walnut countertop finish

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Forum topic by scottdarr posted 08-01-2013 08:01 AM 3188 views 0 times favorited 18 replies Add to Favorites Watch
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11 posts in 1783 days

08-01-2013 08:01 AM

I am building countertops for our kitchen out of walnut , i think i will be using waterlux finish,
4 coats on bottom and 6 on top,
i have never built any thing this big,
my question is should i coat bottom then flip and coat top then flip and do 2nd on bottom and so on,
or can i do 4 coats on bottom then flip and do my coats on top.
during the week to 2 weeks of coating bottom only, the top side would not have any finish,
would that be a problem?

18 replies so far

View tefinn's profile


1222 posts in 2460 days

#1 posted 08-01-2013 10:32 AM

Doing all coats on one side while the other side is exposed is just asking for warping. It may not happen, but why take that chance? I’ve seen things like that warp over night if the environment isn’t stable. Ideally if it was possible, I’d stand it on edge and do both sides together. Thats kind of difficult though. :) What I would do is one coat on the bottom and as soon as it’s dry to the touch, flip it and do the top and edges. If you use those little pyramids (nails in squares of plywood will do) to hold the counter after flipping you’ll hardly have a mark and it is the bottom after all. You can always fix it when you do the next coat. Then you can do one side at a time at your leisure. You planning to use Waterlox original? Unless the counter gets a lot of sun or weather you shouldn’t need the Marine finish.

-- Tom Finnigan - Measures? We don't need no stinking measures! - Hmm, maybe thats why my project pieces don't fit.

View Charlie's profile


1100 posts in 2309 days

#2 posted 08-01-2013 11:11 AM

coat the bottom, flip it while it’s wet and coat the top. If you put it on with a lamb’s wool floor finish applicator, you’ll only need 3 coats. If you wipe it on with a pad or rag, you’re going to need at least 9 or 10. If you brush it on…. you won’t like it :)

The bottom will get some marks from whatever runners you set it on. I used some 3/4 by 3/4 scraps from ripping maple face frames. I didn’t mind the marks ‘cause… well… it’s the bottom.

If you put on nice heavy coats with the lamb’s wool you will GREATLY reduce the time it takes to finish your counter top. I coated it in the morning and the next morning I went out and flipped it and did bottom, flip, top again. 3rd day, same thing. Done. Let it sit for 3 days to harden up. Longer if you have other stuff you can be doing, but 3 days was ok for me. Then you just baby it for a few days. The longer you can let it sit after final coat, the less solvent smell you’ll have when you bring it in.

PLENTY OF FRESH AIR. It needs fresh air to cure. No fans blowing on it. That’s bad as you’ll skin the top too quick and it will actually take longer to harden up. I did mine in an attached garage. Box fan in the window blowing out and back door left open a bit. You want a fresh air exchange.

Experience: I did my walnut island top the way I’m describing to you.

View scottdarr's profile


11 posts in 1783 days

#3 posted 08-01-2013 12:32 PM

Thanks for the advice, Charlie , I was wondering what the humidity was like in your garage during the finish coats, thanks

View Charlie's profile


1100 posts in 2309 days

#4 posted 08-01-2013 12:45 PM

We were in a hot spell in the summer last year. It was 90 degrees during the day and the humidity was oppressive. The garage is not air conditioned or anything like that. It WAS about 10 degrees cooler in the garage, but nothing I could do about the humidity. I live in western NY state kinda between the lakes, so…. 70 or 80% humidity the whole time I’d guess. Higher at night. Right now it’s 93% humidity at 8:45am.

It still dried enough to handle, flip, whatever, in 24 hours. The key is keep the air exchange going. It will flash off a lot of solvent the first hour or so…. but it reacts with the fresh air to cure. Like I said… NO FANS BLOWING ON IT. That will slow your cure time a LOT. Just keep exhausting the air from the area and giving it a place to allow fresh air to enter.

View CharlesNeil's profile


2410 posts in 3893 days

#5 posted 08-01-2013 12:54 PM

Charlies advice is “SPOT” on, follow it .

View NoLongerHere's profile


893 posts in 2699 days

#6 posted 08-01-2013 01:28 PM

Are you sure? Can I play devil’s advocate for a minute?

Have you noticed, nobody else has solid wood counter tops. They don’t have them installed in kitchen displays, unless it’s a bookcase or an island like Charlie’s – nice job BTW.

