For as long as I can remember I have wanted the butcher block counter tops from this photo in my kitchen. That nice, gorgeous dark stain. However the countertops we bought were from IKEA were a light wood color and at the time that we renovated our kitchen, IKEA did not sell dark wood countertops. So off I went to learn all I could about staining butcher block countertops in the hopes of achieving that dark wood counter color of my realistic expectations of my home decor dreams.
Side note, it’s day 70 of the kitchen renovation by the way. Day Seventy.
The thing that’s deceiving about dark butcher block countertops stains is that usually they are stained with “regular'” polyurethane stains such as Minwax, Rustoleum, etc. and those stains aren’t food safe. Meaning that if you plan to use your countertops to place food on, cut food on, roll out dough and bake bread, you need something to protect the color stain to make them food safe.
A popular one is Waterlox. The snowball effect of that is that all of this requires maintenance. Quite a bit actually. And it really depends on how you use or plan to use your kitchen. So what works for one person, their cooking habits and overall lifestyle, may not work for another.
I wanted a food safe stain. Period.
Adventures in Staining Butcher Block
Now before I set out on what happened in my staining adventure in hopes of helping out anyone in the same predicament, I had read a ton of blog posts from other bloggers who through trial and error shared their stories and experiences with butcher block counter tops. Some of the most helpful are the following:
- Old Town Home – And what they wound up using in the end along with links to their review of their IKEA counter tops.
- Addicted 2 Decorating – If you want dark countertops, you need to read every post that Kristi has written about her experience with staining them dark, using Waterlox and what happened that she had to re-do them four times.
- Newly Woodwards – Which is what I wanted mine to look like.
- This and That – Also another gorgeous finish.
- House Tweaking – How Dana takes care of her butcher block counter.
- Chris Loves Julia – Which made me ask why I didn’t take the time to find Walnut butcher block to begin with.
- Natural Mommie – I’ve reached out to Amanda about her counters and I should have listened to her advice from the get go. Her Instagram account has lots of photos of her kitchen.
- Domestic Imperfection – They wrote a great review of how their IKEA butcher block counter tops have held up after 2 years.
- The Ugly Duckling House – Read how Sarah takes care of her Lumber Liquidators walnut butcher block counter
All of their results looked amazing so I thought I had found my answer.
Unfortunately it didn’t work out that way. And it’s not the fault of the product, but that of the specific butcher block that we purchased and the color undertones it has. Like any cautious person I tested out the Dark Tung Oil on a scrap piece of our butcher block counter top.
It is important to note, we bought the IKEA HAMMARP butcher block counter top in Birch. IKEA had it also available in Oak and Beech. I do not like Oak wood grain and the Beech tends to have a more rose undertone so we went with Birch.
IKEA currently does not have solid butcher block options anymore. But what they do have are the KARLBY, BARKABODA, MOLLEKULLA, PINNARP and the ECKBACKEN, which are a wood veneer and wood blend.
If you want solid wood butcher block, your best bet right now is Lumber Liquidators.
TESTING OUT THE REAL MILK PAINT COMPANY – DARK TUNG OIL STAIN
Let’s begin. Here is how my Dark Tung Oil experiment went (I even tried it over wood filler to see how it would do).
Coat # 1
Coat # 2
Coat # 3
Coat # 4
By this coat I knew it wasn’t going to work. And you’re probably looking at that photo thinking it looks fine and dark right?
The problem was not the stain. The stain was great. The problem were our floors – our Engineered Hardwood floors (in the photo below). They cover the entire first floor and they are from Laurentian Hardwood – their Kendall Lock Exotics collection in Ironwood. A flooring that has been discontinued no less.
We put this hardwood in our home 5 years ago when we first moved in and it is a good product that we wanted to extend into the kitchen during this reno versus doing tile as to create a bigger cohesive space on our first floor.
I have to thank Floors First for their helping us to locate it when we couldn’t find it anywhere and no other dealer would help.
And this is what the stained counter top sample looks like next to it. Minus the blue light from the outdoors.
Yeah. I cringed too.
