How to stain butcher block

June 13, 2012

How to stain and protect wood butcher block countertops. 

I finally finished up a little DIY project for the dining room turned library and it looks gooooood.

As you know if you’ve been around for a while, I’m using butcher block as a base for the bookcases:

I LOOOVE the look of butcher block and I’m planning on using it in a couple of places in the basement soon. We already have it on our kitchen island:

IKEA butcher block kitchen island

And it’s been surprisingly low maintenance. I love the warmth it brings to our kitchen.

Thankfully all of the butcher we’ve used is pretty inexpensive from IKEA. For both the kitchen island and the bookcases I’ve used the Numerar oak butcher block. Even the largest size they sell is well under $200 and considering the quote I got for our kitchen island years ago, that is fantastic.

I had one piece cut down the middle for the dining room and it was a perfect fit. It sat unfinished for months and it was high time to get that fixed. I left the kitchen island natural with just some Tung oil to protect it, but I wanted this one to be dark like our hardwood floors.

I set up the sawhorses in the garage and pulled out the sander:

I used a 220 grit sandpaper and it was perfect for this project – it only took a couple minutes to get the little bit of finish off.

It is easy to see where it’s not knocked down enough:

sanding butcher block

You just go over those spots till they are more of a matte finish.

Before I stained I made sure to get all of the sawdust off the block – a tack cloth is good for that but I cannot stand how they feel (kinda sticky) so I just use wet paper towels. Much better. :)

Our floors are a finish called Jacobean but I couldn’t find that, so I just went with walnut, which is very close.

I always use a foam brush to apply my stain – I find it gives great coverage and I barely have to use any stain with it. You want to make sure to leave a “wet edge” when staining, don’t let one section dry as you are applying or you’ll see where you started and stopped:

staining butcher block

It barely takes any time at all to stain – it really is super easy!

You can leave it to sit on the surface for a bit to let it really sink in – the longer you leave it (up to about ten minutes), the darker it will be.

Usually I’m pleased with it right away, so I rarely let it sit. I wiped it down immediately with a clean rag:

staining butcher block

You need to do this or it will NEVER dry. :)

Isn’t it just gorgeous?? OH my gah, I just love how it shows off all the details of the wood:

how to stain butcher block

This has me SO tempted to stain our kitchen island top as well. It’s just so rich and beautiful!

I finished it off with one coat of polyurethane to protect it and give it a nice finish. I used this clear satin that I used on my vintage rolling crate a couple weeks ago:

Unfortunately I don’t have a great after of the installed butcher block – I thought I had taken a pic, but I guess Dad and I moved too fast on the bookshelves and I didn’t get one.

You can see it installed in this photo:

Those are the start of the bookshelves, which I’ll show you soon! I still have SO much to do on them, but the progress is hampered a bit this week by this:yikes

I tell you what, I move from one mess to another, really. But I welcome this one – the pink(ish) walls that have been in our foyer, living room, hallway, staircase and loft for eight years are FINALLY getting painted. I. AM. THRILLED. I welcome the mess – at least for a few days. After that you’ll find me in the corner. :)

More on that project soon – but by next week I’m hoping the dust will settle around here and I can turn into my normal summer slug. :) For real.

Have you used butcher block in your home? If they are protected well I’ve seen them used successfully around kitchen sinks – I still don’t know if I would have it for every surface in my kitchen, but I do love it as an accent.

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  1. Hi Sarah, we just had them put in our kitchen in February and I am loving them! We even had them put around the sink, the Ikea farm sink. I don't have any complaints, but I also don't have young kids around any longer so no juice stains. I have a chunk left over that I want to stain (we didn't stain our kitchen ones) to put on top of a small side table in the den. Your library is look great!!!

  2. The butcher block looks great, Sarah! But then I pretty much love everything you do around your house. We have friends who bought the same block from Ikea and it was a big seller in their kitchen when they had to sell their house.

    I have one question that always sticks in my mind after reading your posts though. How on earth do you do all of this DIY without constant back aches? I feel like I'm pretty persistent when I want to get something done, but I'll admit it, my body aches, post project, do tend to keep me from jumping right into the next thing.

