the Store Locator on the Real Milk Paint Co. website for retail locations! We were pleased to find that a local woodworking store in our area carries their products.