Finishing an End Grain Cutting Board

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Forum topic by SteveGaskins posted 11-07-2012 11:35 PM 20471 views 1 time favorited 17 replies Add to Favorites Watch
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745 posts in 2582 days

11-07-2012 11:35 PM

I realize the most popular product for finishing an end grain cutting board is food-safe mineral oil. I’ve been experimenting with sanding through the grits to seal the board before applying a generous amount of mineral oil to my boards. I’ve sanded my boards for a finish grit from 150 grit all the way to 4000 grit (100, 2000, and 4000 grits was with the Mirka foam pads). However, when I use my boards and then use a damp cloth to clean them it still raises the grain, even on the 4000 grit boards, which really makes sanding to this 4000 grit in vain.

Here’s my question: What grit should I sand my board to and how many coats of mineral oil should I apply before using the board? I realize different timbers will absorb diffferently, so one timber may take a few coats of oil, where another timber will take 6-8 coats of oil. The last thing I want to do is give someone a board and after the first cleaning the board looks dull and feels somewhat rough due to the raised grain.

Additionally, Charles Neil, who I greatly respect, once stated on a YouTube video you could finish your board with Waterlox; but it would need to completely dry before using. On Waterlox’s website, they state their product is food safe after it has completely dried.

Any help with this issue would be appreciated.

-- Steve, South Carolina,

17 replies so far

View AandCstyle's profile


3050 posts in 2252 days

#1 posted 11-08-2012 12:59 AM

Based on what I have read, it is generally acceptable to sand to 150 to 220G. The rationale is, as you have described, that once you use a board it is rough again. Also, by sanding to finer grits, you can/are burnishing the surface so that it absorbs very little mineral oil. This would be especially true with finer grained woods like maple, walnut, etc.

I tend to sand to 220G and apply heavy coats of mineral oil once or twice a day for about 3 days and rub it in each time. I am satisfied with the board when I am done with it, but I know that as soon as it it is used, it will not be as smooth as when it left me. So far, none of my customers have complained, but I don’t know if they have actually used their boards or not. :)


-- Art

View PurpLev's profile


8535 posts in 3644 days

#2 posted 11-08-2012 01:07 AM

I don’t sand wood beyond 220 as higher grits start to close the pores which prevents it from absorbing the finish properly, also when building finish coats the smoothness of the wood is irrelevant as the smoothness of the part is that of the finish coats itself and not the actual wood (does not apply to mineral oil though).

wooden cutting boards finished with mineral oils should be finished several times, each time allowing the wood to absorb as much as it can of the oil, then wipe excess after 15 minutes – should be done daily for a few days, then once a month for a year, then once every few months (depending on usage) after that. end-customer should be aware of this maintenance when the board is new as otherwise it will dry the board as you might have noticed quickly.

Other than that you can use salad bowl finish which is similar to poly and will actually create a film on top of the board which can be smoothed out more so than with plain mineral oil. make sure the finish is fully cure for it to be food safe though.

-- ㊍ When in doubt - There is no doubt - Go the safer route.

View Earlextech's profile


1161 posts in 2686 days

#3 posted 11-08-2012 02:06 PM

You put too much effort into it. Finishing is easy, just don’t over do it.
Sand to 220 or 320 at most any finer grit will just seal up the pores. You need those pores open in order to absorb the mineral oil, which is the only finish I will put on cutting boards or butcher block counters. Several coats, remove the excess after about 10 minutes, let stand a week before you deliver it to the customer.

-- Sam Hamory - The project is never finished until its "Finished"!

View CharlesNeil's profile


2399 posts in 3866 days

#4 posted 11-08-2012 02:37 PM

its simple. Mineral oil is food safe and doesnt turn rancid, its a laxitive, offers little to no protection, it makes it look good becuse its wet, the grain raising is proof of it, its not protecting the wood from the moisture, so its behaving almost as if it were raw wood, I use Waterlox or Arm R Seal I do thin them a little about 10 % with some Nahptha ,( nahptha drie’s faster than mineral spirits) so it soaks in better, these products harden and seal, then allow about a week to 10 days for them to fully cure and your good to go, Just MY .02 We did a test somewhere on You tube, we ised mineral oil, tung oil, Water lox and Arm R Seal we let the test samles dry about 3 days, then using some thin red dye ( water base) we wped them, all excet the Arm R Seal and Waterlox sucked up the dye easily, the ARS and WL, didnt’t , your call ! Shellac is the only known finish that the body can redissolve after cured, thus shellac is used to make slow release medicine as well as what you think makes an M&M melt in your mouth and not in your hand as well its what is used to protect and make fruits look good in the store, JUST FYI

View Sandblastguy's profile


42 posts in 2106 days

#5 posted 11-08-2012 03:32 PM

I used to use mineral oil on my boards then started using a product from Claphams . Its a bees wax salad bowl finish and it works great and lasts a long time before the board needs more. In Canada you can get it at Lee Valley or Busy Bee. If you go to the Clapham website it lists dealers.I found it much easier to apply and less mess. I simple rub it on with my hand and the boards usually only takes a couple coats.

