Old Reclaimed Brazilian Wood CounterTops, How to Finish?

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Forum topic by layla posted 11-04-2010 05:00 AM 5004 views 0 times favorited 8 replies Add to Favorites Watch
View layla's profile


3 posts in 2784 days

11-04-2010 05:00 AM

Topic tags/keywords: tung oil counters countertops walnut mineral oil reclaimed help question finishing

Hey all.

My man and I recently finished reno’ing an old house, and our kitchen counter tops are old reclaimed wood from a Brazilian bridge. The grain is very tight, and the color is quite dark and red.

We’ve had a few rounds of finishing it—-the Mr. spent 6 hours on it and said “It’s done!” and I was like, Um, no way Jose! (He didn’t start at a low enough grade of sanding; I want it to gleam and be as shiny as possible without being poly/shellac/etc. And, I grew up with a dad who would spend countless hours refurb’ing an old gun stock…....)

Ok, so, I’ve spent yesterday and part of today on it, taken it from 80 to 220, with a new thin layer of mineral oil today. (It’s had quite a bit of mineral oil in the past, and that’s been our plan on our wood-dealer’s advice). It’s looking and feeling great, but I’m second guessing the mineral oil choice. The counters butt right up to the sink, and get wet constantly. Also, I’d like my counters to act as much like stone as possible and not have to fret over them, but I don’t want any icky substances on them either.

My first instinct is to switch to pure tung oil, probably cut with Citrus Solvent, but I’m nervous about a long curing time (can I still use my counters while it’s curing? How long do they need to cure? Is there an odor in the house that will bother us and the animals?). The many very thin applications don’t scare me, and the waterproofness and food safety and durability are very appealing. However, will it change the color of the wood?

Another choice is walnut oil/beeswax….. Walnut oil seems to be well thought of, and I like the added waterproofness of the wax, and I also happen to have a pound of it laying around….

I’m also planning to take the wood down to 320/400/600, then maybe 00 steel wool/buff if I haven’t completely lost interest by then… But um maybe that is complete overkill… And, does that make sense with mineral oil and/or walnut? Definitely not with wax, right?

Sorry I have so many questions! I don’t think I’ve done any solo woodworking since I refinished some mahogany cats for my sister-in-law when I was 12, and Paw was looking over my shoulder then…

Thank you in advance for your two cents!!


8 replies so far

View Scott Bryan's profile

Scott Bryan

27250 posts in 3845 days

#1 posted 11-04-2010 12:56 PM

Layla, it sounds as if you have a countertop that is constructed with Brazillian cherry. It is a hard dense wood that can be dark red. It will be gorgeous when finished.

That being said, I do not sand any wood further than 220 grit and usually do not go further than 180 grit if I am going to be putting on a natural finish. If you are after a smooth finish then “finishing the finish” will get you to that point rather than continuing to sand the wood with higher grits. My major concern with the routine that you are describing is that mineral oil, even with the beeswax, will provide no surface protection and only minimal waterproofing.

The tung oil will work better but, if I were doing this, I would rather use one of the wiping varnishes, such as poly, since they provide better surface and moisture protection. The addition of any finish will add some color to the wood. I would suggest that you try a finishing routine out on scrap pieces to determine if it is going to meet your needs before applying the finish to your countertop. But to answer your question about using the countertop I would advise against it until your finishing routine is complete and it has had time to cure. Tung oil is a reactive finish, which means that to cure it has to have time to bond with oxygen in the air. To cure completely it will take about two to 4 weeks depending on the temperature.

Another suggestion I would have is that if you are concerned about odors, have you considered using a water based poly? It does not impart the same warmth to the project as oil base does but it stays clear and has almost no odor. And, as with any project, please put finish on both sides of the countertop to equalize moisture penetration. Finishing only one side could lead to cupping due to uneven moisture absorption.

-- Challenges are what make life interesting; overcoming them is what makes life meaningful- Joshua Marine

View childress's profile


841 posts in 3565 days

#2 posted 11-04-2010 05:49 PM

That wood is pretty much indestructible, hence, used on a bridge. It probably is Brazilian cherry, also known as Jatoba as stated above. I would stay away from tung oil just because it stinks…bad, and may take a long time for the smell to go away.

I disagree with with Mr. Bryan and think getting a product (or making your own) with beeswax in it would be very good. I finish all my butcher blocks this way and when water gets on a waxed board, it just sits there. It may be better to take the wax you have and melt it in mineral oil to make a thicker “cream” than whats available commercially, this way it would provide more protection via more wax. The only thing is that this finish doesn’t cure and will have to be replenished from time to time.

Good luck, and if you have any more questions you can PM me if you want.