    Can't wait to see your painting and library results!

  3. Love how the library is chugging along. I want to copy you for my husband's office but he won't let me play in there. Hrmph! :P

    I'm so in love with the butcher block countertops. They're probably the least expensive option I've seen out there. We're not remotely close to redoing the kitchen, but you can bet I will be buying myself some butcher block when it comes time! :)

  4. I love the paint color! Will you be sharing what it is?

  5. I love the look of butcher block but I worry about water. Cuz the midgets that demand feeding every few hours have been known to leave puddles of water on the counter and I'm afraid we'd have issues. Well, I already have issues but is it fair to make your counters suffer? I'll have to mull this one over.

  6. We have a butcher block kitchen table with chairs. I do love it, however it's over 15 years old and could really use to be refinished. There are so many stains on it and some parts are worn down past the poly finish. Any tips? Just sand and re-coat?

  7. Really love this look! I also use a foam brush to stain (and most other things!). Thanks for sharing!

  8. Loving it more and more with each reveal. Thinking of how I might make a "built in" console table/half wall behind the couch to separate out the living and dining rooms and give us more storage. This is giving me lots of inspiration!


  9. I have wanted an island butcher block for years, unfortunately our apartment wont accommodate one. Though with the new alterations to the kitchen and terrace we are putting in a breakfast bar and I can now see a butcher block in our kitchen. We have a new Ikea in our part of Europe so I am off to check them out. Hopefully they stock them here. Thanks for the idea and inspiration.

  10. That is just beautiful!

  11. We have butcher block on the islands and one countertop in the kitchen. They are gorgeous, but water does leave marks. We treat them every few months with mineral oil and they look fantastic. As long as we wipe off water regularly, they don't need sanding or refinishing. We're happy with the look.

  12. I posted this here back at an earlier "Show us Your House" day. It has some good shots of my butcher block:

    I used those same Ikea butcher block counters. I absolutely love them. For the price ($200-300) you really can't beat them (especially considering how crazy expensive granite is - frankly I'd rather save my money buy BB counters instead granite, and use the leftover to buy an awesome Viking Range or something like that (you know, in a perfect world). And upkeep is a breeze. Just sand and re-stain/treat.

    I found that with staining, after applying and drying the first coat do a light buffing with fine grit steel wool. It helps knock down any little roughness before adding the Poly.

  13. The butcher block looks great, love the dark stain. I sure hope I get to meet you at Haven! Have I said that before? Well, it's still true! :)

  14. I love the butcher block. It looks fantastic and is so warm.


  15. Love this! Any special way to clean these? Especially in your kitchen? I love the look but have always wondered about keeping them sanitary in the kitchen?!?

    ~ Jillian

  16. That stain is lovely! I like the dark wood. It looks really nice on the cabinet top! Good luck with that party hosting gig. ;)

  17. Sarah, it's such fun to see what's going on in your house! This dining room-turned-useful-room transformation has been really cool to follow. I know you are going to love all those cabinets and shelves. And congratulations on getting the painting done!

    Progress makes a mess while it's happening, doesn't it? But it will be so very much worth it.

    Hope the last few days before Haven are great ones for you. I know the conference will be super. I wish I could be with you. God bless you all!

  18. I feel like I have come home & Love what you've done with your butcher block. You can not imagine the questions & looks when discussing our KT Reno & NOT using granite - I felt it was too cold & would look ridiculous in our simple home. We are using on all countertops & so far have used the poly on the kitchen sink portion which is the only one installed at this time. I must confess I have toyed w/the idea of Epoxy on that portion of the counter for ease of use with the water. Anyone have any thoughts on this? Also not decided if we'll be using the poly or the mineral oil on the other side. We also used the IKEA butcher block who can beat that price!
    The piece you stained looks fabulous & gives me plenty to think of with our left over pieces and what I may be able to create.

  19. Shelly, I certainly wouldn't use anything that isn't food safe on a countertop in our kitchen! My point was that I love the darker look and it is an easy process if I chose to do it in the future. :)

  20. Uff da! I feel your mess pain, and I will hide in the corner for you!

    (Long dramatic pause here.)

