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Tung Oil on Butcher Block: Good Choice?

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V Susan
Hi! I'm Susan. I am passionate about woodworking, general DIY and home improvement. If you'd like to connect with me or talk about something you like at mellowpine, drop me a mail at susan@mellowpine.com

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Tung oil on butcher block

Pure tung oil is an excellent finish for butcher blocks due to its natural drying and food-safe properties. It delivers a warm, matte finish, accentuating the wood grain. However, it must be reapplied every 6 to 12 months to maintain the finish quality and keep it food safe. 

This article discusses the benefits of using tung oil on butcher blocks and why it can be a good finish for kitchen surfaces.

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Benefits of using Tung Oil on Butcher Block Countertops

Before and after applying tung oil on butcher block
Before and after applying tung oil on butcher block

Tung oil, obtained from tung tree nuts, is a natural drying oil that solidifies to a clear, glossy finish upon air exposure. 

With its ability to resist water and maintain color, tung oil has been an attractive option to finish wood surfaces for centuries. 

It offers a non-toxic and beautiful finish with multiple benefits when applied over a butcher block. 

Food Safe

When selecting food preparation products, it’s important to be mindful of the contents it’s made of.

Plastic countertops emit hazardous fumes, and stone countertops may require toxic sealers.

You can make a safe and healthy choice for food preparation and contact with meat and vegetables by opting for a butcher block with a pure tung oil finish.

Tung oil is free of preservatives, VOCs, harmful additives, and petroleum-based ingredients, so it is safe to use on butcher blocks and cutting boards.

Beautiful Appearance

Tung oil coated butcher block
Tung oil coated butcher block

You can use tung oil to bring out the natural beauty of your wooden surfaces, creating a warm look that emphasizes the grain patterns and adds a golden sheen.

Unlike other oils, tung oil won’t fade over time, preserving the original look with a gentle hint of matte coloration.

To make the sheen even more prominent, you can apply multiple coats.

Tung oil applied butcher block
Tung oil applied butcher block

Durability

Applying tung oil on butcher blocks provides strong protection against harmful substances.

You can rely on it to protect against dust, ethanol, solvents like acetone, and acidic substances like citrus juice.

This will help you keep your butcher block in good condition and food safe for a long time.

No Discoloration

You don’t have to worry about discoloration when using tung oil on a butcher block.

Linseed oil, polyurethane, and other finishes tend to turn yellow over time, but tung oil won’t go bad or change color.

If you want a darker finish, you can use dark tung oil to give the wood deep, mesmerizing tones.

Waterproof

Water droplet stuck on a tung oil coated butcher block
Water droplet stuck on a tung oil coated butcher block

If you have an open-grain butcher block, it may collect moisture inside, creating an environment for bacteria and fungi to grow.

You can use tung oil to fill the grain and make it water-resistant.

This will reduce the chance of microbial growth and also stop liquids from being absorbed, so you don’t have to worry about spills and accidental watermarks.

Easy to apply

Enhancing your butcher blocks with tung oil is easy and can be done even by beginners.

You can use simple tools and follow simple steps to achieve great results. This helps even beginners apply tung oil on a butcher block without mistakes.

Applying tung oil on a butcher block
Applying tung oil on a butcher block

Easy reapplication

Tung oil is also easy to reapply. It seeps deep into the wood fibers and can be used to restore the wood if the surface becomes scratched or worn.

To reapply, you need to clean the surface, apply a thin layer of tung oil, let it settle briefly, and then wipe away any extra oil.

You can do this as often as necessary to keep the wood looking beautiful and last longer.

Flexibility

Tung oil not only hardens well, but it is also flexible. Even after curing and becoming a solid structure, it retains its elasticity.

This means that when the wood expands or contracts due to temperature changes, tung oil adjusts without losing stability, allowing for a continuous and uninterrupted bond with the wood surface.

With tung oil, you can avoid cracking, scratches, or dull spots, even under changes in temperature.

Applying Tung Oil on Butcher Blocks – Things to Know

Wetting a rubbing cloth with tung oil

For applying tung oil on your butcher block, you’ll need the following:

  • 100% pure tung oil.
  • A thinning solvent (such as the citrus solvent).
  • Clean cloth, rags, or a brush.  
  • Sandpaper – low grit (80-100) and fine grit (120-150).
  • A disposable container.

Before you start, ensure you have all the necessary supplies and wear rubber gloves. Be sure to dispose of the rags after you’re done.

Remember that the solvents used in the tung oil are flammable, so keep them away from heat and open flames.

If you are allergic to tung oil or have a history of skin allergies, be extra careful when using it.

Preparing the Tung Oil

Before applying tung oil, dilute it for the best results. Pure tung oil is very thick, so mix it with a thinning solvent like citrus.

Citrus is a natural solvent found in orange peels that’s safe to use on food and adds a pleasant scent to the finish.