-- Childress Woodworks

View shipwright's profile


7992 posts in 2821 days

#3 posted 11-04-2010 06:24 PM

We have a large kitchen island with a walnut top. When I built it we decided on “Tried and True” varnish oil and after five years it still looks perfect. It is food safe and develops a beautiful glow over time. We re-coat about once a year. It does take a bit of time to cure but not as much as tung oil. Our stove top sits right into the walnut and we have had no problems. I would whole heartedly recommend it. The only place I know of that carries it is Lee Valley. Check it out on their online catalogue.

-- Paul M ..............If God wanted us to have fiberglass boats he would have given us fibreglass trees.

View layla's profile


3 posts in 2784 days

#4 posted 11-04-2010 07:48 PM

Thank you all so much for your input!

View skone's profile


147 posts in 2829 days

#5 posted 11-11-2010 04:48 PM

hi layla. see my ‘projects’ for a snapshot of my brazilian cherry kitchen counters. they are made from surplus flooring and i put them in the kitchen 4 years ago. i used natural tung oil with no drying agents, purchased through woodcraft or rockler, can’t remember which. attraction was finish repair doesn’t require stripping the finish and of course it is USDA food grade. despite this, i’m looking to move on to another option. the tung oil drying time is a consideration (LONG)- but one that you can suck up if you’re up to it. once it’s in the wood properly, it really does a very fine job protecting. and i like the smell, personally. It dissipates once dry anyhow. My jatoba butts up to the sink as well, with a bead of silicon, and i have had no water issues whatsoever. We continually wipe down the counters with a wet sponge without a care for water damage. The wood is fine. You’re interested in a nice looking finish and that’s where the problem lies for me. There are guys on here who can explain how to get a great natural tung finish – I gotta say though, no matter what you’re told, getting that shine you’re after – and a shine that will stay – is difficult. Anything you use takes effort and will require maintenance, but personally, I’m done with the tung oil on this project. I think perhaps if the wood had been properly oiled before installation (for months and months) it might be practical. But even as I’ve done it once a day, once a week, once a month once a year—- and started over multiple times—and performed oil maintenance—i still can’t keep the the wood from going dull and patchy. And every time I work the oil in it means nothing on the counters. Can’t use them. So, it’s thirsty wood and the answer is to feed it oil, but when do you give up on trying to get the finish that’s not showing up? I’m sorry this isn’t an answer for you but it’s food for thought based on my own experience. I’ll favorite this thread of yours and keep up with you. as for the guys saying to use poly… tough call. I imagine poly requires strip back for repair. And food safe? I mean, you’ll likely be using a cutting board anyway and … hmmm. What do people think of Watco Danish Oil—- or an oil what has a dryer in it? The dryer isn’t food safe but once it has reacted and “dried” isn’t it essentially gone, leaving behind just the oil?

-- "Take extra care not to lose what you feel" (Winwood/Capaldi/Wood)

View skone's profile


147 posts in 2829 days

#6 posted 11-11-2010 05:00 PM

Sorry to inundate with info but one more thing: What about clear shellac?

Maintenance= add more/no strip
Safety= Natural and food safe
Durability= Impervious to water but alcohol is bad news for it.
Shine= pow

So keep it beeswaxed to save it from vodka tonics? Any shellac guys wanna comment, refute, weigh in? Thanks

-- "Take extra care not to lose what you feel" (Winwood/Capaldi/Wood)

View layla's profile


3 posts in 2784 days

#7 posted 11-11-2010 05:58 PM

Hi Skone.

Your counters look great!

Thanks for that. I actually just got done putting on a coat of walnut oil+beeswax. Will wait a few hours, buff, and add another coat. I sanded to 320.

Shellac. Hmm. That sounds like a good idea; I just read up on Wikipedia about it. I didn’t know it came from bugs!

What happens when you spill vodka on shellac? Does the shellac get eaten away? Is it a big deal to repair? Does the gloss diminish with time? Does it needs periodic recoats like the rest of these options? Can I pop it on top of my wax’n’walnut concoction after it wears off some?

I’m getting less attached to my desire for super-shiny counters, anyway. Maybe I’ll bedazzle the cupboards instead.


View skone's profile


147 posts in 2829 days

#8 posted 11-11-2010 06:16 PM

Yeah, the lac bug, lac tree thing is pretty interesting. Easy to swallow meds – complete with a coating of bug juices. Nice, right? Lots of uses. So, the alcohol would dissolve your shellac finish from what I hear. Denatured alcohol is what you use to thin shellac, clean it from your brush, etc., I believe. So spilling it on your finished piece would be bad news. I have lots of experience spilling drinks but not on shellac, so I defer to the guys out there who really know shellac. That goes for all your shellac questions. I’m betting there’s tons of shellac info elsewhere here on lumberjocks.

Well, anyhow, it sounds like you’re off in a direction already – I’d love to hear how it goes. Maybe post a pic or two if you can once you’re done? I’m thinking of pursuing Rubio Monocoat. If I do use it I’ll post a followup—-

Take care, Layla. Good luck!

-- "Take extra care not to lose what you feel" (Winwood/Capaldi/Wood)

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