Flat Finish for Kitchen Counter Butcher Block

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Forum topic by Lovegasoline posted 06-06-2018 07:24 PM 1056 views 0 times favorited 10 replies Add to Favorites Watch
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85 posts in 641 days

06-06-2018 07:24 PM

Can anyone recommend a near flat finish, either for brushing or spraying, that’s hard wearing, waterproof, and has a nice sort of natural look to use on a butcher block kitchen countertop? The butcher block counter top is a piece of IKEA that came my way (not end grain) I’m not sure what wood species is used but it’s pretty light in color and without pronounced grain with finger jointed construction, pretty common stuff which you may have seen before. I’m renovating a base cabinet that will most likely see service holding a mircowave oven, but it’s located just 1/2” away from a large double sink so it may see some splashed water etc. (or may be used as a coffee area at a later time if I rearrange my kitchen).

The other counter tops here are also butcher block but are made from hard maple (not finger jointed) that I finished with brushed on satin polyurethane and they are holding up fine … but they just look a little bit too plasticky for my tastes … the base cabinet has a different edge profile and is for a built-in cabinet unit that resembles a hutch, so the idea of using a slightly different finish and sheen on it I think will ad some subtle variety and visual contrast for the kitchen’s appearance.

Btw, I’ve previously used a sprayed conversion varnish from M.L. Campbell (IIRC it was Krystal satin) on a butcher block counter here, it sprayed wonderfully, was tough as nails, and lasted over a decade. Great stuff. I just just don’t want to spray stuff that’s as toxic as conversion varnish here I have some lung concerns.

Also, I’m not sure if it will make much a difference to this IKEA butcher block, but maybe the grain can be popped a little with a coat of oil prior to applying the final finish if they’re compatible.

I’m not set on a dead flat sheen, but would like it to be a top down from satin and perhaps a little less plasticky looking. OTOH, if I have to go by the old polyurethane standby, any good flat/low sheen polyurethane finishes?

10 replies so far

View John Smith's profile

John Smith

2131 posts in 766 days

#1 posted 06-06-2018 10:57 PM

I have been using Watco Butcher Block Finish on my cutting boards
and it dries to a non-sticky hard finish that is almost a flat sheen.
you can probably rub it down with 4/0 steel wool or scotchbrite pad
for a finish you like. after a few weeks of normal use,
it will probably take on its on patina. $20 a pint at WalMart.

I would avoid a thick film finish on a table that will see a lot of use.
or – you can use any kind of poly or brush on varnish you are comfortable with.


-- I am a painter. That's what I do. I paint things --

View Lovegasoline's profile


85 posts in 641 days

#2 posted 06-06-2018 11:13 PM

If that WATCO is food safe (which btw I do not need), is it some kind of mineral or linseed oil finish? Is it a maintenance finish? I want to avoid the latter. I need something durable and low to zero maintenance.

I spent some time in residence where a wooden prep area in a kitchen had a weekly maintenance schedule of being saturated with mineral oil overnight and wiped off the next morning. This application will have intervals when non-woodloving civilians will be responsible for any upkeep which ultimately translates expected neglect for maintenance of finishes (cutting boards also suffer this fate but they are more easily rejuvenated).

View AlaskaGuy's profile


5520 posts in 2912 days

#3 posted 06-06-2018 11:42 PM

View Rich's profile


5134 posts in 1192 days

#4 posted 06-06-2018 11:59 PM

- AlaskaGuy

+1. That stuff is durable. One suggestion would be, if you need to build a finish with multiple coats, use gloss for your base coats, then top it off with the flat. I’ve found the flattener (usually zinc oxide) can create a haze when applying multiple coats of satin or flat waterborne poly.

-- Half of what we read or hear about finishing is right. We just don’t know which half! — Bob Flexner

View Lovegasoline's profile


85 posts in 641 days

#5 posted 06-08-2018 12:09 AM

That General finishes poly is mighty expensive!

View AlaskaGuy's profile


5520 posts in 2912 days

#6 posted 06-08-2018 12:25 AM

That General finishes poly is mighty expensive!

- Lovegasoline

That seems to be the case with most good stuff.

-- Alaskan's for Global warming!

View Sailsnsaws's profile


11 posts in 1872 days

#7 posted 06-09-2018 03:37 PM

I recommend General Finishes too. The High Performance is easy to apply with a foam brush and is available in Flat and Satin. The Pre Cat Lacquer is even more durable and self levels beautifully when sprayed. It’s also less expensive and I’ve had success brushing it though they don’t recommend it. Add extender if doing larger areas by hand.
I really like the natural color it leaves on Maple where oil tends to yellow it but if you need to match a bit of amber tint use their enduro-var as a base coat and top with Pre-Cat. Sand with 220 after first coat, 400 and 600 between subsequent coats. In good conditions you can do one coat per hour.
I picked this up through a seminar held by a GF Rep and use these products all the time in my business.