    Ok. I'm back out now to tell you the butcher block looks great! It's always fun to see how each of us does things to make our homes fit our families. Rock on, crazy-lot-of-projects girl!

  21. LOVE it stained like that! We are planning to "build in" our laundry and I want to put that on top, now!

  22. Ok I have a question about food grade stain? If you want that beautiful dark stain how would you get it? And how many coats of rung oil do you need? Especially if you put it next to the sink?

  23. did you cut the countertop or did someone else or place do it for you?

  24. Looks like the library is coming along nicely! I do love the butcher block and the stain color you chose. Looks very rich and warm.

    I also wonder if you've got a back of steel! Mine's kaput after carrying four kids!

  25. I love how the refinished butcher block looks, very rich and will be perfect for your library. Thanks for the tip of getting it at IKEA and then sanding/staining.

  26. Looks AWESOME. Love it! And can't wait to see you next week!!! :-)

  27. Hi Sarah. I don't have butcher block but I had a vanity in our master bath made from reclaimed barn wood and I finished it myself. The first time on the advice of some woodworkers from a local lumber store, I used a matte poly and in a few months it flaked and cracked and was awful. I also had a client seal her Ikea butcher block counter with poly and the same thing happened. I have since sealed any wood surfaces near water with tung oil and have been very happy. I have also heard just oiling it works wonderfully. Good luck! Can't wait to see everything all finished!!!


  28. This looks great! I love the richness of the wood stain, I totally agree, with the stain you can really see all the details of the wood. Great job! Is it necessary to wax and or prime the wood after staining it?

  29. I can't wait to see more info on those bookshelves...hurry up!! (ha!)
    Curious as to how you attached the shelves....I'm so anxious to buy a router for things like that, but not sure it's necessary; wondering if you did pocket screws?? Please tell!

  30. Love Love how the butcher block turned out! I found you via a blog hop and am now a new follower.

  31. I love the look of butcher block, but had never once considered using it on bookshelves. Yours turned out so well that I'm now looking around my house wondering where I could use it! The kitchen island, yes. Maybe an entire dining table top, too?

  32. Every time I visit your blog you're working your tail off on some project. You sure are ambitious. The things you accomplish never fail to amaze me.
    I want to get wood counters like yours but we don't have an IKEA here, drat. I'll have to look on their website to see if they ship counter tops.
    Our kitchen counter is a weird shape too, rounded like a horseshoe with sink in the arch of the horseshoe, ugh. Love the stain you used.

    I want to do certain projects but all my husband does is tell me it can't be done the way I want to. Bull hockey. He just doesn't want to have to be bothered. He'd rather look at some ugh thing than to fix it up. Ah well then it's up to me. Our kitchen counter has raised, (cheapy mfg.home counters) and they look awful besides causing everything to fall over. I've asked and asked for him to glue it down and he won't even buy the glue for it. AAAARRRRGGGG!!! Tells me he didn't retire to work all the time.
    I'm ready to get a job again. Just a little too much togetherness for me lately, 24/7, yikes.

  33. Love the richness the dark stain gives the wood and how the butcher block contrasts with the white. I'm dreaming of creating built-ins in our great room one day...definitely adding this idea to the list!

  34. Oh Sarah, you're so fun to read. Your posts always make me smile :)

    I LOVE how your butcher block turned out!! Whoa, that walnut looks great on the oak. Just perfect! I'm really loving how your library is coming along. What a great new use for an unused space!

  35. Sarah,
    I just LOVE your posts... I like watching your projects and your tutorials. You are just amazing! I can't wail to see your DR project. I have just one question, where did you get your DR chandelier? I've admired it for a while and would like something similiar!

  36. This is perfect! I have a farmhouse table to refinish, and have been struggling with picking the stain colour. I really like the way your stain came out, and appreciate the tips you provided, too. Thank you!!!

  37. Let the Minwax people know that I will be purchasing their products based solely on your tutorial and review. :)

    You make it look simple enough. I may just tackle a project this week!


  38. How did you mount the butcher block to the cabinets?


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