Staining butcher block counters can change the look of your kitchen and bring older wood back to life. Before staining, it’s essential to choose a food-safe product and a compatible sealer.
Types of Butcher Block Stain
There are three types of butcher block stain: water-based, oil-based, and one-step oil+stain combos. Be mindful of the product you pick, as you’ll need to find a wood conditioner and sealer with the same base. For example, if you use a water-based stain, you need a water-based wood conditioner and sealer.
- Water-based butcher block stain – fast drying, simple application, and easy-to-find food-grade products.
- Oil-based stain – penetrates wood deeper than water-based stains, and it’s easier to find compatible wood conditioners, but these stains aren’t always food-surface safe.
- Oil + Stain combo – stain and seal your butcher block in one step and are food-grade when dry.
No matter the stain you choose, ensure the product is food surface safe if you’ll be placing food directly on your counters.
How to Prep Butcher Block Counters for Stain
The following tutorial will walk you through how to prep your butcher block for stain. Follow these steps regardless of the product you’re using unless otherwise specified.
Step 1: Sand the Counters
For brand-new, unfinished counters, use 120-grit sandpaper to correct any unevenness.
If your counters have a previous finish, use coarse 80-grit sandpaper to remove it and then switch to 120-grit sandpaper.
After sanding with 120-grit sandpaper or a sanding sponge, give the counters a coat with 150-grit sandpaper.
Always sand in the direction of the wood strips.
If you need to fix divots or cracks in your counters (more likely for older butcher block), collect all the dust from sanding with 120-grit paper and move to the next step.
Step 2: Fill in Holes or Cracks (Optional)
If your counters are older and have holes and cracks where food collects, fill the divots with food-safe wood glue and sanding dust. Use your dust from the previous step and mix it with the glue until a thick paste forms.
Press the paste into holes and cracks, then use a scraper to level the glue with the countertop.
After the paste dries, sand the counter again with 120-grit sandpaper followed by 150-grit, then wipe clean.
Step 3: Smooth with 220-Grit
Give your counters a final sanding with 220-grit sandpaper to leave a smooth finish.
Step 4: Clean Off the Sanding Dust
Remove all sanding dust with your Shop Vac or a tack cloth. Then wipe the counters with a cloth dampened in water to remove all traces of dust. Allow the counter to dry.
How to Stain Your Butcher Block Counters with Water or Oil-Based Stains
After prepping your counters by following the steps above, choose your stain product and a coordinating wood conditioner and sealer.
Step 1: Apply Wood Conditioner to Your Counters
Apply wood conditioner to your counters with a soft cloth or brush, depending on the package instructions. Allow the conditioner to dry for at least two hours, then sand it over with 220-grit sandpaper.
Clean off all sanding dust.
Note: Remember that your wood conditioner must share the same base as your stain.
Step 2: Apply Your First Coat of Stain
Follow the directions on the stain package to add your first layer. In most instances, you’ll use a natural bristled brush to evenly coat the counter, going in the direction of the wood strips. Cover the edges and underneath the counter for a uniform look.
Allow the stain to dry for 6-8 hours or the specified time on the can.
Step 3: Add a Second Coat
Once the first coat is dry, follow the same steps to add a second coat. Be mindful of pooling and dripping.
Allow the second stain to dry for at least eight hours. If you aren’t satisfied with the color of the counters, add a third coat once the second coat is dry.
Step 4: Seal the Counters
For the final step, you’ll need to seal your counters. The sealer you use must be compatible with the stain type. Remember to use a food-safe sealer if you’ll be doing any kind of food prep on your counters.
- You can use most Waterlox products, which are a tung-oil and resin sealer, over top of water and oil-based stain.
- Polycrylic works over water-based stains.
- Polyurethane works over oil-based stains.
Also, check the stain product you’re using. The brand may have a companion sealer for your butcher block counters.
How to Stain Butcher Block with a Food Safe Oil + Stain Combo
For those wanting an easier staining method, an oil + stain combo is your best bet. Consider a product like Watco Butcher Block Stain from Rustoleum. It’s non-toxic, food safe when completely dry, and eliminates the need for a separate sealer.
Step 1: Prep the Countertops
Before applying a food-safe oil + stain product, your counter must be in a raw-wood state. Use the prep steps above to sand your counters.
Step 2: Apply the First Coat with a Soft Cloth
Use a soft cloth to apply an even coat of stain, following the direction of the wood strips. Don’t forget the edges and underneath the counter. Wait at least six hours for the stain to dry.
Step 3: Sand with 400 Grit Sandpaper
In between coats, sand the counter with 400 grit sandpaper and wipe the sanding dust away with a soft, lint-free cloth.
Step 4: Apply a Second Coat
Use a soft cloth to apply a second coat of the product. Wait at least six hours, then inspect. If you’re satisfied with the finish, you can stop here. If you want a richer color, add another coat.
Step 5: After 72 Hours, Wash and Use
Wait 72 hours after your final coat. Then handwash your counters with gentle soap and water before using.