If you have a typical c shaped or L shaped kitchen you’re going to have issues with grain direction at the corners unless you 45 the joint and secure it with counter top bolts.
Not a big deal – compared to the wear and tear around the sink and above the DW from steam. Also, cast iron pots and raw porcelain feet scratch the hell out of varnished tops. Wider boards are very prone to cupping.

It’s a lot of money and work too.

Think about the commitment to keep these tops looking good, no black water stains creeping out from under sink edges, the possibility you could end up with a crack that is not easy to fix, and they will need to be refinished every few years from being scratched up.

It’s like owning a woody or a mahogany Chris craft boat.

How do I know? I’ve torn them out a few times to install granite tops which cost the same amount.

As a fan of walnut, I also understand your desire to have them. They would look fantastic…. for about 1 year.

View Charlie's profile


1100 posts in 2309 days

#7 posted 08-01-2013 03:28 PM

Refinishing a waterlox counter top:
Wipe it down with mineral spirits to remove any grease or oil. Recoat. Let dry. Done.

Experience: I had to recut that angle you see on my island top. This meant I had to re-radius the edge, sand the end grain, apply Waterlox. The end grain got 3 coats as heavy as I could get it on from a bristle brush. Then I dabbed off the brush on papertowels and stood by to catch drips. Final coat was a wipe of the corner and up over and onto the top about a foot using a feathering stroke (with an old cotton t-shirt piece wrapped in a nylon stocking.

I thought for sure I’d have to do a final final by wiping the entire top.


It blended in perfectly.

Ours is a “cottage kitchen” style, so imperfections and wear are part of the plan. Not abuse, certainly, but day-to-day wear is expected and welcome. I’ve seen a couple of waterloxed wood countertops with sinks in them. One was 15 years old and never refinished. No damage.

My island top (8 feet x 3 and a half feet) cost me $400… oh wait… $400 plus a quart of Waterlox. The wife and I both dislike granite which can ALSO be scratched and is MUCH harder to repair. No offense to anyone installing it for a living. It’s just not for us.

A wood counter top DOES require maintenance. Granite does too, but the wood is definitely higher maintenance and requires more vigilance. Don’t leave liquid dish soap sitting on a waterlox counter top. It will eventually soften it. Wipe up spills.

I don’t have feet on my cutting boards. I lay a damp paper towel on the island top to keep the board from sliding around. Sometimes they’re there for a couple hours if I’m preparing a larger meal over a span of time. No effect at all on the waterlox. Hot grease spatters from the cooktop. No effect at all.

A sink set in a wood counter top is definitely an area of concern. You need to understand the difference between wood and stone. We can’t be as sloppy with water and let it stay there in big puddles if we have a sink set in wood. That’s asking for trouble. We have a bone-colored Corian counter top around our sink. Single thickness (1/2”) and not built up on the edges. She likes the look. I have tongue and groove shiplap pine as a backsplash at the sink. It is SHELLACed. Wash coat (about a 1# cut), then a coat of clear mixed with white pigmented to give it a whitewashed look, then another 1# coat, then 3 coats of 2# cut. Talk about an area of concern! :D

We are a year in and the wood surfaces are holding up in spectacular fashion. In fact they are not wearing as we expected. Almost like they’re “too good”. So it will take more time to look a little worn and weathered. That’s ok. We have time.

And I doubt anyone could touch doing granite, quartz or anything else on that island for $400. It was more like $3000 when we were getting quotes.

It’s wood, not stone. You have to keep that in mind going into this and all the while you have it. But we are extremely happy with our choice. It works for us and we are very much aware that it may not work for everyone. :)

View scottdarr's profile


11 posts in 1783 days

#8 posted 08-01-2013 06:45 PM

thanks again charlie, my shop is in my basement – nice and cool and dehumidifier going, but i have no windows to open and pull in fresh oxygen, i have an attatched garage with one overhead door that i could leave open during the day, it would be good to get the countertop out of the basement before finishing , it will be 13’ long with 5’ “L ” on the end, my guess would be about 500 pounds . was concerned about humidity in garage during process.
thanks again,

View Clint Searl's profile

Clint Searl

1533 posts in 2384 days

#9 posted 08-02-2013 12:01 AM

Raw tung oil for natural beauty and ease of maintenance.

-- Clint Searl....Ya can no more do what ya don't know how than ya can git back from where ya ain't been

View Charlie's profile


1100 posts in 2309 days

#10 posted 08-02-2013 01:25 AM

Pure Tung Oil is a wonderful treatment. While I love it, use it, and have it on hand at all times (I like it that much) I don’t think it’s suitable if there’s a sink set in the counter top. OP hasn’t really confirmed whether there is or isn’t a sink involved in this counter top.

