We are trying to repurpose an old work bench as a kitchen island/ table. Is the wood even safe to use?

Asked by Amy
Columbus, OH

We have two young children and in general try to lead a 'green' life.We're trying to preserve the natural dings and dents as much as possibe but have sanded down a bit. Any advice would be greatly appreciated.


Polly Osborne, FAIA, LEED AP

Answered by Polly Osborne, FAIA, LEED AP

Los Angeles, CA

Polly Osborne Architects

September 22, 2011

First, in order to answer this question I need to know the type of wood and the work previously done on it.

  • Most types of wood repurpose well for this use but if there were toxins used on it before, they could leech out.
  • I've personally only had that happen when the wood was previously used as a storage vessel.

Because this table will come into contact with water, you should know that woods vary greatly in stability when wet.

  • Maple and teak, when the wood is in a thick cut or slab, stand up quite well.
  • Cherry will stain and discolor but otherwise is fairly stable.
  • Teak is very sturdy but as a chopping block, might dull your knives because of the silica content.

In general I would prefer to use wood from a fruit or edible nut tree such as maple or olive.

  • I would want to know what it had been used for before so as to determine if there were any toxins hiding under the surface.
  • Lastly, repurposing wood has to be done carefully to avoid introducing harmful insects into your home. Check the wood carefully for holes, tunnels and rot. If you can, kiln dry it.
  • Then oil it with a food approved wood oil. 

Tagged In: reuse

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