How to Stain and Seal Butcher Block Countertops

November 18, 2021

If I had a dollar for every question I’ve gotten about my butcher block countertops… I could probably buy marble instead. Just kidding–I do love my butcher block. It adds warmth and character in all the best ways, and despite what you might have heard, the maintenance is a breeze! When we first renovated our kitchen, I spent countless hours researching how to best finish and maintain butcher block. After lots of trial and error, I’ve come to the conclusion that there is no right or wrong way. You just have to find what works best for your lifestyle, your home, and your budget.

When we renovated our kitchen we were working with a pretty slim budget, so I chose American Maple Butcher Block from Floor and Decor because it was both budget-friendly and good quality. Once that was decided, I had to choose my finish.

Oil vs. Polyurethane

After a deep-dive into Google, Pinterest and every other resource under the sun, I concluded the two most popular ways to finish butcher block were oiling and sealing. I’ll save you some time and cut straight to the chase.

Oil is a great way to protect your counters and keep them looking fresh. However, it leaves your wood exposed. If you cut into your counter, there’s a cut in the wood. If there’s sitting water around your sink for a while, it can rot. In other words–it’s still wood. You will have to continuously reapply the oil to prevent the wood from drying and cracking, but spreading oil on a surface isn’t exactly hard labor. This is a great option if you aren’t interested in staining your counters, or if you don’t mind them aging over time. I think the aged look is beautiful, but it would have felt out of place in my 90’s builder-grade home. For this reason, I chose to seal my counters with polyurethane.

Polyurethane is a popular furniture varnish, and oil-based poly is completely waterproof. Finishing butcher block with polyurethane essentially coats it in a layer of plastic. It can stand up to some heat, but isn’t meant for hot pots to rest on. It’s completely waterproof, but it can chip if you’re being too hard on it. If you do manage to chip or damage your counters, it might be worth sanding them down and resealing them in the future. It’s been almost two years since I renovated my kitchen, and I’ve refinished the island once due to heavy wear. It was a pretty simple process, you just have to be aware that there will be strong fumes.



How To Finish Butcher Block with Polyurethane

Okay I’m going to write out these steps and you’re literally going to wonder why I bothered writing a blog post about this because it’s SO simple.

  • Sand the countertops smooth and wipe clean (I worked my way up from 80 grit to 220)
  • Apply your desired stain according to the directions on the can. I applied three coats of Varathane “Dark Walnut.”
  • Once the stain is dry, soak a clean brush in mineral spirits for 5-10 minutes
  • Use your brush (with mineral spirits) to apply polyurethane in long, even coats in the direction of the wood grain
  • Once the first coat is fully dry, lightly sand it smooth with 220 grit sandpaper
  • Apply 1-2 more coats until you’re satisfied with the finish and your countertops are protected
  • After 24-48 hours your countertops are waterproof and ready to use!

So basically you sand, stain, and seal. In my experience, soaking your brush in mineral spirits before applying the poly makes a HUGE difference in the smoothness of the finish. I don’t know the chemistry behind it, but it works.


Here’s a look at the countertops both raw and with one coat of stain on. The stain makes SUCH a difference in the warmth.

All-in, the butcher block cost us about $700 so it was a great budget-friendly option! It really doesn’t get much cheaper than that. Aside from the countertops, we made quite a few other budget-friendly updates to the kitchen. Here’s a satisfying before and after for you–


Wood Stain

Maple Countertops

Polyurethane

Sink

Faucet

Disclaimer: this post may contain affiliate links, meaning I get a commission if you decide to make a purchase through my links, at no cost to you.

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