Caring for your wood.

11 May

[Note: republishing a post I wrote for my old blog, Eat In Albany… it’s still a topic that’s important to me, so I’m giving it a new home here!]

In my misguided youth I’d blithely buy a wooden cutting board, use it for a year or so while it grew drier and drier and more and more stained and nicked. Then I’d start thinking it looked gross and would throw it out, or perhaps I’d accidentally leave it in the sink soaking in water and the thirsty wood would suck up too much moisture and crack and then I’d throw it out. Looking back I’m a bit embarrassed. But I just didn’t know any better.

Then a woman named Frances took me in hand and taught me her ways. Not only did I learn to care for my boards, but I stopped being fearful of butcher block counters and tables, too. Now, I’m not claiming to be the ultimate expert on the care and maintenance of wood. But the following simple techniques, built on from Frances’ first lessons, have been working for me for years. And I haven’t had to chuck anything since.

  1. Clean
    Google will provide you with plenty of opinions on how to keep wood clean and sanitary. For me the everyday answer is soap and water. If extra vigilance is needed I’ll wipe down the surface with full strength vinegar. For lingering onion and garlic odors I use ‘The Frances Method’ which consists of scrubbing with a lemon that’s been cut in half, letting it sit a bit, then wiping it off.
  2. Sand
    To remove roughness and nicks use the finest sandpaper you can find and rub in the direction of the grain to smooth the surface. This will help with stubborn stains, too. Sand with a light hand all over vs. focusing on one spot in order to keep things even. When finished, wipe down surface with a barely wet cloth to remove dust.
  3. Season
    Apply a thin coat of oil, wiping with the grain. Forget the fancy branded wood treatment stuff, just get regular old mineral oil. I get mine from our local CVS. Don’t freak out that they sometimes keep it in the laxative section, you won’t be ingesting it in any significant amount.
    Let the oil soak in for a bit, then wipe away any excess. If it’s been a while you may need to do this a few times. But, please note: if your wood is really dried out don’t try to make up for it by slopping on a lot of oil! Be sparing and build up coats gradually. Too much moisture too quickly is the culprit that causes cracks–the same reason you don’t want to let your boards soak in the sink.
    I usually treat my wood about once a month, more like once a week in the winter when the heat is on.
  4. “Seal”
    The prep surface of my island will get an extra step after seasoning: beeswax. For this I did splurge on a premixed mineral oil/beeswax blend, but you can mix your own (Google if you’re feeling motivated). The beeswax makes the surface slightly more water-resistant, fills in tiny nicks, and helps keep moisture in the wood.

In the photo you can see the difference in color between my butcher block island’s seasoned tabletop and the untreated legs–

ikea GROLAND

Ikea GROLAND: Seasoned v. Unseasoned

Bottom line: don’t treat wood like it’s disposable. With a little easy maintenance you’ll be able to love it for years.

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One Response to “Caring for your wood.”

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. a “green” alternative for seasoning wood. « Elizabeth likes… - September 9, 2011

    […] adamant about keeping the wood in my kitchen cared for, and I’ve long relied on mineral oil to season and protect. Thursday’s post about “herbal oil” on Re-Nest was the first time […]

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