I'm planning to use reclaimed oak for a kitchen countertop. What will resist water, heat, scratches & is earth friendly?

Asked by Carol Nystuen
Tempe, AZ

want to use evniromentally friendly products and have a good outcome with not too much maintenance


Molly McCabe, AKBD, CGP, CAPS

Answered by Molly McCabe, AKBD, CGP, CAPS

Bainbridge Island, WA

A Kitchen That Works LLC

November 20, 2012

Dear Carol,

Reclaimed wood countertops have character and beauty, differentiating them from virgin wood countertops. I am going to assume that the reclaimed oak you are considering is milled in planks of 2½”- 5” widths like flooring. 

With that assumption, here are a few things to consider:

1. Hot things. You will have to be particularly careful about placing warm items on the counter and don’t even consider placing hot things on the counter without a trivet. Heat will damage most types of finish and especially the more environmentally friendly finishes.

  • Similar to heat, the wood and finish will be prone to scratches and they will be much more visible than those typically experienced in flooring because the lighting will be closer to the countertop.
  • Leaving the oak unfinished is not recommended due to the open grain.

2. Water and grease. If you are considering using this material near a sink and/or cooking surface (cooktop or range) note that water and hot grease will not be kind to either the wood or the finish. However if you are considering the material for a bar top or island it could work well.

3. Expansion and contraction. If my assumption is correct and you will be using plank, recognize that the boards will expand and contract with the rise and fall of temperature and humidity in the home which can leave cracks or crevasses during dry periods where crumbs and other kitchen debris can collect.

4. Food grade finish. As for finishes, you want to consider one that is food grade so that is safe to have food come in direct contact with the countertop.

  • Options include bees wax, USP Mineral Oil and Vegetable/Nut oils.
  • The time span between recoating of the countertop will depend on usage and type of finish.

5. Check the source. Lastly, it would be good to ascertain the source of the reclaimed wood. It is not uncommon for reclaimed woods to have once been subjected to toxic finishes in their past, so make sure you wear a mask when you are sanding down the wood.

Good luck!


For more information:

Read "Can you advise on an environmental choice of varnish for a wooden countertop?" a Q&A answered by Amy Green.

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