Best finish for distressed butcher block? - Woodworking Talk - Woodworkers Forum
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post #1 of 17 Old 05-22-2019, 12:04 PM Thread Starter
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Best finish for distressed butcher block?

Hi!

I rescued a very cool old work table from an antique store. The top is butcher block, very old and distressed. I intend to use it as my kitchen island, and it needs a finish that I can wipe down daily. The wood is oil stained in places, has some gouges and pits and small holes. I have sanded on it, but I can't completely get rid of the splinters. Each time I get through a section, new splinters form. I don't want to lose the distressed look, so I'm looking for the best way to preserve that while giving a smooth finish. I don't want to fill the holes and gouges with putty, so I was leaning toward an epoxy bar top finish, but a high-gloss finish is not my preferred flavor for this project. I have read about methods of sanding the finished epoxy with 1500 grit and then waxing to produce a more satin finish, and also covering the finished epoxy with a satin polyurethane. Does anyone have experience with either of these, or is there a different process I should consider?

If I decide to go with the epoxy, will the oil-stained sections cause the coating to fail?
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post #2 of 17 Old 05-22-2019, 12:45 PM
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Welcome to the forum, Justine! Add your location to your profile so it shows in the side panel.

Someone should be along shortly to help with your finishing questions. I have very little experience with finishes like this...

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post #3 of 17 Old 05-22-2019, 12:48 PM
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projects like this will always gain the most accurate
feedback with photos.
it's kinda hit-n-miss with offering solutions for an unseen issue.

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post #4 of 17 Old 05-22-2019, 01:57 PM Thread Starter
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It wouldnt let me attach a photo before, here is what I have:

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post #5 of 17 Old 05-22-2019, 05:17 PM
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very nice find !!

of the dozens of suggestions you may receive, just weed
through them to see what would suit you the best.
take into consideration that the surface "should be" relatively
smooth and non-porous for sanitation reasons.

I used Wood Hardener several years ago with good results
as a base prior to clear finishing.
a wood hardener will lock the wood fibers together and help with
the splinters. keep sanding and applying hardener according to the
instructions.
then, I would start with the slow setting table top epoxy to fill all the holes.
the finish coat will be determined by what look you want.
to me, a table top completely coated in epoxy looks too "commercial".
like a BBQ joint that sees a lot of use.
for a kitchen table, I would get all the holes and crevices filled and stop there.
then start sanding and applying polyurethane. it may take many coats.
and several coats of epoxy on the underside to lock everything together.

the ideal situation would be to have something similar on hand to
practice with first. . . . . so you really need to go slow and mull your options
before doing anything that you can't back out of.
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post #6 of 17 Old 05-22-2019, 08:20 PM Thread Starter
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I agree, I don't want the BBQ Joint look either. When you said to fill the holes with epoxy, do you mean just spreading it on with a putty knife or squeegee until the surface is flat? My next question would be, how long should I wait before applying the polyurethane? Does the epoxy need to be completely cured, like a week? Or is better to do while it's still open? Any special type of polyurethane? Do I need to look for something that's "food safe"?

Thank you for answering my questions. I'm very capable, just not too knowledgable in the subject. I tried my hand at woodworking years ago, before kids, and I think I might like to revisit!
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post #7 of 17 Old 05-22-2019, 11:10 PM
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with epoxy, do you mean just spreading it on with a putty knife
or squeegee until the surface is flat?
yes, exactly like that.
the object is to fill the holes and pores in the wood with epoxy
but don't let it build up to a thickness.
caution must be taken so as not to destroy or diminish the decades
old patina of the wood.
gentle hand sanding between coats will eventually get rid of all the splinters
and fuzz. I am a varnish guy - I don't use polyurethane.
there are dozens of table finishes on the market and it is almost impossible to
keep up with the trend of what type does what.
table makers all have their favorite of oils, lacquers, enamels, poly, etc.
so they can provide you better information than I can.
I would let the final epoxy cure at least 48 hours before starting on the top finish coats.
hope you can share some photos of your journey.

.

.

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post #8 of 17 Old 05-23-2019, 10:29 PM
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I am concerned about food safety issues. I wonder whether dangerous chemicals and other toxic substances have been used on this table over the decades.

Are dangerous chemicals likely to be in this table? I don't know.