Mix the tung oil and citrus solvent in a 1:1 ratio. You can also buy pre-mixed tung oil and citrus solvent, usually in a 50:50 ratio.

You can also use mineral spirits instead of citrus solvent, but since they are petroleum-based solvents, don’t use them for butcher blocks.

Prepare the surface

Lightly sand your butcher block to address rough patches and blemishes and remove any remnants of previous coatings.

This is especially important if there are any scratches or dull areas. You can use an electronic sanding tool or sand it manually.

Start sanding using lower grit sandpaper and then progress to a finer grit for the final touch-ups.

Be careful not to sand the wood grain too finely. This can smooth the cutting surface and close the pores.

You can also wet the surface with a damp cloth to help raise the grain for a more polished finish.

Once you finish sanding, wipe off any dust or debris from the surface and let it dry.

Applying the Coat – The Process

Applying tung oil on a butcher block
Applying tung oil on a butcher block

Step 1: Apply the oil

It’s essential to start with a heavy first coat when applying tung oil on wood.

You can soak a clean cloth, rag, or fabric in the oil and apply it to the wood in circles.

Alternatively, pour the oil directly onto the surface and use a rag or brush to wipe it lengthwise into the wood grain.

Once the oil is applied evenly, wait a few seconds and rub it again in the woodgrain’s direction to eliminate dull spots. Let the coat dry for 16-24 hours.

Step 2: Apply more coats

Once the first coat of Tung oil is dry, feel the wood to see if it sticks to your hands.

If not, you can apply 2-3 more coats for better results. Lightly sand the wood between each coat to remove any trapped air pockets or excess oil.

Doing this will give the butcher block a superior finish and protection.

Step 3: Wipe excess oil

Once the wood can no longer absorb oil, it’s time to remove any excess.

Use a clean cloth or rag and apply firm pressure to wipe away any puddles or excess oil.

Do not let any visible excess oil stay on the surface for too long, as it will cure and create streaks.

If this happens, you can lightly sand the affected areas and reapply the oil.

Step 4: Watch for oil seepage

For the next 5-7 days, watch the finish and wipe off any oil that surfaces with a clean cloth.

Step 5: Lightly buff and wait

For the first week, lightly buff the surface to stop any oil from hardening. Pure tung oil takes 15 – 30 days to cure completely.

During this time, start using the block slowly and keep objects off the surface for 7 – 10 days.

You can put parchment or wax paper around sinks to protect the countertop while in use. Clean up any spills immediately.

After 10 – 20 days, you can start putting objects on the surface but avoid leaving water or wet glasses on it for long periods.

After about 30 days, the butcher block will be ready for use in the kitchen. The curing duration will depend on the block’s size and the coat’s thickness.

Maintaining the Coat

To keep your tung oil-finished wood countertop looking good, follow these steps. Always wipe it down after using it, and don’t let spills or stains sit on the surface.

If there are any scratches or damage to the finish, sand it lightly and reapply the tung oil. To ensure hygiene and food safety, reapply the tung oil every 6 to 12 months.

When reapplying, use a 2:1 ratio of citrus solvent and tung oil, and sand the surface lightly before applying.

Final Thoughts – Is Tung Oil the Best Option for Butcher Blocks?

A butcher block finished with tung oil
A butcher block finished with tung oil

Tung oil is an ideal choice for sealing and refinishing your butcher blocks. It is elastic, durable, and waterproof.

However, it takes longer to cure and can be more expensive than other options.

Linseed oil is affordable but doesn’t offer the same level of protection as tung oil. Also, the refining process for linseed oil involves harmful chemicals which are not food-safe.

Food-grade mineral oil is a great alternative and more affordable than tung oil. It produces a neutral finish that shows the natural beauty of the wood. Also, it is completely safe for food.

Frequently Asked Questions

What makes tung oil waterproof?

The waterproof qualities of tung oil are due to a chemical reaction during the finishing process. The molecules in the oil crosslink and polymerize with atmospheric oxygen to form a hard, water-resistant surface layer.

Can I use regular cooking oil as a finish for my butcher block?

No, it is not recommended to use regular cooking oils such as vegetable oil, olive oil, or canola oil for finishing a butcher block. Cooking oils can go rancid over time and attract bacteria and germs, harming your health. It is best to use food-safe oils for butcher block finishes, such as pure tung oil.

Is tung oil a good option for finishing outdoor furniture? 

Yes, you can use tung oil for finishing outdoor furniture. The oil penetrates deep into the wood grain, creating a robust and durable barrier against moisture and, with some additives, prevents UV damage. This can help prevent cracking, splitting, and warping and extend the outdoor furniture’s life.

V Susan
Hi! I'm Susan. I am passionate about woodworking, general DIY and home improvement. If you'd like to connect with me or talk about something you like at mellowpine, drop me a mail at susan@mellowpine.com

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