How to Seal Your Butcher Block

  • Active Time Needed: 3 hours
  • Total Time Needed (Allowing for Drying): 3 days for drying +30 days of cure time
  • Cost: $50 if you already own a sander; $100 if you need to buy a random orbit sander
  • Help Needed?: Nope. You can do this project solo.
  • Difficulty: Beginner (you’ll use a sander and be able to hold a paint brush)

Today on A Girl’s Guide to Home DIY we’re sharing how to seal butcher block countertops. Butcher block is a great product for counter tops. It can be used with a wide variety of styles, and adds a farmhouse feel to any kitchen space. However, if butcher block isn’t properly sealed, you can have scratches and staining from everyday use.

Luckily, sealing butcher block is a super easy home improvement project that any beginner DIYer can do! In this post, I’ll detail the supplies you need, the timeline, and provide you with a step-by-step guide on how to seal your butcher block countertops.

Tip: This post talks about sealing butcher block countertops, but you can use these steps for sealing any wood furniture or railings!

Disclosure: The links in this post are affiliate links, meaning, at no cost to you, I earn a small commission if you click the link and purchase the item. The links are products I’ve used and loved in the past (or something very similar). 

Supplies Needed

Ryobi orbital sander

The only power tool you need for this project is an orbital sander. You can get away without it, if you want to sand your butcher block by hand. But, that’s a lot of hard work you can avoid by buying a $45 tool you’ll probably use for other projects in the future.

Another note on supplies: make sure you get a sealer that is food-safe. Many wood sealers are not recommended for surfaces you may put food on, as they can leach chemicals into the food. After a lot of research, I decided on Waterlox Original Sealer Finish. It’s food-safe and waterproof, so it’s the perfect sealer for butcher block.

Ok, that’s all my notes. Here’s everything you’ll need:

Tips Before You Start

butcher block counter sanded down

Timeline

Planning out a timeline is important for this project. You can do the first few steps and first coat in an afternoon. However, the sealer requires at least 24 hours to dry between coats. I think 3 coats is the ideal for butcher block and most woods, as it’s a porous surface. I found after the first and second coat that there were still gaps in sealer coverage on the butcher block. So, plan on taking time over 3 days to place the sealer on.

If you’re like me and forget to put the third coat on for a week, that’s ok too! Just don’t put the coats on too close together, or they won’t dry. If they don’t dry, the sealer will be tacky (not ideal for kitchen surfaces) and you likely won’t get a waterproof finish.

The other important thing to consider is curing cime. Wood stains have a drying time (aka amount of time between coats), and a curing time.

“Cured”?

Curing refers to the amount of time the sealer takes to change the top layer of the surface of the butcher block to make it waterproof and stain resistant. For oil based sealers, this takes a full 30 days. You can touch your butcher block surface after 24 hours, or when it’s no longer tacky. You can use it lightly after a week–say put your grocery bags down on them when coming into the house. But, wait the full 30 days to place food or beverage directly on the surface or place anything that might leave a mark. For example, our Alexa lives on our butcher block breakfast bar, and we didn’t want that to leave an imprint on the surface. So, it lived elsewhere for a month. I know that sounds like a lot, but it really isn’t that bad. We did just fine with it.

Ventilation

Sealers tend to have terrible odor and contain VOCs (volatile organic compounds). VOCs are found in many cleaning products, paints, sealers, stains, and other household products. Longterm exposure can lead to illness. You can try to find a sealer that is food safe and advertised as low VOC. But, I would still practice all these safe ventilation habits because low VOC products still contain plenty of other chemicals that can be harmful to your health.

So, when you use products that contain VOCs, make sure you ventilate the space well. We used a fan in the room, ran the house fan on the central AC 24/7 until a few days after the project was completed, and we kept the windows and doors open while I was using the sealer.

Just as important as ventilating the space is PPE (personal protective equipment). Wear an N95, disposable gloves, and protective eye glasses whenever dealing with the sealer.

Ok, now after all that scary talk about VOCs–let’s dive into the actual project of how to seal your butcher block 🙂

Step 1: Clean Your Butcher Block

Before you do anything else, make sure you clean your butcher block with a good degreaser if you’ve used it for food in the past. It’s a whole lot easier to sand your butcher block if you’re not also sanding dirt and grease off. I use Spray Nine degreaser specifically for kitchen projects because it gets grease off wood nicely.

Step 2: Sand Your Butcher Block

After cleaning, the next step in how to seal your butcher block is to sand you butcher block. If you’re worried about the dust you’ll create with sanding, you should be lol. Sanding is super messy. The Ryobi Orbit Sander has a dust bag, so it will collect a good chunk of the sawdust you create, but no sander will collect all of it.