-- Sandblastguy Orangeville On. Creating Art From Nature

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1251 posts in 2049 days

#6 posted 11-08-2012 03:48 PM

i sand to 180 then raise grain with water and lightly sand off raised grain with 220

-- Joel

View pmayer's profile


1028 posts in 3060 days

#7 posted 11-08-2012 04:00 PM

I sand to 150 then wet sand with 220 to raise grain and smooth. end grain boards will still soak up plenty of mineral oil using that approach. Then I add a coat of beeswax based butcher block finish for a silky smooth surface. This lasts quite a while before it needs to be refinished.

-- PaulMayer,

View waho6o9's profile (online now)


8188 posts in 2572 days

#8 posted 11-08-2012 04:07 PM

I sand up to 220 or 240 depending whats on my sander.

I like using Emmets Good Stuff for my cutting boards,
and then mineral oil. I saturate it for a couple of days
and when it doesn’t take anymore, I’m done.

View BinghamtonEd's profile


2298 posts in 2365 days

#9 posted 11-08-2012 04:09 PM

Paul, I was thinking of doing just what I think it is you’re saying. Let the board soak up plain old mineral oil for a few coats (at $4/pint) and then use the beeswax/oil butcher block finish ($10/pint) for the last coat. Is that what you’re saying here?

Anyone know a good ratio of beeswax to mineral oil, for a home-brewed (and cheaper) cutting board finish?

-- - The mightiest oak in the forest is just a little nut that held its ground.

View SteveGaskins's profile


745 posts in 2582 days

#10 posted 11-09-2012 10:59 PM

Thanks LJs, I really appreciate each one of you taking the time to share your knowledge and techniques concerning your cutting board finish.

-- Steve, South Carolina,

View jazzman12's profile


8 posts in 1997 days

#11 posted 12-13-2012 04:53 AM

sanded to 220 grit I use Clapham salad bowl finish from lee valley , I first sit the board on a warm surface so that it warms the wood , I have an oil filled electric radiator, then apply the finish , the wax will melt and soak in , 3 coats and it is shinny and as smooth as a babies butt

View baq's profile


4 posts in 1874 days

#12 posted 06-17-2013 08:27 PM

can anybody share their experience on how much mineral oil is necessary for any given wood? I just built an end grain board/block out of red maple that’s 15” square by 3” thick, and I’ve already put about 28 oz. of mineral oil on it and it’s still soaking it up. This is the first board i’ve made and the first time I’ve used mineral oil or any kind of oil as a finish, so I have no idea what I’m doing. Thanks for any insight you can offer.

View waho6o9's profile (online now)


8188 posts in 2572 days

#13 posted 06-17-2013 08:30 PM

Saturate both sides Baq, you’re doing fine.

When it pools up and takes no more, it’s basically done.

View baq's profile


4 posts in 1874 days

#14 posted 06-18-2013 01:37 AM

thanks waho

View Kelly's profile


2025 posts in 2939 days

#15 posted 09-25-2015 01:59 AM

Though this post is a couple years old, I feel compelled to share a thought or two, because I keep seeing suggestions to wipe off excess oil.

I have restored butcher block cutting boards that came to me cracking and splitting from drying. Saving them was simple – I slathered the mineral oil on and walked away. I an hour, it had all soaked in, so I added more and walked away again. I kept doing this, aiming to saturate the entire board with oil. Of course, the oil can be applied from both sides.

The oil does not evaporate. Rather, it wicks cell to cell, so you have a cumulative effect using this approach. As such, when you apply oil and it seems to have disappeared, it hasn’t. It has just soaked in more.

If you take this approach up front (e.g., get real aggressive in your oil applications), you minimize drying and subsequent cracking and splitting.

I have treated six in thick pieces of wood this way to see the bottom become wet, as the “finish” soaked through.

I would not use beeswax until I was REAL happy with how much oil I’d applied and, as indicated, I want a lot oil in my cutting board or block. The bees wax will inhibit future applications, so do the aggressive thing first, then go with your favored flavored mineral oil.

Of course, once I felt I have gotten all the oil into the wood I can, only then would I wipe off excess. Key would be time. On the last butcher block I restored, I went a day or more between oil applications and left each one sitting, to allow them to soak in.

Varnish isn’t even a consideration for this kind of project. After all, it’s nothing more than a surface coat and, once it cracks and allows moisture to wick off, it must be removed to allow oils to swell the wood back to where it was with a higher moisture content.

On the latter, I do like a beeswax mix, but it’s nothing more than dissolved beeswax (e.g., turpentine) with mineral oil sold in a pretty package. Others are mineral oil in a pretty package, at several times the price of Walmart oil, which runs about a buck and a half a pint, as of this writing.

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