Butcher block counters are warmer decor in the kitchen than stone and give off a professional chef vibe to flatter your half-baked souffles. Keep your butcher block clean, sanitary, unstained and beautiful for years with regular maintenance and occasional refinishing. Countertops are one of three styles: square end cuts that show the grain when they are glued together; edge grain, the long narrow edges glued together and visible; and flat boards. Maple hardwood is a favorite, but cherry, red oak, bamboo or zebra wood may be the star of your kitchen.
Take the Plunge
The benefits of butcher block make it a no-brainer for kitchen counters. If you love the look, you'll love how it acts in your kitchen. Wood is naturally antibacterial and antimicrobial, so butcher block is more sanitary than many other counter materials. You can repair it -- if your counters get nicked or burned, sanding and oiling will make the marks disappear. Your glasses and dishes are safer; wood absorbs the shock of impact when you set them down -- or drop them -- and wood absorbs noise so there's less rattling and clanking when you put things on it. Butcher block is a bit of a chameleon; it looks fine with granite, tile and marble counters, and, instead of aging, the wood develops an attractive patina. Your role as owner is minimal: Give the wood some basic care and congratulate yourself on an economical and elegant choice.
Basic Butcher Block
Treat butcher block with respect, and it will outlast you. Never let water or a spill sit on the wood. End grain and edge grain will absorb sitting water, which could cause the wood to swell or loosen glue. Flat grain shows cutting marks dramatically and is seldom used for counters. So mop up liquids. Use the flat end of a spatula turned backwards to pull across dried-on food and remove it from the wood without gouging the finish. Scrub butcher block after use with mild soap and water and a sponge. Rinse with a clean wet sponge and wipe it dry with a towel. Disinfect the surface with a spray bottle of white vinegar -- spray it on, leave the vinegar for just a few minutes, wipe it off, and dry the counter thoroughly. Vinegar can dissolve the glue that holds the wood together, so keep contact with the surface brief.
The Art of Sanding
The wood is going to get stains. The most meticulous chef doesn't see the beet juice or sets the iron pot down when it's hot. Work quickly to remove a stain, but don't despair if a discoloration sets. Sprinkle the stain with salt, cut a lemon in half and rub the lemon into the salt to work both into the stain. The next morning, wipe down the wood with a damp sponge. If that doesn't do it, mix 1 tablespoon of hydrogen peroxide in a cup of warm or tepid water and dab it on the stain with a sponge -- rinse as soon as the stain fades, or the wood will begin to bleach. Wood bleach, diluted according to instructions, should remove pot rings, but be even more careful than you are with the peroxide. Knife nicks or stubborn stains may be lightly sanded with fine sandpaper until the wood is clean and smooth again.
Oil After Vinegar
Keeping your butcher block clean is priority one. Keeping it healthy is the next step. The wood should be re-oiled at least every six months. The type and style of wood will determine how often, and that information is available from the source or your installer. Oiling couldn't be simpler -- after a vinegar cleaning and complete drying, or a sanding, pour food-grade mineral oil on the wood and rub it in with a clean, lint-free rag. Let it sit for about half an hour and then wipe it off with paper towels or a clean dry cloth. Don't use cooking oils: They go rancid. Don't seal butcher block because the sealed wood is no longer food-friendly, and it will destroy your good knives. Some cooks like to add natural protection to the counters by mixing 1 part melted beeswax into 4 parts warm mineral oil and rubbing the mixture into the wood. This can be messy and streaky if you don't work quickly and evenly.