Waterlox is easily stripped using Citrus Strip if you change your mind and want to go with a rubbed oil.

View Clint Searl's profile

Clint Searl

1533 posts in 2384 days

#11 posted 08-05-2013 05:12 PM

Smear the edges of the sink cutout and set the sink in silicone caulk.

-- Clint Searl....Ya can no more do what ya don't know how than ya can git back from where ya ain't been

View dbray45's profile


3320 posts in 2799 days

#12 posted 08-20-2013 01:53 PM

I made a couple of cherry counter tops for my kitchen. One of them is a little over 6’ long and the other is around the sink at 4’ long. I have had no problems what so ever.

A few steps to take –
Choose your wood very carefully – watch the grain patterns – I would stay with as flat a grain as possible or quartersawn.
I made sure that the wood sat in my basement for 3 weeks.
I keep a dehumidifier going at all times and I wanted the MC of the wood at 5% of less at the middle after cutting.
I then glued the pieces, taking a lot of care to joint the edges very cleanly.
I used a jointer plane, a light behind the wood, and the friction method (with the boards sitting edge to edge, if they slide easily there is a little surface touching, they they do not slide, more surface areas are touching (desired result) and used a straight edge to make sure the boards fit straight (biggest issue).

Used a water proof glue, I used Titebond III – but watch the temperature in the sun, if it gets too hot, the bond will break (per the company).

Once dried and planed flat (yes this was by hand and took 6 hours for the long counter), the top got a tung oil finish – 4 coats. After each coat, I set the tops outside in the sun – two days for each coat (brought them in a sunset) and let sit for one week.

When all this was done, the top got 4 more coats of oil based spar varnish (the first one was a wash coat with a little tung oil mixed in) – this is not food safe until cured. Each coat got the same treatment as the oil – sunlight (really helps in the curing) and rubbed out the finish between coats.

I did not do the underside and have a dishwasher under part of it.

When done – the counter has been stable and beautiful after five+ years.

You don’t want to cut on this type of counter but then again, you don’t want to cut on granite, marble, soapstone or other surfaces either.

-- David in Damascus, MD

View stefang's profile


15881 posts in 3357 days

#13 posted 08-21-2013 04:30 PM

I love the look of freshly installed wood tops, especially walnut, but for me, a kitchen is a work place with a lot of sharp and/or rough bottomed utensils and pots and pans and dish ware. It’s pretty easy to forget about pussy footing around when you are trying to get a meal prepared (3 times a day). It would drive me mad to see such a pretty top being progressively ruined. That said, if you really want it, then you are probably prepared for the negative aspects. It would be interesting if you could let us know how it went in a couple of years.

-- Mike, an American living in Norway.

View Charlie's profile


1100 posts in 2309 days

#14 posted 08-21-2013 04:39 PM

The nice thing about wood tops is that they are not expensive to make. If I wreck my walnut island top, it only cost me about $400 (and, of course, my time). I could replace it 10 times for what it would have cost me to do that top in quartz or granite (which the wife and I both dislike), soapstone or any other stone-hard product.

But it’s true that when you decide to have a wood counter top, you have to accept that it won’t wear like stone. It’s wood. :)

View dbray45's profile


3320 posts in 2799 days

#15 posted 08-21-2013 07:01 PM

My sister-in-law cut the cherry top once – a little sanding, a new coat of spar varnish early in the afternoon, take my wife out to dinner that night and by morning it is hard enough to put a chopping block back on it.

The chopping block is walnut, maple, and cherry end grain with mineral oil and beeswax – made that also.

The way I look at it, my neighbor spent more than $10,000 for a granite top for an island – she thought it was indestructible – right up to the moment she set a hot cast iron pot on the granite. The resulting crack and the piece that broke off was not good. I have known other folks that set a glass of red wine on their granite top. Too bad it wasn’t sealed correctly – granite is very porous and red wine looks really cool in a gold toned granite- until it starts turning a strange brown after a couple of weeks. A nice wood counter top can be sanded, planed and refinished as needed several times over.

Some of these stone and marble tops look great but if there is a problem, it can be expensive. Oh, and did you ever cut something on a granite top – scratches the top and dulls the knife at the same time – wonderful!

If my wife wants to cut on the counter, I will make the whole counter an end grain butcher block of cherry and maple for a little more than a regular wood top. Its all good.

-- David in Damascus, MD

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