If you can move your butcher block outside, great! If you can’t because it’s glued to the counters, that’s ok. Make sure you remove as many of your knick knacks and kitchen utensils (and hot sauces if you’re like my husband) as possible. You can put up plastic sheeting to keep as much of the dust out of other rooms as you can. But, you should accept you’ll have dust around your kitchen that you’ll be finding for a few weeks.

saw dust all over the floor
Hi saw dust. So good of you to come.

Once you have your space prepped, let’s get to sanding! Put your N95 and protective eye covers on to protect yourself from the sawdust. Then, sand away an even layer of the butcher block on all the sides you plan on sealing using the 120 grit sand paper. For my breakfast bar, it was all sides. If you’re doing a counter top, you’ll just need to do the tops and the sides. If there’s a previous stain or sealer on the butcher block, make sure the old stain/sealer is completely sanded off before moving on to applying the sealer.

ryobi orbit sander
Love my Ryobi Random Orbit Sander

If you haven’t used an orbital sander before, here’s a few tips:

  • Move the sander very slowly across the workspace. If you move it too fast, it can miss some areas.
  • Hold the sander gently. Don’t apply too much pressure to the surface, as you can cause dings from the sander and uneven removal of the surface.
  • Overlap the area you’re sanding. Make sure to go over the same area more than once to make sure you get an even removal over the surface.

Once you’ve sanded the butcher block with the 120 grit sandpaper, wipe it down with your tack cloth.

Then sand it again using the very fine 320 grit sandpaper.

Why sand twice?

We’re sanding twice with two different size sandpapers. The lower the grit number, the coarser the sandpaper is. That means it will take off more wood when sanding and leave a rougher surface. I used 120 grit for a first run to get rid of any water stains that made their way into my butcher block.

I finished with a higher number (320 grit or very fine) to smooth the surface and ready the butcher block for the sealant. There are much higher numbers if you need to sand something more delicate, but 320 worked just fine for the butcher block countertop.

using tack cloth to wipe down the counter
Tack cloth is the best!

Once you’ve sanded your butcher block, use your tack cloth to wipe down the surface. You should use at least a few pieces and go over the surface several times to get all the sawdust off your surface. That way, you don’t have a bumpy finish to your butcher block.

Step 3: Apply First Coat of Sealer

Keep your mask and glasses on, and add your disposable gloves to get your sealer on! Pour your sealer into a plastic cup, or whatever container you want to use to hold the sealer while applying it (I strongly recommend something you can throw away–plastic cup, Gladware, etc). Turn on your fan and open your doors and windows. Then take your paint brush, dip it in the sealer, and brush it on the butcher block.

butcher block sanded and ready for sealant
Freshly sanded and ready for sealer!

Applying sealer is much like painting. You want to apply a relatively even coat throughout, and make sure you don’t miss any spots.

If you don’t feel like you’re getting a ton of sealer on your brush to apply, you can VERY CAREFULLY pour a SMALL amount of sealer from your cup to the butcher block. Then use your brush to evenly spread it around. Once you’ve coated the whole butcher block, clean up for the day. Clean your brush, take off your PPE, throw away your disposable cup.

Keep the ventilation going throughout the whole project.

Step 4: Apply Second Coat of Sealer

One coat down, 2 to go (well, part way through the 2nd here)

At least 24 hours after the first coat, you can apply the second coat of sealer. Wipe your butcher block with tack cloth to make sure to remove any dust to debris that may have fallen on it over the last 24 hours. Follow the same steps as above, taking care to be sure to cover any areas that seemed to dry without any sealer.

Step 5: Apply Third Coat of Sealer

Same as Steps 3 and 4 in How to Seal Your Butcher Block–apply your third coat of sealer.

That’s It!

completed butcher block breakfast bar

After another 24 hours of drying, your butcher block is officially sealed! Give it a week before you use it lightly, but avoid placing items on your butcher block for long periods or testing its waterproof capabilities until the sealer is officially cured in 30 days. And, now you can share with your friends and family how to seal their butcher block!

I installed the hardware on our breakfast bar after a week, since I didn’t care of there were imprints left from the brackets on the underside of the butcher block, but I left our Alexa off the countertop for a month so it didn’t leave an imprint.

Need Other Updates for Your Breakfast Bar?

I sealed our butcher block countertop as part of updating our breakfast bar. Need other easy projects to update your own? Check out our posts on How to Install Shiplap and Updating Your Breakfast Bar for other great tips for transforming your breakfast bar.

4 Comments

  1. That butcher block turn out beautiful. Nice job

  2. Thanks for all the advice! Your butcher block was a beautiful way to help transform your space; it adds so much character!

    1. Thank you! I agree—it definitely helped make the breakfast bar a distinct part of our living space

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