Maintaining wood countertops and wood tables is important to ensure they last for decades... The best way to protect them from stains, burns, and scratches is to always put hot pots on trivets, cut only on cutting boards, and be quick about wiping up spills. But if the top does get damaged, the eyesore is easily erased. Here's how to tackle some common top calamities. (Note: If the wood is protected by a coat of finish, you'll need to remove it first.)
Scratches, cuts, and burns
For hard finish tops give the wood a light sanding with the grain, first with 200-grit, then 400-grit paper. When the surface is smooth, apply a few coats of sealer with a rag or brush. Allow to dry between coats. For oil or waxed finish do the same then pour on warm (food-grade) mineral oil or wax and rub it in with a rag. Let it soak in for 20 to 30 minutes, then wipe away the excess with a clean paper towel. Don't use cooking oils, which will turn rancid. For extra protection, apply 1 part beeswax or paraffin wax melted in 4 parts mineral oil and rub it into the bare wood while the mix is still warm.
If the discolorations caused by food or drinks can't be erased by sanding, try rubbing them with lemon juice. If that isn't strong enough, mix 1 tablespoon hydrogen peroxide in a cup of warm water and dab it on the stain. For the black stains made by, say, a wet cast-iron pot, use wood bleach (oxalic acid) instead. Rinse thoroughly as soon as the stain disappears—bleach will whiten wood dramatically and make it fuzzy if left on too long—then sand and reoil the surface as above. Treating your wood countertop to a minimum twice a year oil or wax massage will also improve its resistance to stains.
Most wood countertops are vulnerable to vinegar, especially ones that have an oil or wax finish. Vinegar is acidic enough to dissolve the glue holding the pieces of wood together and cause the counter to crack along its glue joints. Guard against this by instantly mopping up any spilled vinegar and by oiling or waxing the wood regularly.
Download our manual on caring for your wood countertops and tables on the home page.