View CaptainKlutz's profile


2212 posts in 2097 days

#8 posted 06-09-2018 06:59 PM

When I want really flat/satin sheen wood finish that is food safe, I have been using Tried and True finishes.

Original Wood Finish works really well for cutting boards and entire product line is food safe. Nice part about Original Wood Finish is combination of oil and wax. Oil brings out wood grain, provides lasting protection, while beeswax prevents water damage. About once a year when cutting boards no longer bead water, I add a new coat, buff it out, and return to service. Has much less maintenance than old fashioned mineral oil finishes.

Based on WWW recommendation used a 50/50 blend of Danish Oil & Original Wood Finish on my workbench 10 years ago, and it still looks great despite occasional splash with water, engine/cutting oil, gear box grease, and transmission oil. When top gets some damage, I can scrape it smooth and re-coat with Original Wood Finish to return to almost new condition. This combo creates a nice satin sheen. The Danish Oil penetrates deeper than Original, while blend of two prevents creating a slick top where projects slide across the bench.

Tried and True makes a Varnish finish that adds a resin and creates a thicker/harder finish. They recommend it for counter tops. Used it once, and didn’t like added film build on cutting boards. Might be just what you are looking for?

to avoid being confused as an advertisement, there are some drawbacks to Tried and True finishes. Must follow the instructions, and It is not a fast finishing method. They are very slow to harden/cure, and work best in warm locations. They also are intended to be hand rubbed finish, which requires a lot of hand work to get good results, especially on large projects. End up touching all surfaces 4-5 times for every coating. But results are splendid, and finish is one you want to touch it looks so nice.

Not to start any argument with other posts, but: Have used all of General Finishes water based finishes available to consumer from Woodcraft/Rockler on different kitchen/bath projects. GF water based coatings are not very water resistant IMHO. Have under counter drawer boxes for trash cans and paper towel rack that all show water stains and minor damage from when exposed to occasional water splash. The Enduro has held up best of GF WB (in bathroom) for me, if you can tolerate more yellow/amber tint. I personally will not use GF WB again for any Kitchen or Bath project. Projects using oil based Arm-R-Seal have proven much more water resistant and durable in the same locations in my house.

FWIW – Had a conversation with my local commercial paint supply about best commercial kitchen/dining countertop spray finishes and was told none of WB coatings protect as well as solvent based conversion coatings. Some are close for durability, but all perform worse for water, and things like coffee/wine stains. And If I wanted ultimate level of water/chemical protection, best choice was STILL 15-25 mil thick old school 2K poly coating used for bar tops. Unfortunately thick old school poly IS the definition of ugly plastic yellow film coating.

Best Luck.

-- I'm an engineer not a woodworker, but I can randomly find useful tools and furniture inside a pile of lumber!

View Lovegasoline's profile


85 posts in 641 days

#9 posted 06-27-2018 09:45 PM

When I want really flat/satin sheen wood finish that is food safe, I have been using Tried and True finishes.

The finish need not be food safe. I don’t use my countertops as cutting boards … there’s always a cutting board under any food being prepped.

I don’t need or like a dark amber coloring (such as something like a Minwax solvent based poly would yield), but I don’t mind a little amber tint to warm up the wood, water clear finish on very light woods can a little too cold.

In this application I’m not concerned about solvent based finish as it’s a small counter top (about 32” x 21”) and can be finished in another location. I’m not sure what the benefit of a water base product is in this application?

Regarding the oil/wax blend I don’t imagine it would be a particularly tough finish? I’ve got some flatfiles I’ve finished with rubbed in polymerized tung oil but applied with enough build to provide a layer on the wood. They look nice (as oil does) but I can’t imagine that the top of those would long survive in a working kitchen.

As for waterbase products, I’ve sprayed some stuff over a dozen years ago with a Crystalac clear coat satin finish (first spraying a seal coat of shellac to give a little warm tone) and I was never thrilled with the finish … it was on some maple bookshelves. It would never hold up on a counter top though. But that’s older water base chemistry.

The only other waterbase I’ve used is Benjamin Moore Satin Impervo waterborne paint (on trim, some doors, and also some large bookcases) but that’s in another class of finish and not tough enough for a countertop.

View Richard's profile


11309 posts in 3636 days

#10 posted 06-27-2018 11:10 PM

That General finishes poly is mighty expensive!

- Lovegasoline
That seems to be the case with most good stuff.

- AlaskaGuy

Yes. It Does.

-- Richard (Ontario, CANADA)

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