Seven years ago, when we renovated the entire bottom floor of the house, we put in a new kitchen. Being located in Sweden we made the nearly automatic choice of IKEA for all of our cabinets, shelves, doors and counters. We went with solid wood counters made of beech. We like the look and feel of having natural countertops. When I put them in, however, I didn't truly appreciate how much love and care would be required over the years in order for us to maintain their fresh look. I have now completed my fifth total sanding and oiling of the beech counters and while I see it as a labor of love, I can partially appreciated why people tend to go with laminate countertops or marble.
We learned very early on that solid wood counter owners must maintain vigilance over what is placed directly on the countertop (no hot pots or pans) as well as the required use of cutting boards at ALL times. Additionally, good wipe downs are necessary everyday as well as immediate cleanup when dealing with anything that may penetrate and stain if it sits too long (various berries come to mind). It took some getting used to, but we've generally gotten better over the years. Unfortunately, things do sneak by and after a year or so you notice some nasty marks and abrasions. That's what happened to us last week...ugh!
Here's one of the larger burn mark on the counter along with a couple recent raspberry stains:
In other places I had some magic marker stains that came from a wet paper that had transferred the ink deep into wood grain. Time to clean out the kitchen and get the tools.
After everything was out, no matter how good the filters are on my sander they always manage to leave a nice layer of dust on EVERY surface, I tacked some plastic sheet up in the door opening in an attempt to minimize the fine sawdust from spreading too far. I then gave the countertops a very good scrub so I could see what I was working with and also to prevent unnecessary clogging of my sandpaper. After letting the counter completely dry after a couple hours and raising the wood grain a bit, I got to work with my orbital sander. I started with sandpaper that had a grit grade of 60 to evenly chew away not only the marks, but the entire counter surface so that the remaining layer of oiled wood would be gone and so I wouldn't be left with areas where water can have a chance to pool and sit. I then ran over everything again with 80 grit and then with 120 grit after.
Now it was time to switch from the orbital sand to the Mouse hand sander with 120 paper for corners and tricky spots as well as to go around and check that all areas were level. I did a final sweep of everything with the orbital and mouse with 240 grit grade sandpaper and then vacuumed and dry-wiped everything until no sawdust came off on the rag.
Now that everything was rather smooth and clean I cleaned away all of the accumulated sawdust from the entire kitchen and took down the plastic in the doorways so that I had a clean room in which to work and was assured that nothing was going to get in the way of the final few steps.
Now I was ready to apply the oil. I used the wood oil that is recommended by IKEA for the solid beech wood kitchen counters and is safe for contact with food. I stir it well and then pour some into a container so that I can liberally apply the oil with a rag to one section of the countertop at a time.
After let the oil sit and absorb into the wood for about ten minutes, I used wet/dry sandpaper with a grit grade of 400 to not only work the remaining oil into the beech wood countertops, but also to hand sand away any grains that may have swollen up while soaking in the oil. I let this sit for another five to ten minutes and then wipe away all of the excess oil and fine sawdust.
I then moved on to the next section and repeated the whole process again. After all sections of the kitchen counter had their first coat of oil applied and sanded in, I made two more complete rounds of all the countertops using 600 grit grade wet/dry sandpaper. The last step was to wait for 24 hours to allow for all three coats of oil to dry dry into the counters and the remaining grains (not much after all of the sanding) to shrink back to their normal size. The final result looks as though we had just purchased and installed the kitchen counters even though they are approaching 7 years of near daily wear and tear.
... and the other side:
Now it's time to move back in and use our kitchen...hopefully with much more care this time around.