They just look awful next to each other. The oil stain color just did not work with this particular wood and our dark floors. I know computer monitor colors can be deceiving but it was full of yellow undertones. That piece also took over a week to fully cure and dry but I believe that was due to my quick application process. So that was a no go.
In the end after much discussion with friends and some research into making my own stain with tea and even coffee, it was Kristi’s post – especially after this incident with lemon juice and Waterlox – that I said I should just listen to what seems to be the go to solution for quite a few bloggers when it comes to sealing their butcher block counters.
And that is with mineral oil. Cheap, easily available, mineral oil.
PS – I have since updated this post at the bottom to tell you how that mineral oil thing is going!
This is a side by side comparison of our countertop and an untreated scrap block of the HAMMARP. Our countertop at this point had been treated with 7 coats of mineral oil. I plan to follow Old Town Home’s instructions on how to care for them.
Am I going to have my dark counters? No. Well at least not right away. Wood ages on its own over time, so in a decade, this butcher block may have some hope. Alas we won’t be in this house by the time that happens.
I like butcher block to feel aged and develop character over time. It’s a nice contrast with our clean modern cupboards too. As well, (re: Kristi’s story) I use a lot of lemon juice for salad dressing and lay my food out on the counters every day. I cannot and do not need the stress of dealing with sanding and re-staining counter tops down the line. It’s just not a practical solution for our life. However it works great for other people and that is how it should be. It’s your home and you need to decide what works best for you and your kitchen. And for the time being, I’ve decided on my friend mineral oil.
Remember these lessons when it comes to staining butcher block:
- All butcher blocks are not created equal. What wood your butcher block is made from will impact the final result of your stain, no matter what you choose to stain it with. Walnut looks very different than Beech. When you read a post online or see an example of stained wood, pay attention to what wood it is versus the one you have in your home.
- Figure out how you plan to use your counter tops. Are they there to look pretty and you never place food on them? Or do you want to chop on them directly? That will impact what you use to treat them and what stain you use.
- For the love of all that is good, DO A TEST STAIN on a scrap piece of your wood before you go slathering your end product with stain. Preferably do this before you install your counters. Yes, people have done this.
- Stain colors online, that you see on your computer monitor and cell phone screen, just like paint color swatches, are deceiving. Refer to Step 3. The last thing you want is a splotchy mess that does not last or creates more problems for you.
- The best solution to achieving the butcher block color of your dreams, is to buy the butcher block in the wood color that you want it to be. I know right? Ground breaking, common sense advice. But there are always exceptions to every rule and sometimes you may not be able to get or even afford the countertop in the wood color you want. So that’s why I wrote this post so that it can help anyone considering staining their butcher block – be it a countertop, a table, a bench or anything else.
If you have any questions, feel free to ask away in the Comments as I try to answer them as often as I can and leave them up as a resource from other owners so that they can share their experiences with staining butcher block countertops and overall butcher block questions.
I do strongly recommend anyone interested in butcher block countertops, goes and reads the great posts from bloggers I linked up above. They will really help your decision on whether or not to go with them and they will show you different stains and wood types.
BUTCHER BLOCK COUNTERTOP TREATMENT UPDATE – 2020
Since writing this post we moved and renovated another kitchen where we also installed butcher block. Except this time we used a different brand of butcher block and a lot of things went differently. I have an entire series of posts about butcher block countertops where I break down the Pros and Cons and reality of having a butcher block counter in this post, as well as what happened to the butcher block in this kitchen.
And most importantly, why after all of this I am switching from mineral oil to something else. In fact, I would not recommend mineral oil any longer. So read the post about the switch to find out why!
Want to read about the whole kitchen renovation process and see the Before and After?
Part 1 of the Kitchen Reno story: The Beginning
Part 2 of the Kitchen Reno story: Installing your IKEA SEKTION Kitchen
Part 3 of the Kitchen Reno story: Adventures in Staining Butcher Block (you’re reading it)
Part 4 of the Kitchen Reno story: The IKEA SEKTION kitchen, Before and After