If so, can you finish it in a way where you are certain that dangerous chemicals cannot diffuse through the finish and eventually to your food? I don't know.
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post #9 of 17 Old 05-24-2019, 07:14 AM
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the wood hardener, epoxy and top coat of polyurethane will stop any
migration of potentially hazardous fumes from within the wood.
I would think that looking at the bug damage would suggest it is safe.
epoxy is a pretty hefty barrier for just about anything. including gasoline.
that is gonna be one good looking table after it is done !!
I would worry more about radon gas coming out of a granite counter top
than this vintage relic.

.

.

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Last edited by John Smith_inFL; 05-24-2019 at 07:18 AM.
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post #10 of 17 Old 05-24-2019, 12:02 PM Thread Starter
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Thanks John, I'm excited about it. Yesterday I glued down the one piece that was about to come off, and cleaned it really well with mineral spirits. This afternoon I'll start with the wood hardener. I'll definitely keep you updated!
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post #11 of 17 Old 05-24-2019, 12:35 PM
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Deleted...

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post #12 of 17 Old 05-24-2019, 01:14 PM
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Avoid sanding too hard as that may be why you keep getting splinters.


Get the top nicely sanded but don't apply undue pressure. Let the sandpaper do the work.



Since it doesn't appear you'll be using it as a cutting board, rather a decorative piece, I'd start with something simple.

Shellac. It works wonders. Plus it's easy to apply, not expensive, and doesn't require great skills.



Use a 1lb cut, flow it generously on, wait about an hour, then flood another coat on. Let that dry. Then sand with 220 grit paper lightly. Then flow on another 2 coats as before. Lightly sand with 320 grit. Use a tack rag saturated then rung out with the same cut of shellac to remove any dust.

I believe this will take care of your issues. Then finish the top with several wipe-on coats of satin varnish. Another easy and simple thing to do.


I use this process all the time on distressed to smooth woods and it works for me.


Don't over think this. Start simply. Good luck.

"Never attribute to malice what can be adequately explained by stupidity." Hanlon's Razor

Last edited by sgcz75b; 05-24-2019 at 01:19 PM.
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post #13 of 17 Old 05-24-2019, 10:30 PM
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I'm really interested in how this will turn out. I have a table that I'm refinishing that is in similar condition with scratches and gouges all over--some over a half an inch deep and pretty wide.

I was considering spreading epoxy all over the surface and then sanding it back down to the wood leaving the scratches a gouges filled but avoiding the BBQ look that was mentioned earlier. Does anyone know if this will work?

Has anyone done this before? I assume you can sand through a layer of epoxy but I've never worked with it. Planning to do some practice runs on some crap boards but haven't gotten the chance.
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post #14 of 17 Old 05-24-2019, 10:34 PM
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this is beautiful btw!
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post #15 of 17 Old 05-27-2019, 10:47 AM Thread Starter
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Timothy, I think you can brush the epoxy on, rather than "flooding" it on, and it won't give the appearance of the plastic layer. And from what I've read, you can put a poly coat on top of that to get the sheen you want. I dunno. I'm going to try on a crusty old board too, before I commit.
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post #16 of 17 Old 05-27-2019, 04:20 PM
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Justine -

first, it's an edge grain construction - not 'butcher block" - looks like a heavy duty work bench with the planks bolted together.
the interlocking grooves are very unusual.

but that is just a nit and hardly the issue here.

if you are going to use this in a kitchen for food prep, the holes and dings and dents, and etc., are a sanitary nightmare.
in my opinion, you really don't have a choice but to flood the surface and make it level and hole free.
you can finish the surface such that is it smooth and level but not "bar glossy"
[[or - a 1/2" plate glass top (not recommended)]]
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post #17 of 17 Old 05-27-2019, 06:55 PM
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Hello Justine,

I've gone through your posts and responded to each question accordingly...

Quote:
Originally Posted by JustineB View Post
...The top is butcher block, very old and distressed...
The top technically is not "butcher block" at all. That term is thrown around a great deal by dealers "selling" these, but with little knowledge of there proper treatment, what they are made of, or how to re-purpose them properly.

