Solid wood butcher block countertops – how to darken light wood counters with food safe stain.
Butcher block countertops are a popular choice for many homeowners, thanks to their natural beauty and durability. In the past few years we have twice added kitchen islands to our kitchens. Recently we updated a kitchen island in our century home – with a quartz countertop. In our previous country home we added an island with a butcher block counter. Adding an island – or changing up the counter on an existing island are great ways to update a kitchen, without necessarily changing the whole thing!
I adored the butcher block in our country kitchen – made out of light maple. The wood grain provided a nice contrast to our large white country kitchen. The butcher block was functional – we could use it as a cutting board – or put a cutting board on top. We prepared all kinds of things on it – rolled out pies and bread and pretty much everything you can think of!
Occasionally (well maybe often!) we’d accumulate some red wine stains, spills or pot marks – but no problem! I’d pull out my electric sander and lightly sand the top – about every six months or so. After vacuuming up the sawdust – I’d lightly apply a food safe mineral oil with a cloth.
We loved the solid wood maple – it had almost a light birch tone. After a few years we decided we wanted to take the countertop to the next level. We thought it might look nice darker. Eventually we decided to stain the counter with dark tung oil. This technique added a rich, warm finish – and protected the counter from wear and tear.
Real Wood Sells Houses
At the time – we had decided to get our house ready for sale. We knew that in our country neighbourhood – our prospective buyers were young families who were interested in “real wood tones”. “Real Wood” floors and surfaces were a thing – darker finishes were popular. The Maple butcher block was considered a feature. Our Real Estate agent made sure to emphasize this feature – differentiating from the less expensive “bamboo” butcher block surfaces being sold at Home Depot.
We realized though – that the counter needed to be darkened up a bit to give it some drama – while showing off that fancy woodgrain.
How to create a Dark Stained Butcher Block Countertop
I searched the internet, books, home improvement stores… for a way to darken the raw wood without using a wood stain. The surface needs to be food safe after all! I could have applied some Minwax oil based stains – but that is definitely not the right product for a butcher block that we want to keep with a “raw” un-varathaned surface.
So we searched and searched – and experimented with various methods that we found on Youtube. We were really hopeful with one of the methods. We made a paste or stain out of coffee grounds and rubbed it into the raw wood – SEVERAL times. Then we rubbed the excess off – and applied food safe mineral oil.
This was messy – and I really wanted it to work – but it just did not visibly darken the wood. SORRY – no luck!
Then we searched and searched for a darkening mineral oil. There were none to be had in Canada! You would think someone would have thought of this before wouldn’t you? There were some products that I found online at Home Depot US – but guess what – they were not shippable to Canada and not sold by Home Depot Canada.
Eventually I found a product that could be shipped to Canada! I found Dark Tung Oil from The Real Milk Paint Company. (This is not an affiliate link – I just wanted to share this – because it took me so long to find it and it worked!)
I purchased Dark Tung Oil in a small container for $15.99USD at the time. I was able to use a food safe stain, to darken my counter slightly – maybe not as dark as I would have liked, but much better. The only caution that I would make is that Tung Oil is derived from a nut – so be careful if you have any nut allergy issues!
Tung Oil and Nut Allergies
“As the source of tung oil is a nut, people with nut allergies have reported adverse reactions to contact with (or even the odour of) tung oil. Reactions can be severe in some cases. Once dry, tung oil is polymerised by reaction with air to a solid, unreactive flexible film, which is classed as food and toy safe.” Nut Allergies | tungoil.co.uktungoil.co.uk
How to Stain a Countertop with Dark Tung Oil
To get started, you’ll need a few key supplies, including a foam brush, sandpaper, and pure tung oil. You’ll also want to make sure that your countertops are made from solid wood, as this will ensure that the stain dries evenly and looks its best.
Prepare the Countertops
Before you begin staining, it’s important to prepare your countertops properly. Start by lightly sanding the surface to remove any rough spots or imperfections. This will also help the stain to penetrate the wood grain more evenly. Once you’ve sanded the surface, wipe it clean with a dry cloth to remove any dust or debris.
Apply the Stain
Next, it’s time to apply the stain. Using a foam brush, apply a thin, even coat of pure tung oil to the surface of your countertops. Be sure to work in the direction of the wood grain, and apply the stain generously, but not so much that it pools or drips. If you do notice any excess stain, simply wipe it away with a clean cloth.
Allow the stain to dry completely, which typically takes several hours. Once the stain is dry, you can apply additional coats as needed to achieve your desired level of color and sheen. Just be sure to allow each coat to dry completely before applying the next.
CAUTION: Dispose of cloths and brushes used to apply tung oil safely – as like other stains it is flammable when heated. Stained cloths and brushes and discarded papers can lead to spontaneous combustion if heated! (Left in a garage in warm weather for example!)
We Loved The Results
Overall, staining your butcher block countertops with dark tung oil can be a great way to enhance the beauty and durability of your kitchen Staining our countertops with pure tung oil was a fairly easy (even though a little messy) and rewarding project that made our kitchen stand out!
Dark Tung Oil from the Real Milk Paint Company creates a food safe dark stain on butcher block countertops (birch, maple and pine).
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