Q: My big kitchen, which could charitably be described as “country” style, is in dire need of an update. That’s not in the cards just now, but I can’t stand the scarred, worn butcher-block countertops another minute. What can I do to make them look okay while I save my pennies for a real makeover? — Jane Stuart, Mohegan Lake
A: I hit the Internet and found a site that merrily declared, “If granite is the little black dress of countertop couture, then butcher block is the perfect pair of jeans….” Raggedy, ripped jeans are hot these days, but does that look translate to countertops? Obviously, you don’t think so. The site goes on to describe butcher block as a “humble, hardworking material that will most likely outlive the homeowner who installs it.” Feeling better yet? I doubt it.
As you know, if you visit any kitchen designer’s website you’ll find a world of granite and stone splendor—it makes you wonder if there’s any marble left in Carrera. I called a couple woodworkers who didn’t want to address your question before landing Dave (who doesn’t give out his last name), a designer at Kitchen & Bath Source in White Plains (914-946-8600). Dave says your counters are most likely maple or oak, and that it’s easy for you to sand them down using a belt-sander, and refinish them with mineral oil. “That’s probably the finish they came with, and it’s safe for food prep,” he adds.
If you’re not a belt-sanding kind of person, you’ll have to find a handyman to do the work, which these days may be more difficult than turning yourself into a belt-sanding kind of person. Here are basic instructions I found on WoodZone.com, an authoritative-sounding site that makes the process seem pretty simple: Using a random orbital sander, start with 80-grit sandpaper, followed by 120-grit, then 240, using each finer grade of sandpaper to remove scratches from the previous one. A final, optional go-round with 400-grit will give you a silky finish. Sand evenly, and then carefully clean up the dust. Apply mineral oil liberally with a clean rag or sponge, “and watch it soak in,” advises WoodZone, which sounds like a restful thing to do after all that work.
You may need five to 10 applications, depending on how dry your counters are. When the wood can’t absorb any more oil, wipe off the excess. WoodZone suggests you finish up with a coat of beeswax as a moisture barrier. Regular maintenance coats of mineral oil can be applied over the beeswax, it claims. Ever the skeptic, I Googled around to see if this is (a) true and (b) sanitary. It turns out to be so: beeswax is recommended atop mineral oil on butcher-block countertops, as well as wood cutting boards and salad bowls. It’s a natural antiseptic that helps keep bacteria and other nasties from penetrating the wood. Go bees!
(PS: Check www.kbskitchen.com to see what $4500 can buy at Kitchen and Bath Source. Or drop by the showroom and ask for Dave.)
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