From what I can glean from just your photos, and my experience with very similar reclaimed materials is this is (most likely?) quarter sawn Douglas Fir wood stripping. It may have been already re-purposed once from an old bowling alley floor, as the field floors of the lanes (especially out west) are often a Pine species and/or Douglas Fir. This re-purposing for factory and industrial application was common between WWI and just after WWII. The factories that made the floors also did just make the long bench tops themselves so its hard to really tell without a full providence of the piece and its circa dates.

The give away on this top and its history is the end grain patterning (very tight and likely between 1900 and 1930 in orgin?) as well as the very common (but unusual outside this application) joinery system employed for this type of wood stripping assembly method. Its vernacular name is "alley T&G" or "ally joint" for the slang. It is a type of tongue and grove joinery system.

Below photo is a more contemporary version of it:



Quote:
Originally Posted by JustineB View Post
...I intend to use it as my kitchen island, and it needs a finish that I can wipe down daily. The wood is oil stained in places, has some gouges and pits and small holes. I have sanded on it, but I can't completely get rid of the splinters. Each time I get through a section, new splinters form...
The "splintering" is common for this species.

As you are learning, just sanding will only reveal more and more interstitial distress fractures deeper in the top.

Quote:
Originally Posted by JustineB View Post
... I don't want to lose the distressed look, so I'm looking for the best way to preserve that while giving a smooth finish...
There are several available to you. Some are contemporary "film finishes" that I DO NOT recommend nor advise on. The others (traditional oil-wax-rosin blends) are germane to not only the industry, but also your intended used as a food prep surface.

Quote:
Originally Posted by JustineB View Post
...I don't want to fill the holes and gouges with putty, so I was leaning toward an epoxy bar top finish, but a high-gloss finish is not my preferred flavor for this project...
I have used epoxies for such projects, but this is not something I typically recommend unless I'm doing the work myself to those without experience with these very specific finishing methods. Epoxy work is often (very often!!!) not done well and its hare to see that until it's too late.

I would go with natural finish from a company like Heritage Finishes or The Real Milk Paint Company. I've worked with both for over 20 years. These small companies make a living from traditional/natural finishes, love their craft and art and love helping folks. If you are set on an epoxy...(not recommend at all as it is typically used)...I do work in it for some applications (vivarium, abattoir floor/walls, etc.)...and then I go with EcoPoxy however the application modalities are very specific in focus and application for both means, and material chosen. I will not give that information out publicly so you would have to email me.

Quote:
Originally Posted by JustineB View Post
...I have read about methods of sanding the finished epoxy with 1500 grit and then waxing to produce a more satin finish, and also covering the finished epoxy with a satin polyurethane. Does anyone have experience with either of these, or is there a different process I should consider?
Experience?...YES!...quite a bit, and neither "waxing" nor "Polyurethanes" are recommended at all in your project's goal parameters.

Quote:
Originally Posted by JustineB View Post
...If I decide to go with the epoxy, will the oil-stained sections cause the coating to fail?...
Very likely and a common issue with such projects. Again, you will have to email me for details because if you are going to use an epoxy, this top needs a poultice cleansing be applied to the stained areas and I do not share that info publicly.

Quote:
Originally Posted by JustineB View Post
...I don't want the BBQ Joint look either. When you said to fill the holes with epoxy, do you mean just spreading it on with a putty knife or squeegee until the surface is flat? My next question would be, how long should I wait before applying the polyurethane?
DO NOT APPLY A POLYURETHANE!!!

I also do not recommend any form of "surface flooding" for this type of food prep surface nor in general.

Quote:
Originally Posted by JustineB View Post
... Do I need to look for something that's "food safe"?
YES!!! not all "plastic film finish" are safe. They may cure, yet not react well to citrus, and other food oils.

Quote:
Originally Posted by JustineB View Post
...This afternoon I'll start with the wood hardener. I'll definitely keep you updated!
This too may not have been food safe. Some are, some are not...

Quote:
Originally Posted by JustineB View Post
...I think you can brush the epoxy on, rather than "flooding" it on, and it won't give the appearance of the plastic layer. And from what I've read, you can put a poly coat on top of that to get the sheen you want. I dunno. I'm going to try on a crusty old board too, before I commit.
No flooding is recommend nor the poly as stated above.

Look forward to an email if any of the above is to your interest.

Good luck,

j

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