Refinish a Wooden Kitchen Shelf




Introduction: Refinish a Wooden Kitchen Shelf

About: I enjoy designing, building, and anything DIY.

In our kitchen we were using a butcher block that had never been properly finished or sealed to avoid damage. After storing wet kitchen utensils on the top surface, it started to develop a substantial amount of mildew. After seeing this I decided that it was time to refinish the surface to protect it from further damage. I'm going describe the steps required to refinish a wooden butcher block. This can be applied to cutting boards, tables, etc.*

Things you will need:

1. Power or Hand Sander
2. Sand Paper:
     - 80 Grit
     - 220 Grit
3. Tack Cloth
4. Brush or Cloth
5. Finish of your choice

Step 1: Assessing the Surface(s)

The first step is to determine what kind of surface you are working with. This includes type wood and damage occurred. In this case I will be refinishing a pine butcher block. This is a nicer grade of pine, however pine is very soft wood so I want to be extra careful when sanding, especially to avoid creating uneven surfaces in the wood. The damage to the wood is mildew and it hasn't absorbed very far into the grain. Knowing this I can avoid an aggressive sanding technique.

Step 2: Preparing to Sand

To sand the surface I will be using the following:

1. Detailed hand sander (Black & Decker "Mouse")*

2. Two types of sand paper:

     - 80 Grit. This is a coarse sand paper used to take care of the surface damage (i.e. mildew).

     - 220 Grit. This is a "ultra" fine sand paper used as a finishing sand paper.

*Note: You do not have to use a power sander, but be aware the based on the size of your job you may want something that isn't as exhaustive (i.e. by hand).

Step 3: Begin Sanding

The first thing that I want to do is start sanding all of the surfaces with the 80 Grit. Remember the following:

1. Sand with the grain of the wood

2. Try to keep the power tool or manual sand block even on the surface to avoid over-sanding one area.

The idea is to sand the surface until I have achieved a desired result. For instance in my case I want get rid of all the mildew the has absorbed into the grain. You may be trying smooth an otherwise rough surface, or you may be trying remove an old stain. Whatever your intended goal is just make sure not to over do it. Remember you can always go back and sand more off, but you cannot add more material.

Next I begin sanding with the 220 Grit. The idea here is to go over the surface to smooth any roughness that may have caused by the 80 Grit sanding paper. Make sure you go over the entire project's surface. After you have finished run you hand across and you should feel a smooth surface. If not repeat.

Step 4: Preparing Surface for Finish

What I like to do is first run my hand across the surface(s) to make sure there are no rough patches or edges. Next what I do is dust off the surface, typically with a small hand broom.

After I've done my best to get all of the dust off I then take a tack cloth and wipe down all of the surfaces. A tack cloth is a piece of material similar to cheese cloth, but it has a very sticky surface. This will allow you to pick up all of the left over saw dust for the surface(s). This is very important because it will be easier to apply the finish (stain, conditioner, etc) and ultimately do its job better.

Step 5: Finishing

Our butcher block is not actually used to cut food, but rather to store kitchen tools and pot/pans. Since this is the case I will be using a non-food grade shellac (Zinsser Shellac). It's important to know if you will be using the surface for preparing food or not. If you are I recommend using a food-grade product, below are 2:

Butcher Block Conditioner: gives the wood a protective coating for direct and indirect food contact.

Watco Butcher Block (Oil & Finish): this is more of a durable product than the conditioner.

Make sure to mix the finish thoroughly. Depending on what type of finish you use you will need to apply it with either a brush or a cloth. Since I am using a more opaque finish I will be using a brush. Regardless of what type of finish remember the following:

1. Brush with the grain of the wood.

2. Coat all surfaces before re-coating.

3. Follow the directions. Drying times vary and if you do not allow the finish to dry then you risk poor results (bubbling or uneven drying).

Step 6: Final Steps

At this stage I make sure that the surfaces are drying evenly, and that it is protected from dust and debris. After it has finished drying you can apply more coats or if the surface has a bumpy texture you can lightly sand the surface with a fine grit sand paper and then apply another surface.

Good luck.

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Dream Dragon
Dream Dragon

11 years ago on Introduction

This is a nice instructable about properly treating wood. The information you give in this project is valid for many wooden products and correct treatment is sadly often missed out, with the result that a piece that could give good service for many years is turned out into landfill after only a few. I would like to point out however that if someone sold that object as a "Butcher's Block" they're getting very close to a Trading Standards Violation.

A Butchers BLOCK is not only thicker and heavier, it's actually built quite differently. Traditionally it is assembled out of small staves (About 1 inch square and maybe 3 - 5 inches long) arranged so that the END grain is uppermost, and the whole thing is then iron bound or at least framed with reinforced corners. The smaller pieces are necessary to avoid the kind of splitting that you will see if you look at the end of an untreated log after a short time exposed to air, it also minimises the risk of splintering. This kind of block doesn't really need much more than a wipe down after use.

That's going to raise an Eyebrow or two so I'd better clarify. The main purpose of the Block is to stop the Cleaver, when a Butcher is cutting a large joint of red meat into more manageable portions, and while it can be used for cutting smaller pieces of meat it should NEVER be used for "Cooked Meats" (which are usually sliced already), Poultry (which would traditionally be the job of a "Poulterer" anyway), Fish (Fishmonger) and obviously shouldn't be used for Veg or dairy or any other chopping or cutting jobs. If used in this way the normal ultraviolet light from the sun is enough to kill any bacteria in the surface (and actually some depth below, but I can't find the exact numbers right now). Residual moisture, oils and fats from the meat are sufficient to keep the block well "fed", though if your block is unused for a long time then a rub down with simple cooking oil should be adequate to keep it from splitting.

OK, That's turned into a rather longer post than I intended and I do hope you don't take it amiss or think that I'm criticising your project. You have done good work not only with your restoration, but you provide good documentation for others to follow.

Thank you for sharing your work and I do hope your "butchers block" type kitchen counter continues to serve you and your family for many years.


Reply 8 years ago on Introduction

I have a couple questions. First, I got a hold of a butcher's block(or maybe just a thick cutting board) that I want to refinish. It has a couple spots where its coming apart. Normally with wood pieces I would either fill with wood filler or try to inject wood glue into the crack and then sand it, the particles from the sanding would collect in the glue and help fill the gap. Is this something that would with this? Or is there a better option for a butchers block? I won't be cutting meat on it. Maybe not anything, probably will just end up being part of a kitchen cart, more decorative.


Reply 11 years ago on Introduction

Thanks for the information. You're absolutely right. I am familiar with how an actual butcher block is constructed, and this is of course not a butcher block but rather a kitchen storage rack. However it works well as a light food prep station.

I was considering renaming the project after posting so as to avoid confusion. Your feedback was perfect timing.



11 years ago on Introduction

Dream Dragon wrote that "a simple cooking oil" should be used. It must be a food grade oil but additionally some oils prohibit growth more than others. Mineral oil is often recommended by butcher block manufacturers.