How to Maintain Butcher Blocks and Cutting Boards – Give them the Viagra Treatment

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Bad cutting Boards

Bad cutting BoardsAll of us who enjoy working with wood have made cutting boards or butcher blocks that we’ve glued up from scraps. We couldn’t throw those great pieces away after a project was finished. Of course not! We woodworkers are the original green dudes. “Don’t throw it away! I can make something with that!”

But sometimes you’re at a friend’s house and you look at their wood cutting boards and butcher blocks, and you think – whoa! – they’re not looking so good! Their favorite cutting board should be cleaned, fixed, or maybe just thrown out! (Wait a minute, do some of mine look like that? Maybe they do…)

Start By Getting Your Cutting Board Really Clean

First of all, the not-so-new-looking cutting board might need a really good cleaning. Overzealous fans of killing all bacteria in the world know that a ¼ cup of bleach per gallon of water will decimate all microscopic critters in its path. But this is not so good for the wood, so resist the temptation to chemically kill. Your wood will suffer from it. Instead, give the block or board a really good scrubbing with hot water and mild dish soap, and dry it thoroughly. If it still seems discolored or has a bad smell, you can slice a lemon in half and rub it over the entire surface, then rinse and dry again. Still not looking clean enough? Take it out to the shop and sand it down lightly.

Now You’re Ready to Recondition Your Board

Once you’ve sanded, rinsed, and dried your board or block, you’ll want to apply a beeswax or oil finish or a specialty conditioner made for food preparation surfaces. There are plenty of good ones on the market. Follow directions to the letter and avoid the temptation to give your board one swipe with the product and call it good. Rub the wax or oil in well and let sit for 10 to 20 minutes. If you see any dry spots, apply again in those areas. Then wipe clean. Frequent applications of beeswax or oil are like Viagra to natural wood surfaces; keeping them young and long-lasting – for a time, at least. If after four hours… Well, never mind…

Don’t Forget Your Knife Block

When you take the time to condition your boards, it’s also a good time to empty your knife block, take it out to the garage or workshop, and blow it off. Clean it, sand it if it really needs it, and put a new coat of Chapman’s beeswax finish on it and put your reconditioned block back into action.

Better Care For Better Lasting Wood Going Forward

Follow these rules to keep your board in good condition:

  • Never allow moisture to stand on the wood for a long period of time. This includes not just water but fish, chicken, and fresh cuts of meat.
  • Clean and scrub vigorously after every use. If you want, you can also use a steel scraper or spatula before each cleaning. Always dry the board well with a towel.
  • Rejuvenate your boards or blocks with your oil of choice every few weeks.
  • Dishwashers are bad for wood cutting boards. Never ever put them in that evil place.

Product Resources (All Available on Amazon):

John Boos Mystery Oil Butcher Block Oil
Block Oil
Howard Butcher Block Conditioner
Joyce Chen Bamboo & Wood Oil

With Special Thanks To:

Photo of author

About Brad

Brad Baker is Vice President of Operations at Miller Woodworking in the Los Angeles area, designers and builders of custom cabinetry and interior millwork for the rich and famous. They make the impossible, and their work has been featured in fancy schmantsy architectural glossies more than a few times. All that high end creative stuff aside, he maintains a strong spiritual belief that the real sign of a good woodworker is all 10 fingers. He and his wife Ann Baker co-write for HomeFixated. Ann is CEO of Publicity Pros, a firm that provides “All Things Publicity” services and training for small businesses. She’s a hopeless nerd who revels in anything and everything having to do with the technology of attracting attention. And, no joke, she loves to bake.

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